Stewarts Creek Jy’lan Washington left Ukraine before the Russian invasion

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Jy’lan Washington was in the stands cheering on his alma mater as the Stewarts Creek boys’ basketball won the program’s first division spot on Tuesday.

Barely a week ago, he was trying to leave Ukraine before the invasion by Russia on February 24.

While safe and sound in his hometown, Washington can’t help but feel empathy for the friends he left behind, while breathing a heavy sigh of relief that he’s not in the middle. conflicts in Eastern Europe.

“My first thought was, ‘Man, that could have been me,'” Washington said. “It could have been my apartment that blew up. I was in shock and in disbelief. I couldn’t believe this was really happening.

“I was grateful to be gone when I did.”

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The 6-foot-9 Washington was a standout center for Stewarts Creek, graduating in 2015 before playing at Louisiana Tech and later at Tennessee State.

After college, he went overseas to play professionally, averaging 14 points and nine rebounds per game for Rustavi (Georgia) in 2020-21 before signing with Ukrainian Kyiv Basket, where he averaged eight points and four rebounds.

Washington, 25, said that after his agent informed the team that he would leave the country, the management of Kyiv-Basket, after initially stating that everything was fine, would not release him and even threatened to lawsuits for breach of contract.

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He said the mood in Ukraine was surprisingly calm in the days leading up to his departure.

“You would think nothing is going on,” Washington said. “They really didn’t take it seriously. They didn’t think Russia would actually invade. Now they’re scrambling.”

He said the US Embassy’s recommendations to leave the country began in January and became more urgent over the coming weeks.

“The first time was when the embassy said we should think about it (January 14), and my teammates and I looked at each other and said, ‘Maybe we should leave,'” said Washington. “But the coaches were like, ‘It’s fine.’

“The second time (January 28) was when (President) Biden said we should reflect. The last time was in February, when he was telling us all Americans should leave immediately.”

Washington took the advice and wasted no time getting out of Ukraine. He and four of his American teammates have all returned to the United States

Washington said an American teammate stayed behind, eventually leaving for Poland.

Washington said he appreciates Ukraine, its people and culture and plays basketball there. He knows this is a place he will probably never return to.

“I loved Ukraine,” Washington said. “I hate that this happened. I pray for them and wish them the best.”

His basketball future is uncertain, but he said he would be “ready to take every opportunity” he can to keep playing.

In this moment, his heart is still heavy not just for his friends and teammates, but for the entire nation he left behind.

“I text them and pray for them, trying to watch them,” Washington said. “But they’re in jamming mode right now. Either they don’t have service or they’re in a bunker somewhere and can’t really communicate.”

In the end, Washington was just grateful to be back with his family, in his hometown, rooting for his Red Hawks.

“I’m very grateful to be gone,” Washington said. “I love Ukraine, but everything accelerated so quickly. I had a feeling about it, and I’m glad I acted on it and got out of there.”

Contact Cecil Joyce at [email protected] or 615-278-5168 and on Twitter @Cecil_Joyce.

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