It wasn't exactly a secret that Malcolm Washington would be coming to Philadelphia to play basketball at Penn. Why so much hype over the young point guard? Well, he happens to be the son of two-time Academy Award-winning actor Denzel Washington.
Word had spread across the Ivy League campus that Washington, a terrific basketball player and student from Windward School in Los Angeles, would be playing for the Quakers.
"I went to private school in Los Angeles," Washington said. "Back home, it was really low-key, but in college, I was thrown into an environment where everybody knew everything about me. There were 10,000 people who knew who I was before I even got here. It's crazy. I'm adjusting to it."
Washington, a 5-foot-9 freshman, doesn't seem fazed by all the attention.
"He's Malcolm Washington," said Jerome Allen, Penn's interim head coach. "You wouldn't know that he's the son of a famous actor, [because] he doesn't carry himself that way. Denzel and Pauletta have done an extremely great job of raising him."
In high school, Washington played alongside Anthony Stover and Darius Morris, who now play for UCLA and Michigan, respectively. The talented trio led Windward School to the CIF Division V state championship in Washington's senior year.
Despite his success at Windward, Washington hasn't yet reached stardom with the Quakers. He has seen action in 14 of Penn's 23 games but is averaging less than one point per contest. Nevertheless, Allen feels Washington has a lot of potential.
"He's getting there," Allen said. "He's been working on his game [and] he really believes in the things that I'm telling him. I think for the most part he brings an attitude to the team that we don't have, particularly on the defensive end."
Allen knows firsthand what it takes to bring a winning attitude into the gym. The two-time Ivy League Player of the Year carried Penn to three straight Ivy League championships from 1993 to 1995. He finished his career as the school's all-time leader in both assists and steals, and was inducted into the Philadelphia Big 5 Hall of Fame. Allen went on to a fine pro career, including stints in the NBA and Europe.
Washington was recruited by former Penn coach Glen Miller, and wasn't aware of Allen's basketball legacy.
"When I first came here, I really didn't understand who he was," Washington admits. "[But] he worked his way up the ladder to be one of the best point guards to come out of [Penn] … He showed me a tape [and] I was like 'Wow!' I had to give it up to him."
Allen's command of the point guard position has really helped Washington's development as a player.
"I think he's really elevated my game, especially [with] him playing the same position as me on the court," said Washington.
Athleticism is ingrained in Washington's genes. Denzel played college basketball at Fordham, and demonstrated his basketball prowess in the movie "He Got Game." Malcolm doesn't have a favorite movie among his father's great flicks, but he does have vivid memories of "He Got Game."
"I think I was about 6 or 7 when the movie came out," Washington recalled. "I remember going to the park with Ray Allen and my brother. We were shooting the ball with him. That was a lot of fun."
Yet basketball isn't the only sport in the Washington family. Malcolm's brother, John David Washington, was a tremendous running back at Morehouse College.
"We used to go down to Atlanta and watch him play for Morehouse on the weekends," Washington said. "We all looked forward to flying down there. He had a great career. He played two years for the St. Louis Rams [and now] he's looking forward to getting another opportunity to play in the NFL."
Family is very important to Washington. In addition to his brother, he has a twin sister, Olivia, who goes to NYU, and an older sister, Katia, who attends Yale. His mother and father have made many trips to Philadelphia to watch him play at the Palestra, the legendary basketball arena on Penn's campus.
"I'm in a situation where I can get a lot of support from my parents," Washington said. "I'm blessed to have a family that cares so much to come across the country to see me play. I really appreciate it. It really does a lot for me. More than they, or anybody else, might really understand."