MACCLENNY, Fla. – Delicia Washington needed to get out. This wasn’t how her story was supposed to go.
Washington dominated across two sports in high school at Baker County and signed with the college she grew up dreaming about — the University of Florida. The small town girl with the big city basketball skills never saw herself anywhere else.
But over and over, his comments replayed in her mind. Over and over, the volume of her teary phone calls home picked up.
You won’t do much after college.
You’ll be right back where you grew up.
Playing under former coach Cameron Newbauer at Florida, Washington, a 5-10 guard, said she sank to a bad place.
Washington wanted to escape. For her mental health, she needed to. She buried those painful memories and set out for a fresh start at Clemson.
But when the Independent Florida Alligator detailed allegations against Newbauer in a Sept. 27 story by Zach Huber, it brought back all of those feelings again. Five former players went on the record with the publication about their time with the Gators and how turbulent and toxic it was under Newbauer.
For Washington, the public revelations by women she knew and knew well dredged up feelings and memories that she’d packed up and put away long ago. It was time to get it out, even though that meant putting her back in an uncomfortable position to talk about it.
Even though she’s happy now playing as a grad student at Clemson and for the coach who recruited her at Florida (Amanda Butler), Washington said that it was important for her to talk about her time with the Gators.
In a way, she wanted to be heard. In a way, she needed to heal and heal publicly along with her ex-teammates.
“I held it in for a long time. I didn’t speak on it because I didn’t want to get back in that stage of being angry because I am in a happy place now ...,” Washington said. “When I started seeing the articles and things, it just made me like, I just wanted to get it off my chest.”
A local legend
Washington remains one of the best all-around athletes the area has seen, an all-state selection in two sports, basketball and softball.
She was a four-year starter for the Wildcats on the softball field, hitting .447 over her career. She drove in 58 runs and scored 116 times while playing shortstop and second base. She helped Baker County pull off a seismic upset in 2015 when it beat dynasty Plantation American Heritage for the Class 5A state championship, 1-0.
But basketball was Washington’s first love. And she was exceptional at it.
Washington was electric on the floor with a basketball in her hands. During her junior season with Baker County, she averaged 28.3 points per game and was unstoppable. Washington eclipsed the 40-point mark four times that season. And she had a career-high 51 during a loss to Creekside in her junior season. As a senior, Washington averaged 27.5 points every time out.
Teams knew she was getting the ball and still couldn’t slow her down. When it comes to girls basketball in Baker County, Washington and 1996 Baker County graduate Kim Gaskins are the names in Macclenny. Both were selections on News4Jax All-25 team, a list honoring the best players of the past 25 years.
The coaching change
Newbauer wasn’t the coach who built a relationship with and signed Washington. That was Butler, a Florida grad herself. The Gators fired Butler after 10 seasons in March 2017 after wrapping up a 15-16 year.
In her place came Newbauer, who was coming off back-to-back 20-win seasons and NCAA tournament berths at Belmont.
Washington said a player from Belmont called one of her teammates and told her, “he isn’t who you think he is,” implying that what players saw early in Newbauer wasn’t a true portrait.
Still, Washington and players at Florida were willing to give Newbauer a chance. She said initially Newbauer was kind and engaging to both her and her family.
Things gradually changed.
Washington wasn’t an end-of-the-bench kind of player with the Gators. She was an integral part of Florida’s team, first under Butler and then under Newbauer. She earned SEC Co-Freshman of the year honors in 2017, averaging 11.1 points per game. She kept that production going under Newbauer. Washington started all 30 games in 2018 and then 19 of 28 the following year.
On the court, Florida struggled under Newbauer. During his first two seasons in Gainesville, the Gators went 11-19 and 8-23. They won just three SEC games each of those years.
The ‘bad memories’
Outside of the games, things became combustible behind the scenes and reached a breaking point for several players. The Alligator story painted constant toxicity from Newbauer to players.
Practices were difficult, Washington said, but not because of the intensity level. She said that Newbauer’s actions went beyond what’s acceptable from a coach at any level. Washington recalled one situation where Newbauer threw basketballs at a player’s head.
Washington said another incident involving Newbauer came when he kicked a ball at a player who had recently had knee surgery. The ball hit the player in the knee that she’d just had surgery on.
“One of my teammates didn’t have her hands up on defense, he stopped the complete practice and made her put her hands down,” she said. “And he grabbed balls and started throwing beside her head. … She just stood there, I’m guessing ‘cause she was intimidated by him. She just stood there while he threw balls at her.”
Washington said Newbauer called her names — “loser is a name” — and insinuated that she didn’t have a future after college, that she was bound to end up right back where she started in Macclenny.
Washington said that she never worried or took offense to the use of foul language from coaches at the college level. These are young adults in college, she said, and players don’t shy away from tough coaching.
But there was a stark difference in Newbauer’s use and tone of it and how he directed it at players. It came across as mean-spirited, derisive and angry, Washington said.
“Mental abuse. Always just coming home crying trying to figure out, like, how can I be better to basically try to make him happy,” she said. “But [hearing her ex-teammates’ stories] it just brought back bad memories, honestly.”
Gradually, players who signed with Florida under Butler, and even some who signed under Newbauer, left the program. The Alligator story intimated that Newbauer essentially forced players who signed under Butler out of the program.
Sydney Searcy, who graduated from Nease, was in the same signing class as Washington. She was the first player to transfer, leaving Florida for Morgan State. Another player with area ties, Jalaysha Thomas (she played her freshman season at Potter’s House), transferred to LSU after playing one season for Newbauer. Thomas signed under Newbauer.
Washington said that treatment across the board by Newbauer made every person around the program intimidated and afraid to speak up.
“Everyone,” she said. “Players. Coaches. Workers on the staff. Everybody.”4
Then, unexpectedly, Newbauer’s tenure came to an abrupt halt.
Six weeks after he’d signed a contract extension with the Gators, Newbauer announced his resignation on July 16. Newbauer cited personal reasons for his departure. He finished his Gators coaching career with a 46-71 career record. The school elevated Kelly Rae Finley to interim head coach.
It all comes out
Two months after his resignation, the Alligator story broke.
The Gators then had to confront the chorus of allegations asking why they’d extend Newbauer’s contract at $500,000 per year if there were this many complaints.
In a statement from Florida, Athletic Director Scott Stricklin said that there were times in Newbauer’s tenure where things were brought to the school’s attention and that they addressed those and added more checkpoints and administrative oversight within the program. Stricklin said that “we failed” in the Newbauer case.
“We as a department have a responsibility to provide our student-athletes leadership for their particular programs, their sports. We are going to provide them the best atmosphere possible, and we failed in this situation. And ultimately that’s my responsibility for the culture of this department. I’ll take responsibility for that,” Stricklin said.
“Had I been aware of everything at the time he re-signed that I when we made the contract extension, I never would have done the contract extension. I thought things were moving in a certain direction. Obviously, we weren’t. We didn’t pick up signs and clues and we’ve got to figure out going forward how to get better at that and make sure we know what’s going on.”
To Washington’s mother, Tara, she went through it with her daughter constantly with phone calls back home. But reading it, seeing it, hearing it all over again from other players, too, drove home the point of just how widespread of a situation it was.
“Nobody should be able to be treated like that, but especially by your coach that’s supposed to love you and take care of you and bring you in,” she said.
A fresh start
Washington said that when she decided to leave Florida, she was broken, angry and hurt. She wanted to graduate with a UF diploma. Instead, she made the decision to put her name in the transfer portal, uncertain if she even wanted to continue playing the sport in college.
“I called my mom. I was very upset. I met with the AD. I tried to tell him what was going on. He wasn’t buying it,” Washington said. “Basically, he just always tried to act like he was lost in our situation when he really knew what was going on. So I just had to do what was best for me. And I had to get out of there.”
Butler, the coach who recruited and signed her at Florida, had been hired at Clemson in 2018. The opportunity to transfer to play for Butler presented itself, and Washington seized it. She had to sit out the 2019-20 season due to NCAA transfer guidelines but focused on academics and working on her game. When Washington became eligible to play last year, she was better than ever. Washington led Clemson in scoring (16.4 ppg), assists (3.5 apg) and minutes per game. She was second on the team in rebounding (6 rpg). Washington also earned her bachelor’s degree in Pan African Studies.
And she’s got one season left, with no intentions on returning home to Macclenny just yet.
“I’m there, I’m happy, I got things to accomplish now,” Washington said. “My next goal is to be ACC player of the year. After that, after college is over, hear my name in that first round [of the WNBA] draft.”