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Ex-Canisius star Washington verbally commits to Butler

Howard Washington was asked Tuesday afternoon if transferring to Montverde Academy in Florida was worth it.

“For sure, for sure,” said Washington.

His move from Canisius High to Montverde Academy for his just-completed junior year helped enable him to make a major announcement Tuesday afternoon in the living room of his family’s home in the Kensington-Bailey neighborhood: That he was verbally committing to accept a scholarship to play basketball at Butler University.

“My family and I just felt like it was the best fit. It’s a great opportunity – everything just felt comfortable,” said Washington, who said Butler met that criteria with its combination of significant playing time, level of play (Big East) and academics (he does not yet know what he will study). “Coach’s exact words were that literally as soon as I step foot on campus, I’ll be expected to take on a big role. If not starting, heavy minutes – and just lead us to win. … Just knowing the history of Butler, the final fours … Just the name ‘Butler.’ The Big East. They were at the top of the order. They were our first visit.”

The 6-foot-2 point guard was offered scholarships by 20 Division I schools, some of which came prior to Washington’s sophomore season at Canisius. His first and only official visit was to Indianapolis this past weekend to see Butler. He made three unofficial visits, to Central Florida, Miami (Fla.) and Dayton. He declined to name any other finalists, instead thanking all of the schools that recruited him.

Washington said Butler began recruiting him during his junior season at Montverde, a season in which he said his game – which was already worthy of being highly recruited – improved significantly.

“It kind of changed my game,” said Washington. “My mom even said ‘my game changed: a lot more aggressive.’ Here, I wasn’t laid-back, I was just kind of easy” in his on-court approach. “A lot more aggressive, a lot more intense and physical,” he said of his play now, “like I should be playing where I’m going to be going — the Big East, high Division I, major schools.”

Washington played at City Honors as an eighth-grader before spending two years at Canisius, earning second-team All-Western New York honors as a sophomore, averaging 15 points and 5.5 assists and was named the Monsignor Martin Association’s Co-Player of the Year for the Crusaders.

Last summer he transferred to Montverde, which went 31-1 to earn the top spot in several high school rankings, including No. 1 in the season-ending USA Today Super 25. Washington played 28 games for Montverde, averaging 6.6 points, 2.7 assists, 1.9 rebounds and 1.3 steals for the Eagles.

At Montverde, Washington threw alley-oops to Ben Simmons, considered the country’s top college recruit in the Class of 2015 (he’s headed to LSU). At last week’s NBA Draft, 2014 Montverde graduate D’Angelo Russell, who played at Ohio State, was drafted second overall by the Los Angeles Lakers.

“You’re playing against the best players, practicing against the best players, playing under the best coach,” Washington said of Montverde and coach Kevin Boyle. “It got me battle-tested. Coach Boyle is one of the best coaches in the country.”

The move away from home was difficult, said Washington, particularly when it came to those closest to him, but he maintained those connections.

“Missing my friends and family,” was the toughest part, Washington said, but “they came to see me a lot and I would text them all the time, so it wasn’t too bad. Obviously the guys at Canisius had a great run this year, winning like that – I stayed in touch with those guys, congratulated those guys, stayed in touch with coach Husband and stuff like that. We’ve been connected even though I’ve been gone.”

Washington said that “most likely” he will be at Montverde for his senior year. “We tossed it around a little bit – it’s still up in the air, but most likely I’ll be there next year.”

Before that senior season, he has a few summer league events with his Albany City Rocks team, and he will play in the Nike Global Challenge with Team Canada July 16-19 in Chicago. Washington played for Canada in last summer’s FIBA U17 World Championship in Dubai (Washington’s mother is Canadian, giving him dual citizenship).

email: kmcshea@buffnews.com