Former Syracuse star Dwayne "Pearl" Washington, who sparkled as an unstoppable point guard playing on the New York City high school and national college basketball stages for much of the 1980s, has died, Syracuse announced Wednesday on its website. He was 52.
Mr. Washington was diagnosed with a brain tumor in the summer of 2015 and had surgery in the fall, according to the university.
"There was no better guy and there's nobody who has meant more to our basketball program than Dwayne Washington," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim wrote on his verified Twitter account. "You will forever be in our hearts. We love you."
Mr. Washington, whose nickname became his first name, was the top recruit in the country coming out of Boys and Girls High School in Brooklyn in 1983 and went on to excel for three seasons at Syracuse, helping to build the Big East into one of the best basketball conferences in the nation.
"Pearl was one of the most exciting guards ever to play college basketball," Boeheim said in 1998 during the Big East's 20th anniversary season preseason news conference. "Not the best, but the most exciting. One of a kind."
Mr. Washington averaged 15.6 points and 6.7 assists in three seasons for the Orange and led it to a 71-24 record. He was first-team All-Big East three times, a first-team All-American as a junior and a first-round draft choice (13th overall) by the Nets in 1986. He had a brief, modest NBA career, averaging just 8.6 points in three seasons for the Nets and Heat.
At Syracuse, Mr. Washington had a flair for the dramatic. As a freshman, on Jan. 21, 1984, he burnished his status as a true Syracuse legend by hitting a halfcourt shot at the buzzer to beat Boston College 75-72 before a crowd of 30,293 at the Carrier Dome.
Long-range shooting, however, was not his forte. He was a shake-and-bake point guard who, at 6-2 and 190 pounds, was exceptionally strong going to the basket. Like the player for whom he was jokingly nicknamed as an 8-year-old on the playgrounds of his hometown in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, Earl "The Pearl" Monroe, Mr. Washington was a man of many flashy moves.
He was a crowd-pleaser with his slick, no-look passes and loved playing before packed houses, especially at Madison Square Garden, where Pearl had many electric moments during games against St. John's or in the Big East tournament.
At Syracuse, where he regularly helped draw record-breaking crowds to the Carrier Dome, fans often wore T-shirts that read, " … and on the eighth day, God created Pearl."
When Mr. Washington signed with Syracuse in 1983, it gave the Big East the nation's No. 1 recruit two years in a row. Patrick Ewing selected Georgetown in 1982. Mr. Washington, along with Ewing, Chris Mullin (St. John's), Derrick Coleman (Syracuse) and Ray Allen (Connecticut), was named to the Big East 25th anniversary first team in 2004.
"Pearl Washington was one of the fiercest competitors I ever faced and such a wonderful gentleman who will truly be missed," Mullin said.