It took him a mere three seconds of his first season to score his first basket, four games to break a record held by Magic Johnson and 10 weeks to have his name hopelessly screwed up on TV by Al McGuire. Presto: instant immortality. And so Syracuse University continues to be a jeweler's paradise. A gem of a coed, Vanessa Williams, became Miss America last September, and now, as advertised, freshman Dwayne Alonzo Washington has turned out to be a Pearl.
This Pearl was a Pearl long before he heaved a last-second half-court miracle swisher to beat Boston College, and before he scored 55 points in two dazzling games against Villanova, and before he directed the Orangemen to an 8-0 surge through the first four weeks of Big East play while leading the league in shooting percentage. (Shooting, by the way, was the one thing Washington supposedly couldn't do.) It's just that on a couple of early occasions the Pearl wasn't all that lustrous. There was the humbling handed him by fellow rookie point guard Kenny Smith of North Carolina, and then the discomfiture of fouling out at Marquette on four offensive charges and a silly reach-in. Those performances left central New Yorkers not only searching for the existence of a jewel but also asking, "Where's the beef?"
"I wasn't fully ready. College ball was definitely tougher than I thought," says the 6'2", 190-pound Washington. "The North Carolina and Marquette games confused me. I'd always dribbled through to the basket, drove to the glass, just went all-out. It wasn't so easy to do anymore. I think I've adjusted now. As long as you know what your mistakes are, it's easy to correct them."
Washington made a New Year's resolution to work harder on his outside shot, to keep his dribble out of traffic and not to overpenetrate, to concentrate more intently and even to guard somebody once in a while. With the help of Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, he realized he was trying to do too much, to force the action rather than let the game come to him. It's a difficult enough challenge for a freshman to take over the quarterbacking of any team, but the Orange was an immature club of new faces in new positions. Kenny Smith, for example, had a couple of Tar Heel legends named Michael Jordan and Sam Perkins to depend on; Washington had a former sub named Rafael Addison.
"We were warmin'," Addison says, which, translated from Orangian jivese, means simply that by January the boys from Syracuse were ready, willing and psyched up to get it on with Washington at the controls.
The Pearl Watch didn't just start when Washington averaged 35 points, 10 rebounds, eight assists and four steals a game as a senior at Boys and Girls High in Brooklyn. Or when he played one-on-one with the Harlem Globetrotters or matched moves with World B. Free on the playgrounds of Brownsville. Or even when he scored 13 straight points in a matter of seconds and then ran past the opposing team's bench and said, "Coach, I think you'd better call a time-out." It has been a cumulative saga.
As Sean Kerins, the Syracuse co-captain, says, "Dwayne didn't come here looking to make a name of himself. He already had that."
The name, of course, was Pearl. Young Pearl met the original Pearl, his idol, former NBA star Earl Monroe, shortly before enrolling at Syracuse, and the following exchanges were recorded by the New York Daily News:
Washington: "Sometimes I can't understand some of the moves I make, Earl. I'll have to ask my brother, 'Can you tell me what I did out there on this play or that?' Did that happen to you?"
Monroe: "Sure. You'll run down the court, make a move and say to yourself, 'Wow! Wow! I hope they have a replay on that.' "