MANATEE -- Elliot Washington is home, but his journey is just beginning.
When he took over the State College of Florida basketball program last summer, most of the top junior college players were gobbled up.
But Washington is not feeling pressure. As a former player at the school and lifelong resident of Bradenton, he is in it for the long haul.
It's important because Washington is SCF's fourth head basketball coach in four years and says the merry-go-round is over.
Washington played at the school from 1989 through 91 when it was called Manatee Community College. He was Southeast boys head coach the past 14 years.
After playing at MCC, Washington had a successful career as a point guard at Alabama, where he ran the offense for a large contingent of soon-to-be NBA standouts Robert Horry, Latrell Sprewell, Roy Rogers, Jason Caffey and James Robinson.
SCF is off to an 0-7 start after Wednesday's loss against Victory Rock Academy, but Washington is not panicking. He expects there will be a lot of bumps in the journey and eventually things will smooth out.
Some of his better players missed games during the early stretch because of off-the-court issues. Some are coming back. Some might not come back, but Washington is OK with that because he says he wants to do it the right way.
"We had to instill some discipline and accountabil
ity on and off the court. One of my things is trying to build a solid foundation," Washington says. "We are trying to build a competitive program year in and year out, and when you do that sometimes you have to put your foot down."
Things were different when Washington played at the school. There was no Internet, and AAU basketball was not as popular. It produced more blue-collar-type kids who worked hard. He says those kids are still out there, but not as easy to find.
"For some kids today, they come into a program and they are hit hard with the reality that they have to work hard for what they want. For some it's not easy," Washington said. "But there are guys out there who work and want to do it the right way and love the game. We will get those guys. We are trying to recruit quality kids who are that way on and off the court."
Obinna Oleka, the Manatees' top returning player from last year, has only played in one game and it's not certain if he will return.
Oleka, who signed with the University of Texas last week, averaged 10.9 points and 6.2 rebounds per game last year and played his best ball during the stretch run of the season, when the Manatees qualified for the state tournament.
In a game against defending national champion College of Central Florida this year, Oleka scored 33 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. It was the only game he played this season.
"If he takes care of the things we want him to do, his return will be soon. If not, we will continue to move on," Washington says.
SCF's most consistent player this year is 6-4 sophomore guard Gabriel Dos Santos, a transfer from the University of Detroit who is averaging a team-high 17.8 points per game.
He is joined in the backcourt by Laquon Kirce, Dominick Harriett and Tre' Bryant, the career 3-point leading scorer at Braden River.
Kirce, a 5-9 sophomore from Jacksonville Potter House, played in his first game Sunday and scored 11 points while dishing out four assists.
The 5-11 Bryant has played a lot at the point guard spot. He hasn't shown the consistent long-range shooting he was known for in high school.
"It's been a rough start. The hardest adjustment for me is running the point since I was shooting guard in high school," Bryant said. "There are lot of different things involved in running the point at the college level. But if it's another way to help the team, I have no problem doing it. I don't necessarily have the size college-wise to play the two."
The Manatees have good size in the frontcourt with 6-7 Deonte Hearns, who played his first game Wednesday night, and 6-7 Nathanial Washington from Toronto. Washington was recommended by former Bradenton Christian coach Dave Magley, who is head coach of the Brampton A's in the Canadian Basketball League.
A pleasant surprise has been Blake Harper from Booker. The 6-4 swingman has been playing out on the wing and is averaging 8.5 points per game.
"We have pretty good size and have been as big as most teams we have played," Washington said. "With all our pieces, we can be versatile. When we have our full team, there we have a lot of options. SCF has been a good move for me. They've given me the opportunity to come in and build a program, and that is what I am going to do. The start is slow, but the future is bright. We are heading in the right direction."