Washington Husky Huddle for December 2nd 2011

Dec 2, 2011, 2:00 PM

On November 22nd in one of Jason King’s first blog post for ESPN, since moving over from Yahoo/Rivals, he referred to UW and Arizona being “less-than-impressive” this season in the early going. I’m not sure that I would say that, as this type of play on a team having to replace a junior team leader and three important seniors is to be expected for UW.

Expecting a ton out of ‘Zona post Derrick Williams, as well as losing 2nd option Lamont “Momo” Jones to transfer, is also how I drew this November/December play up to look like for the team that I feel is other top west coast power at this time in hoops history. For all of the talk about how poor the Pac-12 is and how great the Mountain West, even the WCC or even other lower tier leagues are, these two programs are probably the strongest in the west and arguably the strongest in a league that is rising much more than flailing, as the late fall hype from the media would infer. ‘Zona has been getting the best of the recruiting wars, at least from the standpoint of the “experts”, but UW has bested the ‘Cats head to head in the coach Lorenzo Romar era and will probably do it again this season. In 2012-13 ‘Zona’s top tier recruiting again kick in with the addition of the nation’s top ranked 2012 class.

Washington signed no one conversely in the fall signing period, but the ‘Cats’ vaunted 2011 class did not turn out to seamlessly replace Williams and Jones, as many ‘Zona fans hoped they would. In 2012 though, if UW doesn’t lose anyone (other than seniors Darnell Gant and Scott Suggs) and picks up a couple of solid pieces in the spring, the Dawgs will be highly competitive despite a growing roster of blue chippers in Tucson AZ. All that said about both of these Pac-12 powers, this is a new year and King was definitely right, in regards to the 1st half of the Saint Louis game for the Huskies. Down 25 points at the half and as much as 29 points early in the 2nd, UW climbed back to an only slightly embarrassing 13-point road loss, as least on paper. It was worse than that.

What was Romar doing while King was calling his team “less than impressive”? He told the media that day that he would, “tighten up the reins a little bit”. In a blog post by Percy Allen of the Seattle Times which recanted Lorenzo’s media meeting on the 22nd, Romar addressed much of his team’s failures in Saint Louis as his fault. Romar must have taken some decent steps, as the Dawgs looked appropriately more under control, though a bit tight in an 88-65 slow starting blow out home win over Houston Baptist. It was the Huskies 30th straight home non-conference win, more a comment on the type of Nov/Dec games that have been brought to Hec-Ed than the Dawgs dominance as a program.

In the first eleven minutes of the game on Friday, UW played sloppily on both ends, allowing too many open looks for HBU and muffing too many opportunities with turnovers, especially by Wroten who was yanked in and out by Romar like a yo-yo.
Lorenzo said after the game, “Tony was taken out after his second no-look turnover”. With 8:55 to play in the 1st half, HBU cut the UW lead to 23-20 on free throws by big center Joe Latas. At that point the Dawgs finally focused in with a 19-0 run, led by Sophomore guard Terrence Ross. UW stayed up by around 15-25 points the rest of the way. There was one glaring stat though in that UW was 10-21 from the three point line as well as the free throw line. UW cannot afford to be a sub-50% free throw shooting team.

After being clamped for only four points against SLU, sophomore guard C.J. Wilcox got back to where he has been in every other game this year with 19 points on 5-9 from three. Ross was even more impressive with a 13 point and 13 board effort.
What was even more impressive was Terrence’s four blocks. The national media is taking notice of Ross, who was paired with UConn’s Jeremy Lamb (the hero of last year’s national champs), in a November 21st feature in dimemag.com which asks readers to decide who is better. Since Lamb has been chosen to dozens of preseason All-American teams, that is very rarefied air for Ross to be breathing.

Both Terrence and C.J. are brilliant in their own way, Ross as an all-around scorer/shooter with a nose for the ball. Terrence has also become a much more complete defender. Wilcox is just a dead-eye shooter, with a much improved all
around game. This duo will be supplemented by Suggs after the Nevada game in Reno NV on Friday at 8 p.m. (PST). Suggs also looked like a player, prior to his surgery, that like Ross is an all-around threat with an improved ability to defend and like Wilcox is a deadly 3-point marksman. The three could be something special this year, but the UW team must show themselves much improved as a road team, otherwise this next four games could result in a goose egg.

Not only is Nevada going to be a huge challenge on Friday, but then the Dawgs will then return to Seattle for about a day, only to head off to NYC to face Marquette and Duke in Madison Square Garden. The Marquette game will be played on Tuesday at 6 p.m. (PST) and after three full days off in the Big Apple, UW will face Duke next Saturday at 9 p.m. (PST). Though the play of the wings has been good and could get a lot better with the addition of Suggs, the point guard play of junior Abdul Gaddy and freshman Tony Wroten Jr. has been consistently good, but not without problems. Gaddy has been the most well put together, though against Saint Louis he scored five points and against Houston Baptist he only scored six after two straight 15 point efforts in the previous two outings.

Abdul’s assist numbers have been strong though recently, with nine assists to only one turnover in the last two games. Gaddy must be more aggressive on offense, while maintaining his stellar play in running the offense to be effective over
the next four games. Tony has been a consistent scorer, improving his free throws to a palatable 4-7 in the last two games after a putrid 1-7 in the previous game against Portland. Wroten even cut loose with 2-3 from three against SLU, after missing both of his attempts in the first three games. The shooting has been an adventure for Tony, but not like his decision making.

Wroten has had more “no-look turnovers” so far than most people have successful no-look assist plays in a college career. This is both an indication of the high level of talent that he has and his need for marked growth. He needs to harness his ability to deliver the ball to team mates in ways that make crowds ooh and aah, as this new level of competition is just as likely to make UW groan as to marvel over his unique talents. Tony committed seven assists to nine TO’s in the season’s first two games, then looked to make progress against Portland with six assists to two TO’s. He lost all of that footing by a clunker PG outing against SLU with one assist to five TO’s and logged a season high six TO’s against Houston Baptist. Wroten did gather six steals against HBU though to his credit.

Tony’s six TO’s were at the center of a 19 TO team effort against HBU. If UW can’t take care of the ball better than that they will lose against Nevada, be embarrassed in NYC and lose to a Santa Barbara team that just took UNLV to double overtime in Vegas. Tony needs to tighten his ship considerably going into the NY trip and a solid outing against Nevada could allow him to do just that. A bad outing on the road, similar to the disaster in Saint Louis could make Romar reconsider Tony’s place in the rotation in NY. UW cannot afford all of those TO’s, even if Tony also gives them valuable offense and impressive steals, rebounds, etc. On Monday National Hoops Report chose Wroten as the Conference Freshman of the Week.

“The Washington freshman might find himself in this exact spot for most of the season. After a surprising loss to Saint Louis, the Huskies bounced back and dominated Houston Baptist 88-65. As fans have come to expect, the freshman filled the stat-sheet. In 25 minutes of action, he totaled 14 points, 5 assists, 3 rebounds, and an outstanding 6 steals. He also shot well from the field, finishing the game 6-12 from inside the arc. After the game, Lorenzo Romar raved about the
progress he is making for Washington. Not a good sign for Pac-12 opponents.”

Don’t kid yourself Tony, those six TO’s are not worthy of the honor roll. There is much to be done by Wroten for him to start talking about Freshman of the Year or any such nonsense. Wroten has the most work to do of all of the players that seem to make up UW future 8-9 man rotation in Pac-12 play.

To their credit Wroten, Ross and Wilcox all seemed to be aware of the work they need to do. On the Tuesday after the SLU loss Wroten appeared appropriately serious about his short suits, in a video interview from thenewstribune.com. In the
aftermath of the HBU game in the video of the post game presser in the Tribune all three took responsibility. Obviously the YouTube highlight reel of the HBU game didn’t include turnovers and missed foul shots, but it did include some exciting plays by the Dawgs. If they were all you saw, you’d think that everything was just fantastic. Turnovers are a key stat for a reason. An offense can’t function when it is not being run efficiently and TO’s are a barometer of how well the machine is running. They also allow teams transition opportunities and both build an opponent’s confidence while eroding your own.

Gaddy must be able to defend Nevada’s PG Deonte Burton, who was the WAC Freshman of the Year in 2011 and is the projected Player of the Year in that league for 2011-12. Burton, who is thought of by many to be an NBA PG prospect, is able to penetrate and cause havoc above and below the rim. Gaddy must slow down Burton and prevent Deonte from getting into the paint and causing UW thin group of bigs from getting into foul trouble, should he get by Gaddy and/or Wroten. Wroten must play Burton smart and not take chances that allow Deonte to get past him. Both UW PG’s are much taller than Burton, but the Nevada player is strong, fast and physical.

Against Nevada though, UW could have a nice advantage on the wing, as Ross and Wilcox may be able to put up huge numbers against a weaker Wolfpack wing group. Though Burton is the prime performer, thus far this season, it has been off guard
Malik Story who has been the “story” as it were. Malik is leading the Wolfpack in scoring at 15 points per game, while Burton is starting off this year down a good notch. Deonte’s PPG have dropped from 14 to 11 and his percentage from three is currently a tick below 30%. He’s shooting 10% less from the field as well at 32% this season. Chris Murray of the of the Reno Gazette talked about Burton’s early
season slump in greater detail on Wednesday.

Story is good on offense, but not known for being a great wing defender, while the other three Wolfpack wings are somewhat rookies, much like UW’s back-up post group. Sophomore’s Jerry Evans and Jordan Finn, as well as Seattle Prep product junior Patrick Nyeko are all three players that have not been very successful as of now. The three are tall enough but way too skinny overall. This is the area that UW must be able to exploit to gain ground on problems that they could encounter from Burton and a group of post players that is experienced and deep. Senior Dario Hunt is very similar to Gant.

He’s a 6-foot-8 230 pound senior with striking athleticism. Duke transfer Olek Czyz is a player that brings strong energy to the line-up and athleticism that is truly off the charts. Sophomore Kevin Panzer is a player that reminds many of former Nevada post man Nick Fazekas in his ability to play inside and out. Panzer can really stroke it and has a nifty jump hook when he gets the ball in close. Sophomore Devonte Elliot is a post man who has that impressive all-around game that pro scouts love. He can shoot it, but is also very athletic, long and fast. On a special “Talkin’ Hoops” on Thursday, A.W. Prince, who really knows his Nevada hoops, did a great job of helping me break down the match-up for this Nevada/UW game on Friday.

UW in the post is talented and experienced, as far as starters Gant and junior post Aziz N’Diaye, but if Burton is able to get into the paint on Gaddy and Wroten and draw fouls from Darnell and Aziz, this group of Wolfpack posts could look like pros against UW’s green reserves. Red-shirt frosh Desmond Simmons is a dependable defender and should get a lot of back-up minutes against a Nevada group that is more about quickness and skill than brute force. “Dez” had a stat stuffer night against HBU with six points, two assists and two steals. Simmons must be effective in helping to deal with Nevada’s impressive bigs.

Freshman Martin Breunig also could see time over fellow frosh Shawn Kemp Jr., as Breunig is perhaps a better match to stay with talented athletes like Hunt, Elliot, Panzer and Czyz. N’Diaye, who was yanked by Romar against HBU 84-seconds into the contest for bad defense and replaced by Kemp, must keep his head in the game and avoid fouls. Martin was the subject of a feature on gohuskies.com on Thursday, which talked about his developing game and humble beginnings, as far as exposure to basketball in Germany. Breunig said, “We don’t have the cable TV (to watch U.S hoops there)”, adding “You have to pay in Europe to watch college basketball and the NBA”.

Gant, who other than a couple of exciting offensive flurries, was reasonably quiet offensively against HBU. Darnell needs to go aggressively on offense and on the boards against the Wolfpack and lead the Dawgs in keeping the Nevada posts in
check. Right now Gant trails Aziz (eight rebounds per game), Ross (seven) and Wroten (4.4) with only four RPG. If he or Aziz get in foul trouble, things could get ugly in Reno for UW, but Darnell also can’t afford to not stay after it on the boards and in the paint. It is interesting to note that UW has big enough guards that with Ross rebounding so well, the Dawgs may be able to afford to run Terrence at Darnell’s spot at PF. What is more promising for UW fans is that if Gant does move to the bench, that starting line-up could all be returning in 2012-13. With the three frosh posts a year wiser and the potential of help coming from a transfer or a spring signee, UW would appear to be very well off, if that is already not the case this year.

That could always change of course, if players move to the NBA, get hurt, etc., but there could just as easily be good things that happen as well. One such possible positive development was mentioned on Tuesday, as thehuskyhaul.com ran a blog post on Husky freshman tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins possibly walking on, including a picture of “ASJ” and Romar chatting in Hec-Ed last week. Austin was not an All -American hooper, but his athleticism and apparent love for the game could be a positive for Husky Hoops. If anything, Austin could provide depth to a group of post players that behind the starters are very young and
(other than Kemp) smallish. The good news for UW fans is that the guards are big and look like they can board and scrap.

With Gaddy at 6-foot-3, Wilcox at 6-foot-5, Wroten at 6-foot-5, Suggs at 6-foot-6, Ross at 6-foot-6 and Simmons at 6-foot-7, there may be enough overall height to play Gant and Aziz mostly at the center spot and very effectively. When asked on Tuesday if that could happen, Romar told the media that they have always played a lot of that look. Romar seemed to say that there could be a lot of that this season and for Darnell to stay in as a starter, it appears to me that he needs to rebound and go aggressively on offense. Either way, getting a great year from Gant is a huge key to the season. Romar though is very comfortable going with a center and four guards, two of them PG’s.

It would be no surprise to see four guards in the line-up for another reason, beside the fact that all of them are big enough to guard multiple positions. You could make a starting line-up of all UW guys currently being mentioned in mock drafts. Having one 1st round pick on your team is for many teams a once in a blue moon kind of thing. In the latest nbadraft.net 2013 mock, Wroten is projected as the 8th selection, Wilcox as the 27th pick, Gaddy 50th, Aziz 56th and Ross is listed as the as the 6th pick in the 2012 mock. A starting line-up of all NBA guys? Ross is listed 18th in the 2012 draftexpress.com mock, with Wroten 28th in 2013, though no other Dawg was mentioned. That is still very impressive.

You can’t argue with success and Romar has been arguably as successful a hire at Washington as there could possibly have been nearly 10 years ago, after the firing of Bob Bender. Lorenzo could win his 200th game at UW, if the Dawgs can beat the Wolfpack. At 66%, Romar’s winning percentage is higher than Marv Harshman’s (246-146 or 63%), but far below Hec Edmundson’s (71% on 488 wins). Romar has a chance in his early 50’s, to leave UW as the greatest in it’s storied history. By the time that Lorenzo is in his early 60’s, say after a 20 year career at Washington, he may actually have number close to Edmundson. Lorenzo could eclipse Harshman’s record as soon as the end of the 2012-13 season, but more likely (at the rate he is going) in the 2013-14 season. How does he do it? He would probably tell you that it is his faith which has brought him the strength and focus to be so successful, not only on the court, but in making a difference in people’s lives. Romar talked about his spirituality to christiansportspress in a revealing two part interview over the past weekend.

Former Dawgs in the Spotlight

Isaiah Thomas has done a great job of staying active in the Seattle/Tacoma hoops community, in the wake of the NBA Lockout. With the NBA starting up again in late December and Thomas resuming his quest to make the Sacramento Kings, Isaiah made one of his last public appearances locally for awhile, when he appeared at Impact Sports Academy in Tacoma over Thanksgiving weekend, according to komonews.com on November 23rd.

Matthew “MBA” Bryan-Amaning has been raising eyebrows in Turkey, regularly getting awards for his highlight dunks and other fancy skills. In tweet last Friday from Matthew, he talked about his getting picked in a highlight segment in Turkey, modeled after ESPN’s Sportscenter Top-10.

“ya boy top 10 in turkey again #2 showing some open court handle and #1 again.”

Matt was again mentioned in Fridays installment of the same feature. Husky assistant coach Raphael Chillious told me around five years ago, when he was Matt and Isaiah’s coach at South Kent Prep in New England, that Matt would do a lot of the impressive low post moves that UW was then seeing from then freshman
Spencer Hawes. It took Matt more time to be effective, but he did more as a senior (1st team All-Conference and his 3rd straight Pac-10 championship) than Hawes did in his one year at UW.

All’s well that ends well and things have worked out very well for Spencer. On Thursday Hawes talked to Mason Kelley of the Seattle Times about the NBA. Hawes was involved as a player representative in the negotiations and has also been a very large presence at Husky football and basketball games, while helping along the young UW hoops squad in practices and workouts. Spencer is a loyal Dawg. That is evident. He has been able to carve out a strong niche in the league. It is nice to see Hawes helps the UW team in so many ways, somewhat making up for leaving them in pretty bad shape in the spring of 2007, but also showing that (the business realities of basketball aside) he has proven to be a great asset to the program.

It was a sad day however for Husky fans on Sunday, when it was reported by seattlesportsnet.com that former Husky walk-on guard Andrew “Drew” Moritz passed away due to cancer. Moritz was a bench player on the Todd MacCulloch and Donald Watts led teams of the late 90’s and put in four years of loyal support to the UW program. I never met “Drew”, other than seeing him play pick-up around Seattle in the 90’s, but his presence in the local hoops community was one of a well loved and hugely respected player, supporter and student of the game. On Sunday Percy Allen of the Times wrote an obituary that tells his story well.

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Washington Husky Huddle for December 2nd 2011