For most of last Thursday’s first half against Freire Charter, the George Washington boys basketball team resembled a twisted, disjointed mess.
Turnovers, missed free throws and being virtually overwhelmed on the glass pushed the Eagles into a 13-point deficit, one that appeared impossible to overcome.
Kendale Truitt changed all that with one thunderous slam.
Truitt, a senior wing guard for Washington, grabbed a rebound on the defensive end late in the second quarter. With his team trailing by six at the time, Truitt took matters into his own hands. He pushed the ball up the floor with his younger brother, sophomore point guard Devante Saxon, trailing closely behind. Sensing his brother was too far on his heels to complete the play, Truitt came face-to-face with a Freire defender, who had set up in the lane in hopes of drawing a charge. Right before the two were to collide, Truitt found an invisible spring beneath the floor and catapulted above his defender for a one-handed, rim-rattling dunk that would have been enough to get LeBron James to stand up and cheer.
The statement slam brought Washington within four. They trailed by just three at the break, and Truitt sensed a still-buzzing gym was ready for more in the form of an impressive, hard-fought 64-59 Public League B Division victory.
“We started off sluggish and slow, and I knew we had to get some momentum going,” Truitt said after pouring in 34 points in the win. “At practice, my coaches have told me to be a team leader. With this being my senior year, I’ve taken that responsibility very seriously. I wanted to put the team on my back.”
Longtime Washington basketball coach Calvin Jones, who watched from the stands after handing the reins of the program to first-year head coach John Creighton, seemed to be one of the few people in the building who wasn’t surprised by Truitt’s explosive dunk.
When asked if he had seen dunks like that from Truitt before, Jones replied: “All the time. Last year in the playoffs, I swear he threw one down where his waist was above the rim.”
Creighton said in all of his years of playing and coaching within the Public League that he had never met a better athlete than Truitt. “He does things you’d think are impossible for a teenager,” the coach said.
Truitt is also a football player at Washington, and his coaches have never denied his athleticism. Rather, it’s been off-the-court issues that have hindered him in the past. Creighton said that in three varsity seasons, Truitt’s senior campaign marks the first time he has been academically eligible heading into a new season. Creighton, also the head varsity lacrosse and JV soccer coach at the school, is a stickler for players holding up the “student” end of being a student-athlete. He’s been impressed by Truitt’s maturity.
“I’ve been pushing this leadership role on him, and it’s one he’s taken and run with,” Creighton said. “This goes for on the court, in the locker room and in the class. These guys respect him. Everything he does, including in the classroom, that stuff trickles down to the other guys. Everyone on this team respects him and his hustle. If he’s doing well in class, then everyone else should be.”
One of the other guys Creighton was alluding to was Saxon, Truitt’s younger brother who moved to Philadelphia from New York over the summer. Saxon jumped at the opportunity to enroll at Washington and play with his brother. While Truitt was slashing his way to 34 points, Saxon was always close behind, pouring in 16 points of his own and handling the ball with the poise of a senior. The brothers scored 50 of Washington’s 64 points, including 13 of the team’s final 17 in a crucial fourth quarter.
Without senior guard Nafece Edwards, who was benched for the game for violating a team rule earlier in the day, Saxon stepped up and filled the void. Like his older brother, he displayed a knack for getting to the rim, or pulling up from the perimeter if his defender gave him room to shoot.
“My coach told me that big time players make big time plays,” Saxon said. “I came down here this summer and my brother told me, ‘It’s time to take over Philly now.’ He’s the man of the household, so I listen to him on and off the court.”
“We want to win a championship together,” Truitt added. “It’s what we’re striving for.”
And while the Eagles (4-0 to start the season) still has plenty of kinks to iron out in order to realize those aspirations, they appear to be on the right track, especially when Edwards joins Truitt and Saxon on the floor.
“Devante is just a baby, he’s got the world ahead of him. He’s got the sky … that’s his limit,” Creighton said. “I knew he had talent when I met him, but I didn’t know what those talents were. Now, he’s showing them on the court.”
And, of course, the team is reaping the benefits of Truitt’s and Saxon’s close bond as brothers.
“It’s an interesting relationship,” Creighton said. “When we do one-on-one’s, they want to go against each other. They want to make each other better. I have brothers, and I know that the best competition comes from a younger brother because he is always trying to be better than you. Now that they’re on the same team, they have that innate sense of knowing where the other one is on the court at all times.”
In the cutthroat, crowded Public League, Washington is still finding its place. The team is a long way from a finished product, but with Truitt and Saxon leading the way, the foundation is strong.
“The way he contributes on and off the court,” Saxon said of his older brother. “He’s just a natural-born leader.”
It’s taken Truitt some time to grasp that role, but now he has.
“We started off slow, and with a lot of young guys on the team, we didn’t have much chemistry,” Truitt said. “But we’re working hard every day in practice, and it’s starting to show in games. If everybody does what they have to do off the court, then it’s going to be a good season on the court.” ••
Sports Editor Ed Morrone can be reached at 215-354-3035 or email@example.com