Hoopin’ from Louisiana to Kfar Blum

Galil Elyon’s Bryce Washington shares basketball wisdom from New Orleans, Canada, Australia, and Israel.

 Picture of Hapoel Galil Elyon's Bryce Washington (photo credit: BalkanLeague.net/Courtesy)
Picture of Hapoel Galil Elyon's Bryce Washington
(photo credit: BalkanLeague.net/Courtesy)

Hapoel Galil Elyon is one of the great stories in Israeli basketball this young season as coach Barak Peleg has his team humming along with a 6-3 record, good enough to be right near the top of the standings with heavyweights Hapoel Jerusalem, Hapoel Holon, and Maccabi Tel Aviv.

In its first year back in the country’s top-flight competition, Galil Elyon is a threat to all opponents and has already proven that it can win at home or on the road with tough play by the entire squad.One of the club’s imports who has anchored the paint on both sides of the court is center Bryce Washington, who has made his mark after having plied his trade for two seasons in the Leumit League.

The 25-year-old, 6-foot-8 big man has put up fabulous numbers – averaging 11 points and eight rebounds a game while sporting an efficiency rating of 17 – for the Kfar Blum-based club. Ahead of Sunday’s big game against the yellow-and-blue, Washington spoke to The Jerusalem Post just before taking to the court in search of basketball glory against the Israeli Euroleague contender.

“I’m definitely enjoying it up here and every day is a blessing,” began Washington. “I spent two years in Netanya and it was home and family. The first day I got up here, I felt like it was home right away. I worked hard for two years to get to this position and I want to prove that I belong here. I believe it, but I want to prove it.”

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Second Round-Baylor vs Gonzaga (credit: REUTERS)NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Second Round-Baylor vs Gonzaga (credit: REUTERS)

Washington spent the prior two seasons at Maccabi Netanya and arrived this past summer at Galil Elyon together with one of his teammates who also happens to be one of the up-and-coming Israeli players.

“I grabbed Itay Moskovitz as he was my point guard for two years. We were a package deal. He’s my guy and my brother. We are family. For him to be here with me makes things all that much easier.”Growing up in New Orleans gave Washington the chance to play a number of sports, but in the end his love for basketball won out.

“My first love was baseball when I was five years old and basketball was kind of a hobby. Me and my older brother would go to some of our friends’ houses to play. After Hurricane Katrina I put the game of baseball to the side and I grew a bit. Basketball became my number one sport as I played point guard. I love the game and it’s an obsession now.”

As for role models and players that he patterned his game after, Washington identified both players who he looked up to both growing up as well as now as a professional.“When I was growing up I watched a lot of Magic Johnson because he was a big guard and I had that versatility and could do a lot of things. I also love LeBron James.

“Today, Draymond Green, Boris Diaw, and Kyle Hines are all guys that I watch play and model my game after. I watch every game that Kyle Hines plays, he’s such a role model. Every move, the smallest details I can see why he’s probably one of the greatest players in Euroleague history. I love his game.”Like many Americans who had not yet been exposed to European hoops, the Euroleague wasn’t on Washington’s radar screen, but that has all changed now.

“I didn’t know much about the Euroleague until I came overseas, but once I got here I have been watching more and more. It’s the NBA with defense. The guys in the Euroleague are so smart. Right now I am watching so much more Euroleague than NBA.”

Washington attended the University of Louisiana in Lafayette, which was close to home, and that allowed for his family to keep close tabs on how his time in college was going from an educational standpoint, while his mother aimed for sports to take a backseat.

“There were a few things that I really wanted out of college. One was that I wanted it to feel like family. I wanted to know my role and play a lot, and I also wanted a great education. My mom always told me ‘I love you playing basketball, but I care nothing about it. Just the education.’ Louisiana was great. I had offers from Texas State and other mid-majors, but Louisiana was just far enough from home – about two-and-a-half hours from New Orleans – but close enough for my parents to come to see me play and enjoy it.”

Following four years with the Ragin’ Cajuns, Washington looked to get his professional career underway and made his first foray into “international” basketball by heading to Newfoundland, Canada.“I wanted to try the G-League route, but it was late and I chose to go to the St. John’s Edge and got cut on the last day. They loved me but it just didn’t work out so I signed with the St. John’s Riptide, where my friend Frank Bartley was and he’s playing with Ness Ziona now. The second game back we played the Edge and it was personal. We played them back-to-back and beat them and I had double-doubles in both games.”

Washington also headed to the land Down Under to further his basketball development with the Mackay Meteors in Queensland Basketball League, but everything changed one day with a telephone call from the Holy Land.“When I was in Australia I got a call from a strange number and it was from Israel. It was Idan Avshalom from [Israeli sports agency] True Player, who was the general manager at Netanya, and he was a fast talker. He said that he was the only person who really knew who I was and what I could do and he wanted me to come to play for him. I said, ‘Israel??’ I never thought I would play there and said I needed 24 hours. He calls me and says ‘I really want you to come’ and I said ‘OK I’ll come.’ It was the best decision I made in my career.”

Once in Israel, Washington began to get used to the style of hoops played across the country, but while he was doing that he also realized that at his tender young age he was more than just your average, run-of-the-mill basketball player.

“The biggest challenge was adjusting to the playing style. Canada was different, as was Australia, so my first two months were just getting adjusted. But I’m the type of person who once I get it, I get it. From there I have just been exceeding expectations as I have been an underdog my whole life. All I need is one person to say that they believe in me and I will run through a brick wall for them. The guys in Netanya were so young and when I looked at the ages of the players I realized that I was the oldest guy at 23!

“They said to me that I was like a father figure so everything I did I had to be careful. I used to have all the guys over to my apartment and I would cook for them and we became a bonded family. I wanted to teach them how to be great people before basketball players and if I do that then I will have succeeded in my job. At the end of the day, if you are a great person, your basketball play will show for itself.”

Bartley, who played with Washington both at Louisiana and in Canada, looked to his former teammate for advice when he received an offer to play for Ness Ziona. The recommendation that Washington gave was nothing less than stellar.

“Frank called me over the summer and he asked me if I really love Israel. I told him that if I could play here my whole career here, I would. Despite the security situation last year, everything besides that is great. I told him that he would be in a great situation and close to Tel Aviv. I also know [Ness Ziona] coach Lior Lubin and he has a great system. He was for sure going to do well here. I said ‘me personally, I want you to come and I hope that you’ll come and show everyone what we can do as we are both on a mission.’ I can’t wait to play against him.”

During an interview just as the season was about to tip-off, Galil Elyon Chairman Tamir Abrahams made it very clear that the team had lofty goals, which was to win every available title, something that resonates with Washington.“We want to win, and if your goal isn’t to win then what is the point of you playing. We aren’t here to say we are just a first-league team.

We want to win and go to war every single day and play our hardest. We have to show everyone that we belong here. We will have our struggles and we will have our ups and downs because we are a new team with new players in a new organization and we all have to get adjusted and build more and more chemistry. But our goal is to win every game. I write on my shoes, “day by day.” So every day we take our time and if we get better today than yesterday, we did our job. Right here in Galil, we can control what we can control and success will follow everyone on this team.”

In addition to playing in the Israeli league, Galil Elyon is also featured in the Balkan League, which allows the team a chance to flex its muscles on a continental level and is yet another chance for Washington and his teammates to improve and develop chemistry.

“It means a lot that we have some respect where we have to prove on the European level too. We have to approach these games just like we approach every game in the Winner League. We have to keep learning from our mistakes and keep improving. If we do that then the sky’s the limit for us.”

All in all, Washington knows that the family-like atmosphere and the wide fan base that Galil Elyon has around the region will be critical in its ultimate success. “We have great fans here and a great atmosphere. I love it. It’s a real advantage that we have crowds like this in Kfar Blum.”