From the Grass to the Court

“Left Foot, Right Foot, Breath, Repeat.” — a six-worded phrase that has so much meaning and potential, but yet is so small. Those six words are tattooed on Nakiyah Washington’s shoulder blade. A sophomore forward for the women’s Piedmont Lions basketball team, Washington lives her life a step and breath at a time, because she knows the importance of keeping a narrow focus on the road that’s ahead of her. 

“The quote is from legendary basketball coach Pat Summitt, and ever since my grandpa told me that as a little kid it was my motivation throughout life to play college basketball,” Washington said. 

Washington grew up in the small town of Adairsville, Georgia, which is just outside of Atlanta. She has a younger sister in middle school, and is supported by her two parents. 

“Where we live is all woods and grass, we don’t have a concrete pad,” she said. “My sister and I grew up shooting basketball in a grassy area that eventually turned into dirt from all the damage we had done shooting hoops. My dad had put a light on the back of the goal so we could see around us at night.”

With Washington wanting to make a name for herself after high school, she turned to her number one supporter, her grandpa. 

“Sophomore year of high school is when I became serious about college ball. I remember my grandpa and I being outside until midnight working on ball handling, free throws, layups and post moves. Really anything to boost my game — and he even made me run in the dark to condition my body whether it was freezing outside or really humid and hot.”

Washington’s freshmen year as a Lady Lion was a standout rookie season. She appeared in all 28 games and started 20. She led the team with 373 points (13.3 ppg) and 176 rebounds (6.3rpg) in the season. She was third on the Lady Lions team with a combined total of 613 minutes played. She also was 3rd in the USA South Conference in steals per game, averaging 2.8. Her career high for her 2019-20 season was 25 points. Not surprisingly, the accolades came in for the 5-10 forward. She was named to the All-USA South West Division Second team, a USA South Rookie of the week twice, and the USA South All-Academic Team. 

“I was really impressed with Nakiyah’s numbers for her first year,” said head coach Jaime Purdy. “She has the potential to be one of the best athletes that has stepped into this program.” 

Purdy has been the women’s basketball coach at Piedmont for 16 seasons.

“After my freshmen season, I knew I was doing something right,” Washington said. “Each practice I gave it my all, and luckily for me it transitioned to when the three black and white striped guys stepped on the court with their whistles.” 

Washington also succeeds in the classroom. She has made Dean’s list for three consecutive semesters as a Lion. She is the determined, strong-willed individual behind the meaning of a student athlete. 

“I have always taken my studies seriously. In high school I was a ‘B’ student. Every now and then I would make a ‘C,’ but I would try my best to make efficient grades. However, when coming to college I knew I had to do better because it’s now or never. It’s my future I’m working for.” 

Her determination is evident to others — both on and off the court.

“Nakiyah is a determined young lady, and you can see that determination in her eyes when just having a conversation with her,” said assistant coach Brad Cochran. 

Achieving excellence in the classroom and on the court has been a consistent goal for Washington, but her seemingly smooth path to success hit a huge roadblock when her grandpa passed away last year.

“It was a feeling of disbelief, I refused to believe it,” she said. “I had just gone home the prior weekend and saw him and we shot basketball in our favorite dirt spot that we had made with our long hard hours of work.” 

When the 2020-2021 basketball season rolled around Washington was a determined individual on a mission. 

“She was the first one in the gym and the last to leave,” Cochran said. “She wouldn’t leave practice until she made 15 free throws in a row and it showed in this past season.”

Washington led the USA South Conference and the Lady Lions team shooting 87% from the free throw line during her sophomore season. She credits the memory of her grandpa for her continued success.

“I knew I was going to dedicate the season to him,” she said. “Everything I did was for him. When I felt like giving up, I would hear his voice in my head saying, “Nakiyah Left Foot, Right Foot, Breath, Repeat.”

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