D.C.'s Knights of Shining Ardor;
Local Pair Leads Rutgers Into Battle
Byline: Kathy Orton Special to The Washington Post
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
"That's my best friend," Washington said. "She knows
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
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
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
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.