Most people couldn’t find Syracuse, New York on a map. College basketball was dominated SEC and Big 12 schools. Then Pearl Washington happened.
In 1983, Washington was the talk of the streets in the Mecca of basketball, New York City. The point guard averaged 35 points, 10 rebounds, eight assists and four steals playing at Boys and Girls High School in Brooklyn. Washington was the number one recruit in the land. He announced his decision to play for the Orange on national television in an interview with Al McGuire.
With the prolific Patrick Ewing at Georgetown and Chris Mullin at St. Johns, Washington was SU’s answer. Without him, the Orange wouldn’t have rose to prominence in the early Big East. Before his arrival, the Carrier Dome averaged 20,401 fans per game. By his junior year, over 26,000 were coming to watch Washington.
The beauty of his game was undeniable. He was not super athletic, and he did not have a great long-range jump shot. While those shortcomings would be a death sentence for most guards, Washington made up for it with his wizard-like ball handling, an abundance of fakes and buttery touch. It was showtime, every time.
Washington’s arrival in Syracuse was highly anticipated, but the hype turned into frenzy 15 games into his college career, when he hit the most iconic shot in Syracuse history.
He won Big East Rookie of the Year in 1984. In following season, the Orange beat No. 2 Georgetown on ESPN’s Big Monday, where Washington hit a game-winning 15-footer. He was second team All-American as a sophomore. In his last season with Syracuse, Washington led SU in points with over 17. He led the team in assists and steals in all three seasons.
Washington was drafted 13th overall in 1986. He had a short NBA career. The Pearl will always be known for what he did at Syracuse.
Many had never seen the Dome, before Pearl made it shake on ESPN’s Big East broadcasts. That’s why it will always be ‘The House that Pearl Built.’