Delicia Washington couldn’t believe it.
There was no one around as she went up for a wide-open layup and missed. It was a shot she had to make — better yet, knew she could make — for her team, and it didn’t fall.
“Nobody between me and the rim,” Clemson’s graduate senior guard recalled of a missed shot against Miami on Jan. 13 at Littlejohn Coliseum.
A younger Delicia might have imploded. A moment like that was enough to cause her to be visibly emotional and off her game the rest of the night. But this Delicia, a 24-year-old more mature, savvy player, knows how to handle that kind of disappointment.
After the miss, Washington put her hand on her chest, counted to five and moved on. While the Tigers lost to the Hurricanes 69-60 that night, Washington missed just four shots on the night, went 3-for-3 from 3-point range and scored 24 points. Not letting a single missed shot get to her illustrates the Florida native’s exponential growth as a woman and basketball player.
No matter how much she evolves both on and off the court, though, Washington will always see herself as a work in progress, which is part of why she’s embraced those initials — “WIP,” pronounced like “whip” — as a forever nickname.
Amanda Butler’s work in progress
Delicia Washington has no problem calling things like she sees them, even when it’s about herself.
She laughs about it now, but acknowledges she was overconfident as a young freshman star at Florida. Former Gators teammate Dee Anderson might even go as far as to say Washington had a big head.
After all, she comes from an athletic background.
Washington’s cousin Carl Jefferson played for the Gators’ football team. Additionally, she was a two-time all-state selection and the first person from Baker County High School to sign with a Division I basketball program.
Macclenny, her hometown, is only about an hour away from the University of Florida. That made her a hometown hero, a status that became more apparent in 2016 when she was the Gators’ first true freshman to start a season opener since 2012-13.
Florida played South Alabama on Nov. 11, 2016 in Jacksonville, less than 40 miles from Macclenny, resulting in about 30 people from her hometown going to see Washington play. In her collegiate debut, she had eight points, six rebounds and four steals in 20 minutes played in an 85-33 win.
But, Washington was still a freshman.
One day while in then-Florida head coach Amanda Butler’s office, Washington’s overconfidence came out and sparked an idea in Butler. She decided she’d call her young player “WIP,” which stands for “work in progress.”
“I jokingly said to her, ‘You’re not grown. You’re a work in progress. As a matter of fact, I’m going to call you WIP,’ ” Butler said. “We haven’t looked back from then.”
The nickname caught Washington off guard at first, but she took to it.
“Coming from a coach like her, I trust her in a lot of ways, so I knew she gave me that name for a reason, so I just stuck with that name,” Washington explained. “A coach like coach Butler, she’s somebody that’s special to me and I feel like I’m that person that needs to keep that name, WIP.”
Just like with any progress, it didn’t always come easy. As a freshman, she fouled out after only playing 12 minutes against rival Florida State on Dec. 8, 2016, a game the Gators lost 83-58. Three days later, she sat out of the first half of a game against North Carolina A&T for a “violation of team culture,” according to her Florida bio.
That didn’t mean she wasn’t trying to be better. As part of her work, Washington sought guidance from women such as Dee Anderson and Haley Lorenzen, who were Clemson juniors at that time; Ronni Williams, then a senior; as well as then-assistant coach Murriel Page, who’s now at Georgia Tech.
Anderson, who went on to spend two years at Clemson as a graduate assistant, found the WIP nickname to be both hilarious and fitting. While teammates at Florida, she knew first-hand Washington’s talent and potential, and Anderson wanted to make sure she modeled humility for the freshman to follow.
This came at a time when Anderson was finding her own way as well. She’d never played point guard before and was tasked with that responsibility for the Gators, taking on even more of a leadership role.
“The four people around me trusted me and listened to me,” Anderson said. “Having myself be humble but at the same time be a little bit uncomfortable, but still try to have that leadership role and that leadership mentality and know that when I spoke, I was listened to — I think is something that (Washington) shows now.”
Year One at Florida for WIP ended with SEC Co-Freshman of the Year honors, the first in the program’s history, after averaging 11.1 points and 5.4 rebounds to go with 51 assists and 41 steals. As a sophomore, she recorded Florida women’s basketball’s third-ever triple-double with 12 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists in a 90-40 win over Savannah State on Nov. 23, 2017.
Washington’s ability as a basketball player was never in question. That’s why Butler recruited her and one of the reasons Anderson was excited to have her as a teammate. The element that needed the most progress was WIP’s maturity.
Coming to Clemson
When Florida parted ways with Butler in 2017, she landed at Clemson as head coach a year later. Washington arrived via transfer the year after that.
“Our journey began with a really strong relationship,” Butler said. “Although I was coaching somewhere else and she was playing somewhere else and we didn’t talk, when a relationship is real, that doesn’t really change how strong the connection is. I think there’s a tremendous amount of trust.
“... She didn’t know what Clemson was about or this experience. We couldn’t make a lot of promises that way, but she knew that I would continue to push her and that she’d be really important and that we would continue to grow together.”
Washington had to sit out of the 2019-20 season due to the NCAA’s transfer rules at the time, but she didn’t lose her step once she got back on the court.
In her debut season with Clemson in 2020, Washington led the team in scoring (16.4 ppg), assists (88) and minutes per game (27.2). Her scoring average was the highest for a Tiger since Lakeia Stokes averaged 17 points during the 2003-04 season. The move was also good because it caused WIP to grow up even more since she was almost seven hours away from home, which was a welcome change.
“I mean, her nickname with her family is ‘Baby,’ so she was babied for a very long time throughout her life,” Anderson said. “Delicia wanted to become independent. Delicia wanted to go and do things by herself and kind of have that freedom, but also she just didn’t want to be seen as a baby anymore, didn’t want to be seen as someone who couldn’t be independent.
“That’s the thing that I enjoyed seeing the most with her, is her maturing in that aspect.”
Independence was just one area in which Washington showed growth, but she also had to show it on the court. As a competitor, she sometimes would let her emotions get the best of her, which was no good for her game.
It wasn’t until about three months ago that Washington sought help from Dr. Katie Nichols, the Tigers’ mental performance coach, and the two came up with a strategy to develop WIP’s emotional maturity. Nichols gave the Tigers guard a few options to diffuse any in-game frustration, but the one she liked the best was an exercise where she put her hand on her chest and counted to five.
“Having that conversation with Katie and transition that to not only on the court, but just in general, count to five, has helped me not get frustrated or get in my own head,” Washington said.
It came in handy when Washington’s missed layup against Miami brought about some disappointment and frustration. Her ability to quickly self-correct was crucial in helping Clemson, even in the team’s losing effort.
Anderson, now an assistant coach at UNC Asheville, texted Washington after the Clemson-Miami game, reminding her of the Bible verse Galatians 6:9, a scripture Butler would often say at Florida.
“For you will reap a harvest,” Anderson recited. “I said, ‘I’m so proud of you. I’m so proud of how far you’ve come.’ I know she’s a leader of that team, so I said, ‘Keep leading your teammates and keep being the positive voice that they need to hear right now because that’s what they need from you.’ She texted back and was like, ‘I needed to hear this. I appreciate you.’ ”
Continuing the work
Things haven’t been easy for the Clemson women’s basketball team this year.
The Tigers are 7-12 overall with one ACC win heading into Thursday’s home contest against Pitt. The loss to Miami two weeks ago was part of a seven-game losing streak for the Tigers that has since ended. The team also has lost two key players from the roster in Gabby Elliott, who opted to transfer, and Kiara Lewis, who had just transferred from Syracuse this season but decided to retire from basketball.
The train keeps moving, said Washington, who is Clemson’s statistical leader in minutes played, 29.3 per outing, as well as average points (14.5), rebounds (7) and assists per game (2.8). She continues to develop and mature for herself and for her teammates, doing whatever she can for the betterment of the team.
“The thing that’s really special about WIP is that she’s resilient,” Butler said. “That’s one of the areas she’s really matured in, is the ownership of, ‘I know I can do this better and I know I will do this better.’ … You’ve still got to go box out. You still have to talk on defense and do some of those things, but I think when she’s consistent with her example of hard work and communication, it’s impossible to not follow her when she’s going that hard.”
College basketball is winding down and a potential WNBA career is on the horizon for Washington, who Anderson said is unrecognizable compared to the freshman she first met almost six years ago. That’s why Anderson no longer uses the WIP nickname.
“I stopped calling her WIP, actually, when she got to Clemson while I was a GA there because I was like, no, she’s not a work in progress anymore,” said Anderson, who still maintains Washington is one of the funniest people she’s ever met. “She can always be working, but she’s not a work in progress anymore. She’s grown from that.”
Butler still uses the name, though, and Washington wears it as a badge of honor to show how far she’s come and how far she still has to go.
“I just think that name sticking with me, that’s something I want to keep with myself no matter where I end up after here, leaving Clemson,” Washington said. “I just think me being WIP is something that I can always grow in whether it’s on the court, off the court, as a player, as a person, just in general.
“I just think there’s always room to grow.”