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D.C.'s Knights of Shining Ardor; Local Pair Leads Rutgers Into Battle
      Byline: Kathy Orton Special to The Washington Post
      Edition: FINAL
      Section: Sports

      PHILADELPHIA, March 30 --
        A year ago, one of Karlita Washington's best friends told her
      Rutgers was the place for her because the Scarlet Knights would be at
      the 2000 Final Four.

        Washington had not signed a letter-of-intent to attend Rutgers
      at that point, and that premonition did not prompt her to do so.
      However, now that the Scarlet Knights are making their first Final
      Four appearance, Washington can't help but think back to her friend's
      prediction.

        "That's my best friend," Washington said. "She knows
      everything."

        Washington, a 5-foot-9 junior guard from H.D. Woodson, and
      Davalyn Cunningham, a 6-0 sophomore forward from St. John's, will have
      plenty of friends, family and former coaches making the trip up I-95
      to watch them in an NCAA tournament national semifinal against
      Tennessee on Friday night at First Union Center. If the Scarlet
      Knights win, chances are pretty good Washington and Cunningham--both
      starters--will be among the reasons.

        "Karlita Washington comes in with a great deal of savvy and
      poise," Rutgers Coach C. Vivian Stringer said. "She's been a big lift,
      the biggest reason why we're here now.

        "Davalyn is small for the size of the position she plays, but
      she's so mentally tough. She doesn't have any fear. . . . You've got
      to start her. I wish we had a whole lot of Davalyns."

        Washington, a two-time All-Met at Woodson, did not take a
      direct route from the District to Rutgers. After leading the Warriors
      to the city championship in 1997, she signed with Nebraska. However,
      she failed to meet the NCAA's freshman eligibility requirements and
      enrolled at a junior college.

        As a freshman at Howard College in Big Spring, Tex., she set
      the single-season school record for three-point goals with 49. Last
      season, she led her team to a 28-4 record and third place in the
      National Junior College Athletic Association tournament. She was
      selected a WBCA Kodak junior college all-American and an NJCAA
      first-team all-American. One recruiting service named her the nation's
      top junior college point guard.

        Stringer had recruited Washington while she was at Woodson and
      kept up with her while she was in junior college. So when it came time
      for Washington to choose where to play her final two seasons, she
      picked Rutgers. She said that the school was close enough for her
      mother to attend most games. In the end, though, a television show on
      Stringer convinced her to pick the Scarlet Knights.

        The show detailed Stringer's life as a college coach, wife and
      mother. Stringer's husband, Bill, suffered a fatal heart attack just
      months before she took Iowa to a Final Four in 1993. Her daughter,
      Janine, now 19, has been in a wheelchair her entire life after
      contracting spinal meningitis as an infant. Despite all of this,
      Stringer began this season with a 595-183 record that includes two
      Final Four appearances with Cheyney State.

        "This is a remarkable woman," Washington said. "I took a liking
      to the lady that she is, the intensity that she brings to the game.
      She's a legend."

        Washington is the Scarlet Knights' quickest player. She has
      played in all but one game this season and started 15, including the
      past eight. In the NCAA tournament, she is averaging 5.8 points per
      game--slightly above her regular season average. She has filled in
      ably for Tasha Pointer at the point guard spot, but also shined as a
      shooting guard.

        Cunningham, an All-Met at St. John's, led the Cadets to the
      City Title game her senior year. The Clinton native considered five
      colleges, but like Washington, came to Rutgers because of Stringer.

        Cunningham, who is called "Opie" by her teammates (after the
      character Ron Howard played on "The Andy Griffith Show") came to
      Rutgers as a scorer. But playing on a team that puts defense first,
      Cunningham has had to adjust her game.

        "When I got to Rutgers, it was like I didn't know anything but
      just how to shoot," she said. "You learn so much defense. It wasn't
      that hard [to adjust to], because on Stringer's floor, if you don't
      play defense, you don't get on the court."

        However Cunningham is at a disadvantage defensively against
      most opponents. As a 6-foot forward, she is typically matched against
      taller opponents. But she uses her cunning and basketball fundamentals
      to hold her own.

        As a freshman, Cunningham played in every game as a reserve and
      averaged 4.3 points and 3.2 rebounds. This season, after starting the
      first 10 games, she had to adjust to coming off the bench again. But
      for the past eight games, she has been back in the starting lineup.
      She is averaging 5.5 points and 4.0 rebounds per game during the
      tournament.

        Washington and Cunningham played against each other in AAU
      games, but their high school teams never met when they were in school.
      Now they both are living every college basketball player's
      dream--playing in a Final Four.

        "I know that I had dreams when I was being recruited by Rutgers
      to come to the Final Four," Cunningham said. "This is a dream come
      true."

        Said Washington: "It's everything I imagined--the press, the
      fans, the lights, the cameras."

      Keywords: Features / Sports/Women's College Basketball

      Kathy Orton Special to The Washington Post, D.C.'s Knights of Shining Ardor; Local Pair Leads Rutgers Into Battle. ,
      The Washington Post, 03-31-2000, pp D06.