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Washington, Coquese


Coquese Washington Followed Folks Advice To Explore, then Excel in Life

You kind of got an idea Coquese Washington would go far in life when she learned to play seven different musical instruments at Central High.

Or maybe was it when she earned back-to-back All-State basketball honors, led the Indians to their first Saginaw Valley Conference and district championships and got a scholarship to Notre Dame.

Certainly, it was obvious by the time she led the Irish to three Midwestern Collegiate Conference tournament titles, captained their first NCAA Tournament team, graduated a year early, then came back to earn a law degree while serving as the team's assistant coach.

All of this was enough to whisk Washington into the Greater Flint Area Sports Hall of Fame. But she didn't stop there.

Washington continued piling up accomplishments in professional basketball, where she played seven seasons with four teams in two leagues, helping the Houston Comets to the 2000 WNBA championship and becoming the first player in league history to lead three different teams to the postseason.

Along the way, she used her law degree to help create the WNBA Players Association and served as its founding president from 1999-2001.

Her current resume finds her at Penn State University, where she just started her third year as woman's basketball coach, the school's first female African American head coach.

And she's still in her 30's.

"My parents were a huge motivation," said Washington, the fourth of five athletic and active children in her family. "It was either be involved in something or we had to clean up at the house.

"Mom and Dad were big on influencing us to get out and try things and experience as much as we could. They wanted us to have a better work experience than they did, which was just working in factories all their lives."

"That's not a knock on General Motors, but they didn't want us to do manual labor. They wanted us to use our minds and go out and explore."

Participating in band, orchestra, theater, track and volleyball was part of the plan, but Washington really saw what basketball could do for her when she traveled to Canada for the CANUSA Games and journeyed to other parts of the country with an AAU team in Detroit.

A quintessential point guard, she showed scoring ability as well, when asked to do at Central, setting a school record with 373 points her senior year.

At Notre Dame, she was a four-year starting point guard and two-time AII-MCC pick. She led the team in steals all four seasons and is first on ND's all-time steals-pergame list (2.7), second in career steals (307), fifth in assists (554), 10th in 3-pointers made (82) and 10th in minutes per game (27.6).

In the classroom, she obtained a bachelor's degree in history in three years, then attained "Double Domer" status in 1997 by earning her juris doctorate from Notre Dame Law School.

It was during law school that Washington got into coaching at Notre Dame, serving as an assistant to Muffet McGraw for eight years.

For now, that has become her chosen profession, and not just because it keeps her around basketball.

"I get an opportunity to coach some of the best and brightest students in the country here," Washington said. "Mentoring them and helping them learn how to become powerful, dynamic women -- that's the thing I love best of all."

"We use basketball as a vehicle, but I'm probably most proud of our kids' ability to achieve. I've learned over the years that that is a skill that's developed, not something you're born with. Perseverance, persistence, belief-- there are so many skills that have to be nurtured to become an achiever."

Achiever. It's a fitting, one-word description of Coquese Washington.

Of all the honors she's received, perhaps the most appropriate is one she got during the 2007-08 season, when her peers in the Women's Basketball Coaches Association voted her the "Rising Star" in the coaching ranks.

That's one you could see coming in high school.