There’s nothing weird about Joshua Washington at first look. The six-foot-one, 200-pound swingman looks like any other member of the men’s basketball team at NYU Polytechnic, which is located in downtown Brooklyn. Sure, he’s 25, but that happens sometimes in Division III basketball; two other guys on the team are 25, too, and there was a 28-year-old small forward earlier this season who had to quit to take care of family. But Washington isn’t a player — he’s the coach.
According to the NCAA, he’s the youngest head coach of any college in the country (as far as anyone knows — of the 400-plus Division III coaches, 236 have their birth dates on record with the NCAA, and Washington is the youngest by a little less than two months). The youngest known coach of all time is the “Father of Basketball Coaching,” Phog Allen, who got into the game at the University of Kansas under James Naismith and ran Baker University’s team when he was 20.
Washington’s superlative status has come at some cost. He gave up wearing sneakers, T-shirts, and any of his five leather jackets, which he’s replaced with peacoats. “I grew a beard. I bought suits,” he says (and 50 new ties). “If I wear a polo with pants, I tuck it in like old people do. And, like, at a game against Purchase College, the ref called me Mister Washington instead of Coach Washington — to make me sound older, I think. It takes a while with all the mister and coach stuff; it’s weird hearing your friend’s dad call you ‘sir.’ I’m sorta not allowed to be 25.”
Social matters are complicated, too. Games and practices cut into Washington’s time to watch his favorite TV show, How I Met Your Mother, which he now downloads on iTunes. Facebook-averse, he stays out of pictures his friends take at nightclubs and only goes out where he’s far enough away from NYU Polytech that he probably won’t run into anyone from the team (although, like any self-respecting basketball lifer, he’s established a home base for himself on the edge of campus at a bar called O’Keefe’s).
Jason Buckner, 22, a junior small forward who majors in business-technology management, used to play NBA2K with Washington on PlayStation 3. Now, Washington is helping Buckner get an internship. “He’s more understanding, about homework or lab hours, than an old coach who went to school in the nineties or whatever and doesn’t remember how school really is nowadays.” Says Washington: “There are advantages I have just because of my age. Players tell me things you would tell your older brother, but wouldn’t tell your parents. They might brag about a booty text, stuff of that nature. But also, if they hurt their knee, they’ll tell me that they did it because they got drunk and accidentally walked into a fire hydrant instead of making up something that sounds less embarrassing.”
In addition to his empathetic qualities, Washington has a respectable hoops résumé: He played high-school ball for Mount Zion Christian Academy in Durham, North Carolina, a nationally respected feeder school for basketball talent (Tracy McGrady and Amar’e Stoudemire are alums), and as a player he helped NYU Polytech win back-to-back Hudson Valley Men’s Athletic Conference Tournament championships in 2003 and 2004. It’ll take some work to get back to that level: Last season, under (37-year-old) coach Dan Nigro, the team won only four games, one of which was by forfeit. So far this year they’re only 3–12, but there are twelve games left to turn things around, starting tonight against Yeshiva, during How I Met Your Mother.