UPLAY AAU Founder Dwayne Washington on VCU commit Marquell Fraser [INSIDER]

UPLAY Canada CEO/Founder Dwayne Washington

VCURamNation: Hi Dwayne, thanks for taking the time out to speak with us today about UPLAY and Marquell Fraser. We’ll be talking to Marquell later on, but it’s also really valuable for us to get your perspective on his recruitment as the Director of his AAU program as well. We appreciate the opportunity.

Dwayne Washington: Absolutely yeah, no problem!

VCURamNation: Why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself? You have a connection with Coach Rasheen Davis on the VCU staff, what can you share with us about the nature of your relationship with him?

Dwayne Washington: Yeah, Rasheen is somebody that is from the same neighborhood in the Bronx that I grew up in. We had a lot of the same friends, a lot of the same background connections from New York City so it’s good to be able to start to work with him. You know I would love to put a kid in his hands. I have a feeling that our recruit Marquell Fraser is committing to VCU, I know that, in about an hour or 2. I just trust him and I like the style of play. Rasheen is the point man on this and I feel comfortable that he’s there.

VCURamNation: This isn’t all that related to Marquell Fraser, but what is it that brought you to the Toronto area from New York?

Dwayne Washington: Oh yeah, well I came up here for grad school at the University of Toronto. I ended up staying, so yes it worked out really well. I’m only 8 hours from home. I live in the Hamilton area now (about an hour west of Toronto) so I’m able to drive back and forth so that works. In my 3rd year I started the UPLAY program and it just got bigger and bigger with a lot of permission from back home and a lot of good people here in Canada and Toronto. I started out working with Bounce and did then did my own thing and still collaborate with a lot of people. So that’s why I’m here. It’s a great, great place. Southern Ontario is amazing.

I’m actually the CEO and the Founder of UPLAY. I do have a director, a younger guy Kenold Knight, he’s looking to be a Division I coach and he’s up here. I moved and put him in that position to get him a little more experience. He does a great job but I’m the CEO and Founder of UPLAY.

VCURamNation: Take us through Marquell’s recruitment. Which schools have been interested? How long has VCU been in the picture and when did they really start to ramp up their recruitment?

Dwayne Washington: His recruitment has been all over the board from high, high majors from the University of Miami to California, you name it, to mid-major schools because he’s an enigma in that he is a big guard that does a lot of things. In today’s age, people like to put guys in a cookie-cutter, but he can play multiple roles, so I think for a lot programs the style of play was the key.

So for him, he can play the 1 to 3, he can guard the 1, the 2, and the 3. He needed to be in a fit where players are interchangeable, where they recommend and really value defense and just playing the right way, as well as high tempo. Also we want to make sure we go with coaches who are going to be committed to a certain style. So really the style of play is huge.

His recruiting has been, well you know we have had probably about 30 schools interested in him, we’ve had about 16 offers. People are just picking him out and they’re trying to figure out what Marquell is all about. Marquell is simply a winning play-maker. He just gets things done. He’s an excellent passer and rebounder. He does the stuff that helps you win, but it may not always be “pretty”, so you have to find people that value that substance over style.

VCURamNation: Is there a specific position from 1-3 that Marquell likes to play in general or that he’d like to play in college?

Dwayne Washington: He likes to play the 1 because he makes the right decisions. He likes to play the 1, but he understands on defense he’s always going to be guarding a bigger guy just because of how physical he is and how he’s an elite defender. At his age level, like where he is right now, his defense is way ahead of most kids going into college. His defense is way ahead of most guys so he’s okay with guarding different positions.

For the Canadian Junior National Team, he was one of the better defenders and he was guarding 1, 2, 3, 4. For him he understands that defense keeps him on the court, but his play-making, passing ability, and high IQ makes him really intriguing. That’s what his biggest value is. I think that the VCU fans will love the fact that he plays the game the right way, moves the ball and rebounds. He does all the stuff that nobody else wants to do, but he does it from a lead guard position. You can pair him with a “point guard” who is shorter and can shoot it a lot more because he’s very unselfish. He doesn’t need to get points but he just makes the right plays.

So that’s his game, his game is that he likes to play the 1. He’s comfortable on defense playing any position, but on offense he loves being the initiator of the offense because he makes the right pass. I hope that makes sense.

VCURamNation: That sounds great as far as being a fit for VCU with the heavy emphasis on defense in the Havoc scheme and the interchangeability of players since VCU has run 3 and even 4-guard sets in the past. He has great size and he looks like he’s a very physically mature kid for his age. From a physique standpoint, it looks like he’ll be ready to play as soon as he steps on campus.

Dwayne Washington: Yeah, he’s 194 pounds, all muscle. 6’4 and 3/4″. He’s a big boy. If he was 6’1″, people would say he’s an elite point guard, but when you’re taller, some people can’t distinguish between size and position. A lot of taller guards, they have that problem. You just say he’s a basketball player. He’s a play-maker, that’s what he is.

VCURamNation: When did VCU really start to enter the picture for Marquell Fraser? How has Coach Davis been involved in recruiting him through the process?

Dwayne Washington: VCU has been very interested in Marquell from the summer when we ended up winning the Adidas Championships in Vegas (17U Silver Bracket). They saw him play and he had a great game that we won against Team Rose playing against a bunch of shorter guards. He was able to do a lot of different things. They just didn’t know they could get involved because they thought it was a little late and they saw his size and they just thought that he was going to a “higher” level, so to speak, even though VCU is a very high level. Then they just tried to get involved but they couldn’t find the contact info. So what happened was Coach Davis stayed on it, stayed on it, stayed on it, and it wasn’t until a few weeks ago that Davis ended up calling me and saying “Listen, I know we don’t have a chance with the kid, it’s probably late.” and I said, “No, no, actually he’s open. He’s trying to find the best fit, trying to get through the process.”. Coach Davis stuck with it. He deserves a whole lot of credit because we were just trying to find the best fit for what Marquell wanted.

Marquell Fraser (4th from left) at Adidas Championships in Las Vegas, NV.

From there everything went pretty fast because he fits a need as a lead guard, and what they’re trying to do, and also where they see him. His biggest value that they wanted was his defensive prowess, his efficiency and ability to make people better. Those were the 2 things in that order. So they were quite involved, however, they just didn’t know they could get in, and then Coach Davis just made the call and we connected. From there they showed that they have a plan for him within the system they are trying to create, the Chaos system (the name Coach Wade used for his brand of Havoc at Chattanooga). Before you know it, they got the commitment.

We thought he was going to Bradley initially with those guys, but Marquell wanted to wait. Every kid has to follow their path, you know? Then we thought he was going to go to Georgia Tech. Everything went ahead and he just went through the process and now he’s at a spot where he’s comfortable.

VCURamNation: Marquell Fraser will be the 1st Canadian to play a game at VCU since Sherman Hamilton who you would know in Canada from NBA TV reporting for the Toronto Raptors in the Toronto area. That was probably about 20 years ago so it’s been a long time since VCU has had a Canadian player play for VCU. Tell us a little about the Canadian basketball scene.

Dwayne Washington: I think what’s happened is we’ve had collaboration from the grassroots level, from the high school teams, and also from the national level. I think Rowan Barrett (Executive VP & Assistant GM of Canada Basketball) has done a hell of a job in bridging the gaps and taking it to the next level with the ‘Roy Rana’s (Head Coach of Canadian Junior National Team) and ‘Dave Smart’s (Assistant for Canadian National Team and Head Coach of Canadian University power Carleton) of the world. So I think what you have know is that people see the light, they understand that we are all connected, there is no skipping steps. I think there’s more respect factor from the grassroots, the high schools, all the way up. With the national team right now, they’re trying to get people in places to be able to take them to that next level.

I think what you’re seeing right now is the emergence of Canadian basketball and it’s not going away. It’s actually getting stronger now, it’s getting stronger and it’s not going backwards. What you have now is a formidable area where any other place in North America, in the world, Canada is here to stay. The coaching is better, the skill sets are better. With recruiting on the internet, people can see stuff, everyone is exposed now. From Manitoba to Nova Scotia and all over the place. So really we’re not hidden anymore, the guys have confidence. They play AAU, they play high schoolers, other American high schools. What you have right now is a sleeping giant that’s awakened and across all the provinces you now have kids who know they can actually get to that higher level of basketball and the National Team has done a great job of finding these kids as well.

VCURamNation: Since you’re so attuned to the Canadian hoops scene, if you were to be as objective as possible, where would you put Marquel Fraser in ranking of players in his class among Canadians?

Dwayne Washington: I’d put Marquell in the top 4 because you’ve got to understand 3 things about him: he’s got size, intelligence, and strength. Size, intelligence, and the capacity to put on strength are very important. When you combine that and have a distinct skill-set with size and passing ability, there are guys who play professional basketball just because they can play defense. So at 6’5″, he’s actually taller than Tony Allen. So now you’ve got a point guard who plays defense with the same effort and energy as a Tony Allen because he’s actually a play-maker. So because of those things, I’d put him there.

Basketball is a game of height and size. A lot of guys can jump and run, but between their ears they don’t understand the game. He has a high ceiling because of his genetics but also his mindset, his understanding of the game. His passion for playing D is second to none, especially for his position, but the higher you go up in level, the bigger you pretty much have to be if you’re going to have a chance. He can play multiple positions which already gives him a leg up. He’s not a 5’6″ guard and he’s not a 7 footer where in either case you’re pretty much only playing one position. He’s at the size right now at 6’4″ to 6’7″ where the sky is the limit at the high major and NBA levels. Basketball involves trying to create a mismatch and he’s a walking mismatch.

He doesn’t need to score to be effective. There’s something to be said about making people better. You’re always going to help a team when you make everyone else better and you can still get yours when needed. A true point guard is a guy who sacrifices stats in order to make the other 4 guys better.

VCURamNation: You mentioned Marquell’s genetics as a reason for his high ceiling. Can you elaborate what you mean? Is there a history of high level athletes within his family?

Dwayne Washington: Well yeah, Rowan Barrett (who also played college basketball at St. John’s from 1992-1996 and was a Canadian Olympian in MBB) is his cousin, he’s his first cousin. Obviously RJ Barrett (Rowan’s son and Class of 2019 NBA prospect at Monteverde Academy in Florida) is his cousin as well so you’ve got the genetics there. His brother’s 6’6″-6’7″, the mom’s a good athlete, his dad’s an athlete, so yeah he’s got the genetics.

He was the top running back in the City of Hamilton until he decided to play basketball. He gave it up to pursue a scholarship in basketball. He already has that rough, tough style that you need. He’s pretty much the point guard version of what Melvin Ejim was (fellow Canadian, 2014 2nd-team All-American, 2014 Big12 POY at Iowa State, currently playing for the Erie Bayhawks of the NBA D-league). A no-nonsense guy, quiet, gets the job done, nothing flashy, but just efficient.

VCURamNation: Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with us about your story, your program, and VCU’s newest addition, Marquell Fraser. We appreciate the opportunity to get your unique perspective on his recruitment and what he brings to the table for the Rams! Thanks!

Matt has been reporting on VCU sports for Ram Nation since 2007 with a focus on news, photos, and feature stories.