Higgs, Washington share connection beyond the court

Sydney Rubin

The Longhorns sing “The Eyes of Texas” after every home game at the Frank Erwin Center. Many Texas players wrap their arms around teammates and coaches during the song, sometimes even fans. Sophomore guard Lashann Higgs always wraps her arm around assistant coach George Washington. But he’s more than just a coach to her — he’s also dad.

“After every home game is a special moment for me,” Washington said. “She comes over to me and we put our arms around each other and we sing ‘The Eyes of Texas’ together. It’s kind of like the thing that we do. It’s special.”

Washington and his wife, Jackie, became Higgs’ legal guardians when she moved to Houston from the Bahamas in 2010. The Washingtons later adopted her into their family.

Washington started coaching at Texas in 2012 when head coach Karen Aston took over the program. Higgs was still in high school at Cedar Ridge in Round Rock, Texas. When it came time for recruiting, Washington gave Higgs room to decide where she wanted to play college basketball. But he always hoped she would join him at Texas.

“It was a little nerve-racking at first because (my wife and I) were praying and hoping that she would choose Texas,“ Washington said. “We’re a close family, so I wanted my daughter close. I wanted to be able to experience this with her, watch her grow and not have to watch her on TV somewhere else.”

Higgs decided to stay close to home and joined Washington on the 40 Acres in 2015, just 15 miles away from their home in Round Rock.

“It’s pretty cool because not many players get to have somebody like this to have the same experiences and go on the same journeys,” Higgs said.

Washington tried his best to prepare Higgs for the transition from high school and club basketball to the grueling hours and commitment required at the college level. Washington coached her hard, and the line between coach and dad was sometimes blurred.

“It’s harder to shut off coach than to shut off dad,” Washington said. “My life is so consumed with being coach and being the best coach I can be for our team that I have to realize sometimes when I leave the court, she needs dad because everybody else gets to go home and call dad. It is difficult at times, but I’ve found the balance I think.”

When Higgs faces adversity on the court or has a difficult day with school, she needs dad. When the team sits down together for a meal, she doesn’t need Washington to be in dad mode. Washington once saved Higgs a seat next to him in the team dining hall, but she wanted to sit at the other end of the table with her teammates.  

“She just gave me the head nod like, ‘I’m sitting right here,’” Washington said with a chuckle.  

The two have worked hard to draw the line between basketball and family. Higgs knows that as a father, Washington will always worry about his child, but sometimes she has to tell him, “It’s OK, you can calm down.”

“We’ve gotten a whole lot better at noticing when to be the parent and daughter and when to be the coach and player,” Higgs said.

Their relationship has grown since being able to share the same Texas court every day. Their bond grows even closer when they get to experience special moments together like playing against Connecticut in the Elite Eight in 2016 and defeating Baylor in February for the first time in seven years.

Washington had to fight back tears after the victory at Baylor. It was a special moment for the team and a special moment for the father-daughter duo as they wrapped their arms around each other and sang “The Eyes of Texas,” which the team rarely does on the road.  

For Washington, coaching his daughter is beneficial because he has direct insight to the life of a student-athlete. He sees firsthand how difficult the combination of academics and athletics is and being able to look at Higgs’ responsibilities from a dad’s perspective makes him a better coach.     

“For the first time in my coaching career, I feel like I fully understand our student-athletes’ perspective,” Washington said. “You look at it from outside and you say they need this, they need that, they feel this way, they feel that way. Well now I actually know exactly how they feel because my daughter is pretty candid with me about it.”

Higgs and Washington have two more years together at Texas and one common goal in mind.

“I want to win multiple national championships at the University of Texas,” Washington said. “That’s always been the goal.”