Washington Husky Huddle for Wednesday December 21st 2011 (Part Two)

Dec 21, 2011, 8:45 AM

To their credit UW did a pretty nice job on Duke’s blue bloods Austin Rivers and Seth Curry, but not good enough. Unlike most Husky teams of the Romar era, this year’s squad has very little to hang their hat on when it come to shutting down
an opposing guard. That was a hallmark of the 2003-04 team who stuck it to such notables as Luke Ridnour, Jordan Farmar and Salim Stoudamire. Is there a correlation between the outstanding talent that UW has at guard and the “fire in the belly” that Romar insinuated may be missing from this year’s guys.

Somewhere in that connection probably lies the reason why they keep on giving up career nights. The crowd screams “defense” for a reason. The Dawgs need to find that heart and as Romar said on Tuesday it needs to start on the defensive end. It may not happen this year and Gant may not be the only Dawg ever to go to four straight NCAA tournaments. That was the deduction of Jeff Taylor of Husky Haul on Tuesday, but I think that this team could also be similar to that miracle team of 2003-04 that turned around an 0-5 Pac-10 5-8 overall start to a 2nd place finish in the conference and a win over the #1 team.

There is little chance that anyone in the Pac-12 is going to be undefeated, even in league play, but this year’s purple Dawg-mobile could turn into another photo finish winner. The way I see this thing, it comes down to Tony Wroten. Not that he needs to put the team on his back. He’s already done that in a number of losses. Wroten needs to put his ego and his entourage that is telling him that he’s a lottery pick way in the rear view mirror. Tony needs to become a guy that makes others better, not leaves them watching him like some kind of pick-up game Michael Jordan. Wroten needs to find a way, like Thomas did, to stop the other teams best player and pass out of his act, not just keep doing it as if no one can slow him with a well executed double team.

Teams already have stopped him, in fact they’ve made him look poorly and his team even worse. For the sake of his future and his present Tony needs to put winning above everything. Wroten needs to come face to face with the realization that his play, though impressive in sound bytes like “25 and seven”, are killing his team and not helping him either. Pro scouts may talk about him as a commodity, but if he learns to be the kind of player that Thomas became, with his size and obvious gifts, Tony could be the next Kidd or Nash. Why not learn that at home, rather than take a chance in the NBA. Romar’s track record is impressive in getting guys to that level. There should be no big hurry to grab the big dough.

It’ll be there and more importantly there will be more of it if he is more ready. A point guard that causes four TO’s and shoots 50% from the FT line is a project. The NBA drafts on potential, but even if Tony stays just this year, if he improves those stats UW does better and so does he. He needs to ask himself, if all of the words about “Loyalty” towards UW are really what is important to him. On Friday slamonline.com did a feature on Wroten that talked about how his “no-look passes could leave Mark Jackson and Steve Nash shaking their heads in disbelief”.

That may be true at a playground or an all-star game, but how would they explain his team losing at home to SDSU? I think that both Jackson and Nash are smart enough to see it for what it is. I think that they would agree that Tony is a project. He needs to be able to do what he does without turning the ball over, he needs to shoot consistently and he absolutely needs to play better team defense. UW can give up huge points and still achieve their goals. The 2003-04 team is clearly a testament to that. They did all of those incredible things, while giving up 79 points per game. This year’s 5-5 Dawgs are yielding 76, the next worst in
the Romar era. Giving up 80 PPG is cool if you average 85 or 90, but the 03-04 team actually played great defense.

They just picked up the pace a lot and kept the game in a constant state of transition and high pressure. This UW team must improve their foul shooting to do that. Right now the 2011-12 Dawgs are on pace to shoot the 3rd worst in school
history, 2nd worst in the Romar era. It was only the 16-17 team of 2007-08 that shot themselves out of an NCAA bid at the FT line and a 10-20 Bob Bender team
that are worse than this current team that is dominated in attempts by Wroten. Tony needs to ask himself. Do I want to be part of a mediocre UW year on my way to a one and done UW career? The way he is playing, that is what will happen.

I started this article by saying that UW is at a crossroads, but Wroten is at the center of it at his young age and with the attention of being the eye of the hurricane goes the responsibility. Maybe an inspired amateur could shake Tony up
enough to listen to Romar, Roy, Conroy, Robinson and others that are giving him good professional advice. Though he may someday become a professional tight end, like Tony Sr., Austin Sefarian-Jenkins is still talking about playing hoops, according to Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times on Tuesday. “ASJ” won’t raise his NFL draft stock by joining the rigorous regimen of Romar’s stretch run, but if he does it, it will be because of the love of the challenge. That’s ultimately why the greats do it anyway. Perhaps this UW team more than any in the Romar era, save possibly the 2006-07 team, needs to be reminded of this on a daily basis and perhaps the big TE could deliver that message like a block on an outside linebacker. On Sunday Tim Kenney of Rivals suggested taking Wroten out of the starting line-up in an analysis piece.

“I see his inability to play under his control. I see his poor free-throw shooting. I see his potential to disappear when the Huskies aren’t playing Duke on a national scale. I see a turnover waiting to happen on every play. Before the game against UC Santa Barbara, his 0.7 assist-to-turnover ratio ranked him 57th in the Pac-12 alone. Those aren’t things you want from your point guard and your leader. He’s Jekyll and Hyde.”

I agree with Keeney. For the Huskies to win, Tony needs to be used judiciously and there needs to be something to work for. Like Venoy Overton, this team would be better served to have Wroten play starters minutes off the bench, but unlike “VO”, ice doesn’t run through his veins at the FT line in the final minutes. Someone needs to pick Tony’s spots and that guy needs to be Romar. Lorenzo can’t be intimidated by a “star” who needs direction more than he needs coddling. UW needs Romar to do his job, just as much as it needs Wroten to learn to do his, if this season is to be a success. Gaddy is fully capable of running the UW team on his own, if he keeps pushing himself to go aggressively to the hoop. Almost every time he does it works out well and he is much more able to pass out of it and make plays than Wroten who has appeared tunneled at times. I’m not saying that Tony has no place on this team. To me he is an enigma, at his best somewhere between the identity of Brandon Roy in 2004-2005, when he came off the bench to great success and Overton.

Venoy lit a fire off the bench and was often the difference between winning and losing big games, until his career unraveled tragically last season due to (all too public) personal problems. Roy went on to become as NBA All-Star who tragically left the game this month because of knee problems. On Saturday Jason Quick of the Oregonian did a nice feature that detailed the story behind Brandon early retirement that I feel painted a very positive picture in the light of major disappointment. Roy played four years, despite being a player that many felt could make it in the NBA sooner. In my opinion that experience helped Roy tremendously in achieving his success. Roy was a very positive force and continues to be in the Seattle basketball community and for the Dawgs.

I think that Darnell can get that 4th straight NCAA bid if Tony can play a positive role on this UW team. That doesn’t mean that Gant won’t have to play his best ball, but this team desperately needs that type of leadership from an 18 year old freshman. I don’t believe they can if he doesn’t produce it. If that doesn’t matter to Tony, perhaps his twitter overtures to John Calipari had more substance than the gamesmanship that I thought them to be at the time. Kentucky is a better place for the “one and done”, what’s in it for me types. No reason to go to class, palatial dorms filled to the brim with ‘whatever’ and slews of agents and promoters constantly talking about your pro career, if not initiating it prematurely. Why did Tony choose UW? He could have gone to Louisville or UConn easily and lived that type of lifestyle. If all he was going to do was get “his” numbers and position for this June’s NBA draft, I have to wonder. Steve Kelley of the Seattle Times asked a lot of the same questions on Monday.

“Does he want to be remembered as a one-and-done guy who made no impact on the program? Or does he want to be one of the pilots on another trip deep into March?”

I applaud Kelley for this column, though I roundly criticized Steve for the way he encouraged Hawes to do essentially the latter. Steve got it right this time. Those that felt that Hawes should bounce talked about UW not having the guards at that time to make a run. Some will say that this UW team doesn’t have enough bigs for Tony. That team had guards like Dentmon, UW’s all-time 3-point shooter Ryan Appleby, current pro Adrian Oliver (who transferred along with Phil Nelson after Hawes left) and Pondexter. Like UW’s current situation that team had work to do which involved their “one and done” star Hawes. In Spencer’s case that work was less as a player and more as a leader.

Instead of getting that work done, Hawes’ leaving tore at the core of the program. Those that stuck it out like Dentmon, Jon Brockman and Pondexter were eventually rewarded in 2008-09 when UW won the outright Pac-10 title. That 2006-07 team
could have done much more had it stayed together and put winning as a team 1st before personal goals. In my mind, Hawes was the centerpiece of that choice, but he has done so much for the program since that I feel that he should be commended and roundly supported as a great contributor to the team’s legacy. That said, if he would have stuck it out, Oliver and Nelson probably would have as well and that group probably would have gotten back to the top the year before in 2007-08 and UW would instead be talking about five straight NCAA teams.

They might have even done better without the distraction of all of the me talk that wasn’t just him, but certainly didn’t end with Hawes. Hawes actually came out in the press and talked about his NBA aspirations during the season, not to mention what he said or did in private. I hope that this doesn’t happen on this year’s UW team, because that situation set back the program quite a bit in my opinion. It seemed from his comments on YouTube after the UCSB game that Tony has his priorities straight, but talk is cheap. Ross and possibly Wilcox have to also be hearing the comments about their NBA potential. How these three deal with that talk is essential to the strength of the program this year and possibly for the next few years. Gaddy on the other hand is quietly and unassumingly “breaking out of his slump” according to the Morning News Tribune on Sunday. In the 92-73 loss to SDSU Abdul wasn’t the answer, but he was a steady hand that delivered seven assists to one TO and would have done a better job of getting the ball into Ross’ hands perhaps than Tony. Terrence, unlike Wroten, can shoot free throws and is much less apt to commit turnovers.

The ball needs to be in Ross’ hands or for a three by Wilcox, not just up the gut with Wroten like a three yards and a cloud of dust fullback on a late 60’s Woody Hayes coached Ohio State football team on nearly every snap. These two guys
(Wroten and Gaddy) need to learn to play together, much more than they need to compete, for this UW team to succeed. Interestingly enough, both of them were chosen on Monday as candidates for the 2012 Bob Cousy Collegiate Point Guard
of the Year Award. Only Cunningham of OSU was named from the Pac-12. I’m not sure of the criterion for choosing these nearly 60 candidates, but I found it somewhat strange that none of the guards that have torched UW in the past month or so were named.

Only Duke’s Seth Curry, who UW did well to slow up and eventually fouled out, was listed. The procession of Mitchell, Burton, Johnson-Odom, Johnson and Wolters were not. I wonder how some of the other names would fare against Washington
and about others in the Pac-12 that are absent. Rivals on Sunday mentioned Wroten as the top freshman in the Pac-12 thus far, but part of being a great player has to be stopping your opponents and winning games. Tony needs to take responsibility for his team’s failure and lead by example to get others to do that if he is truly that great of a player.

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Washington Husky Huddle for Wednesday December 21st 2011 (Part Two)