While Michigan did their best to stay within striking distance of Villanova in the 2018 Basketball National Championship game in San Antonio, few cheered louder for the Wolverines than Stan Washington.
It wasn’t a dyed-in-the-wool Wolverine. No, Washington was one of the greatest players in Michigan State history. On that April night in Texas, however, he switched allegiances in the fierce state rivalry to cheer on his son, Michigan’s assistant staff coach Saddi Washington.
The eldest Washington, who moved to Lansing after his playing days ended, died last week at the age of 78. He is survived by his wife, Veda, and three sons.
Although the Wolverines couldn’t topple the Wildcats in San Antonio, Saddi will never forget his father’s support. An all-state interpreter to Sexton, Saddi said whenever the subject of the MSU/UM rivalry comes up — especially given his family’s shared rooting interests — he tells people he “was born of Spartan blood”. Not only was Stan a Michigan State alumnus, but Veda and their youngest son (and Saddi’s younger brother), Famoun, were too.
“Lineage has always run deeper than rivalry between universities,” Saddi said. “I joke that my dad came as close as he could get to having a Sparty converted into Wolverine.”
After Saddi joined the Wolverines in 2016 — first as part of John Beilein’s staff, then staying with the program after Juwan Howard retained Saddi in 2019 — Stan regularly attended games in Ann Arbor.
Just none with the Spartans.
“I’m sure that would be too big a conflict of interest,” Saddi said with a laugh.
Saddi never had to wonder where his father was at games. He nicknamed Stan, “The Voice”, because no matter how loud a gymnasium or a Little League field gets, his dad is on top of everyone else.
Stan Washington also rose above the rest during his college career. He averaged 18 points per game for the Spartans from 1963 to 1966 – still the sixth highest in school history. His 10.5 rebounds per game rank fifth in the Spartans record books. He was also a sniper in free throws, making 81.5% (278 of 341) of his shots, tied for ninth among MSU players with at least 200 attempts.
In the three years he played — freshmen didn’t become eligible for college basketball until the 1972-73 season — Washington earned every Big Ten honor. In his senior season, he led the Spartans in both scoring and rebounding for a team that only missed one game of a conference title.
FROM 2014 : LSJ sports columnist Graham Couch ranks Washington 30th among best players in MSU history
Washington’s three sons – Kareem, Saddi and Famoun – have never seen him dress for the Spartans. His legacy spoke for him, however.
Kareem vividly remembers his first meeting with Magic Johnson, right after the MSU great won his first NBA title with the Los Angeles Lakers. Finally face to face with Johnson, Kareem was impressed.
But Johnson too.
“Magic and my dad come and go to talk,” Kareem said. “Magic showed him so much respect, considering my dad had played at Michigan State in the ’60s in the pre-Magic days.
“I was just amazed. That’s when I knew my dad was known, admired, and respected around Lansing, especially around Michigan State’s basketball program.”
It was a regular occurrence. The eldest brother, Kareem, recalls that whenever he went out with his father, whether in Greater Lansing or Detroit, they didn’t go unnoticed.
“We were walking to the store or something and someone was like, ‘Is that Stan Washington?’ “, said Kareem. “A random guy would walk up and say, ‘I remember seeing you in high school’ or whatever. There’s so many stories like that I have about him growing up.”
Saddi said his father was a “proud, proud, proud stray” and was not shy about making sure others knew about it. The same goes for his legacy in the state of Michigan. Staying attached to the program was important to him. After graduating, he became a mentor to subsequent generations, a group that included players like Kevin Willis and Carlton Valentine.
Stan also frequently attended the Moneyball Pro Am. If he had the chance before, during, or after Moneyball games, he liked to brush off current players and tell them about his exploits with the Spartans.
“He just wanted to let them know,” Famoun said, “that he himself worked a little bit here. was. I’m really proud of that.”
Washington’s reach extends beyond the court
Kareem speaks in awe of the influence his father had on his life and that of his brothers, calling him “our superhero”. And it’s for reasons that have nothing to do with the greatness of basketball. The Washington sons noted that their father constantly emphasized the lessons of life: the value of hard work, treating others with respect and always trying to do the right thing.
He also served as a father figure to their friends who didn’t have that kind of influence back home. .
“My father was one of the ‘village chiefs’, as they say, around this community,” Saddi said. “He was very inclusive in terms of offering his support.”
Washington did this because it knew only too well what happened to those who were not properly guided. Working at Jackson State Prison for decades, Washington watched young men — including some he grew up with in Detroit — fall into the traps set by society.
“He always wanted all of our friends – and all of the kids – to reach their full potential,” Famoun said. “He saw what the streets and that kind of stuff can lead to. He was just an ever-looming presence, trying to help steer not just us, but our friends, in the right direction.”
Kareem recalled an instance where his father stopped Saddi from playing in a critical game for Sexton because he hadn’t performed well in a test.
“He said to Saddi: ‘You haven’t done your best. That’s not who we are in Washington,'” Kareem said.
Famoun said his father didn’t miss an opportunity to remind his sons that there was a reason the word “student” came before “athlete”.
Of all the lessons Washington taught, one took precedence over Famoun. Like his father and two older brothers, Famoun grew up on hardwood. But one day, he decides to start on the grill by joining the Southside Panthers, a team of Pop Warner. Famoun admitted that the coach was “tough and severe” with his players. This first practice was so difficult that Famoun said he had made up his mind – he would not return for Day 2.
His father wouldn’t hear of it.
“I called my dad and said, ‘Dad, I don’t want to go. I want to quit,'” Famoun said. “And he said, ‘No son. One thing we don’t do in this family is quit. You are going to have times throughout your life when things get difficult. You just have to persevere through them. I remember going back to football practice and not thinking I could do it, but he encouraged me to let me know I could. I came back the next day and was able to get out. I kept getting stronger and it got easier and easier.
“So I was still very grateful – that was really my first lesson in not quitting. I’m still doing that today.”
circle of life
It’s not that Washington didn’t like it; it always has been. But he did it in a way that was the norm for many men of his generation. He was strict. No nonsense. A disciplinary.
“He was a Detroiter,” Kareem said, “so he had that rough side to him.”
However, as soon as Washington became a grandfather, that changed.
“My nickname for him was ‘Big Softie’,” Kareem said with a laugh. “He was just a totally different person with his grandchildren.”
Famoun, the only of Washington’s sons who still lives in the area, said he sees his father every other day. He enjoyed watching over his aging parents. But they – especially her father – looked forward to a weekly meeting with Famoun’s two daughters.
“He loved them so much,” Famoun said. “Once a week after they got out of daycare was the day they went to Pop and Grandma’s house. He really enjoyed it. It made his week.”
Busy with his coaching career, Saddi has not been able to see his father as often as his younger brother. Even on occasions when Saddi met his parents, it normally focused on sporting events – that of Saddi’s son and daughter. Everything Saddi learned from his father continues to pay off now.
“To see us walk in those footsteps and raise our own children, I know it was very rewarding for him,” Saddi said. “Not being able to hang out and share moments with them as they grow, graduate and reach milestones, that part they will obviously miss.”
In the days following his father’s death, in moments of silence and stillness, Saddi went through a range of emotions.
Smiling. Laughing. Tears.
“Sometimes all three,” he says.
“A Spartan dawg to the core,” Stan looks down and smiles as he sees the outpouring of support his family has received over the past week from the MSU and Greater Lansing communities, Saddi said.
One day, many years from now, Saddi hopes others will say that he, too, had a life worth living.
“I’m just grateful for my father’s legacy,” Saddi said. “I pray that I can have a similar impact on the people I meet.”
Contact Ryan Black at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @RyanABlack.