Success, fame and legend usually come to the celebrated in that rigorous order. Unfortunately, it has been Pearl (Dwayne) Washington's peculiar burden to meet up with that trinity backward. In the fall of 1983, Washington took his legendary Brooklyn schoolyard and schoolboy reputations to Syracuse. Soon he became famous for conjuring up a game-winning half-court heave, and for playing a splendid Big East tournament in New York's Madison Square Garden. His freshman feats hardly lent themselves to encore, yet word of them spread.
Word, as teammate Rony Seikaly says, of how "it's like the ball's glued to him, or he has a magnet attached."
Word, as Pearl's coach, Jim Boeheim, says, of how "we're willing to suffer the extra turnovers to get the great plays."
And word—this from running mate Rafael Addison—of how "if Pearl was in a police lineup and you had to pick out the basketball player, no one in the country would choose him."
So when he was merely successful during his sophomore season, the maledictions began to fly. The Pearl was flat-footed. Overweight. Distracted. Encouraged by the cablecast scoldings of Dick Vitale, many wondered whether Washington ever was quite what he had been cracked up to be.
Well, the Pearl, a junior now, is back, and let it be said that 17-2, ninth-ranked Syracuse is doing fine. To be sure, praise for this edition of the Orangemen comes with the usual strings attached: They stumble on the road (their losses came back-to-back, at Georgetown and Louisville), and their coach is not sufficiently glib, or accommodating, or ready with a smile. But with victories last week over Boston College and St. John's, the Orange stood alone atop the Big East, and there's no glaring reason why Syracuse couldn't be atop everything else when all is said and done.
So let us introduce the Oyster. With a little help from the Pearl, Syracuse shaded the Redmen 68-64 on Saturday in that Big East rarity, a 15-rounder in which not a punch was thrown. And with a lot of help from the Pearl, Syracuse outran the Eagles 80-55 earlier last week.
There's Seikaly, Seik to his mates, Psych, no doubt, to the many rivals, like St. John's Walter (The Truth) Berry, who have become victims of his emergence as a shot-blocker and intimidator. The 6'10" sophomore helped pressure Berry into 5-for-17 shooting Saturday.
There's junior Howard Triche, who spent last season picking splinters out of his uniform trunks while wags tossed off lines like, "Real men don't play Triche." He mulled a transfer to George Washington, but excelled during the team's summer tour of West Germany and Greece. Triche finally displaced sophomore forward Michael Brown, who himself chose last month to leave, for Clemson.
There's forward Wendell Alexis, who has a bulkier build and a more savage temperament than last season. "I'm laying myself out on the court, every game," the 6'9" senior says. "This is my last year. It's not a matter of 'What's behind Door No. 3?' anymore."