LaKendra Washington is the top scorer among the Lady Flames' reserves this season, averaging 7.3 ppg.
The following article first appeared in issue No. 3 of the Flames Illustrated game program for the 2011-12 basketball season, which was available at the Vines Center between Dec. 31-Jan. 14. LaKendra Washington and the Liberty women's basketball team currently sit in second place in the Big South Conference standings at 4-1 and return home Saturday at 2 p.m. to host Presbyterian College.
LaKendra Washington is goofy. That is her description of herself. She provided that totally on her own. The junior from Milwaukee, Wisc., is in her third year playing for the Lady Flames. She has received some accolades such as a Big South weekly honor as a freshman and an all-tournament team nod at the Vanderbilt Thanksgiving Tournament earlier this season. Washington has developed a reputation of being a hard-nosed defender and can definitely swipe the ball from any opponent, as she is averaging more than two steals per contest on the year. She also can provide a spark off the bench offensively, ranking among the team leaders in three-pointers made. Although she could talk up her attributes and accomplishments, when she mentions how she fits in on this team, she willingly points out she is goofy. "I'm the goofy person on the team," she admits. "I like to get people excited. I don't like it when players come into the gym for practice and look sad. I want to see happy faces. I'm the one who wants to make them laugh and fill their hearts with joy." Washington missed the first two games this season because of injury, but once she was able to play she has made her presence known on the court. "Kendra has started slowly because of an injury," said Liberty head coach Carey Green. "She's come in and filled a need we had with scoring punch in the guard position. She has a good nose for the basketball from the defensive end. She's been a welcome addition back to the team after her injury. She's not 100 percent healthy but she's giving 100 percent effort, and she's going to continue to work on her game." Washington apparently caught the eyes of those who voted on the Vanderbilt all-tournament team. Liberty faced nationally-ranked Oklahoma at the event, and Washington recorded eight points and two steals against the Sooners. The next day against Lipscomb, she produced her season-high 14 points on 5-of-9 shooting from the field, including 2-of-4 three-point attempts, and three steals. Another interesting aspect to Washington's performance this season is that she does it without being in the starting lineup. "I love coming off the bench," she said. "I feel like it betters me. I would love to start, but coming off the bench gives me more confidence. It allows me to see what is happening on the floor." "Kendra is able to sit and watch the flow of the game," said Green. "Even though we do a thorough job of scouting teams on film, she evaluates better in reality when she watches from the bench. It makes her more comfortable when she comes into the game." The reserve role definitely has helped her, especially in the defensive aspects. Washington can focus on her opponents and prepare herself on how to play them. "I love to play defense. It's the number one thing that I do," she said. "It gives me one-on-one time. It's me looking at them eye-to-eye. I am focused on their ball handling. I just try to hustle and look for the charge or the steal. I try to use my defense to pump up the team." The stats show Washington is effective on defense as her steals-to-fouls ratio is 17-to-9. She has only committed more than one foul in two games. That is impressive for a player who makes an emphasis on playing defense. "It's her maturity and experience that have contributed to that," said Green. "I know I am fast and can steal the ball," Washington said. "I do my best to keep my opponents in front of me and pay attention. I try to think ahead of them and what they will do, figuring out which way they will go." Washington is not timid against successful, nationally-ranked teams. Playing against them is when she usually shines the most. Playing against eventual national champion Texas A&M last year, Washington had 10 points. Versus 17th-ranked St. John's, she hit four three-pointers and collected a season-high 13 points. Playing on the road does not bother her either, even as a freshman. When Liberty played at Lafayette her first year, she recorded her career high of 21 points, hitting 9-of-12 shots and swiping four steals. "I love going against really good teams," she said. "I think it makes me better. When we played against Texas A&M, it was a fast tempo game, with lots of fast breaks going back and forth. When we play them or Baylor or Oklahoma, it's an opportunity for the whole team to get better, making us see the good and the bad in how we play." Washington contributes both on offense and defense. She can do it coming off the bench, providing that spark for the Lady Flames. Some could debate which of her attributes are better – offense or defense. However, her best contribution overall is her attitude and the positive energy she gives the team. "She is an entertainer," said Green. "She calls herself goofy, but she's entertaining. She's gifted with a beautiful singing voice. She enjoys life. She loves to have fun." Green shared that Washington has overcome a lot of adversity especially with injuries, but they have not brought her down. "She has moved forward in her life," he said. "She has not let issues defeat her. She's come back from an injury that's been hard to figure out. She is an encourager." Washington may call herself goofy, but that would be far from an accurate description. Her teammates know she is an encourager who will do whatever it takes to help her team succeed. ------ Chris Doyle is a freelance writer for Liberty Athletics
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