Washington Husky Huddle for October 16th 2011 (Part One)

Oct 16, 2011, 3:22 PM | Updated: 3:26 pm

The Huskies received a preseason compliment from ESPN blogger Eamonn Brennan on Tuesday in his mailbag feature. When asked which team, other than mid-majors San Diego State, St. Mary’s and Gonzaga, was the “dominant program on the West Coast”, Brennan defended the Dawgs ability to hang tough with Arizona and UCLA.

“I think Washington is an excellent candidate….I’m not sure if the Huskies have a leap to make, or if they’re already there; those terms are always vague and abstract. But I do know that (Lorenzo) Romar has built a consistent winner through top-tier recruiting, and as UCLA and Arizona fortify down south, Washington isn’t going to go anywhere.”

Brennan had to spoil this moment of purple power by calling Gonzaga, “one of the most consistent winners we have in all of college hoops”. That is based on what? Winning the WCC every year over the last 15 years? Is “all of college hoops” the last 15 years or the history of college hoops? Historically Gonzaga isn’t even the best in Eastern WA. WSU is by a long margin. Funny how people refer to something as being the best, based on only their knowledge of the choices. I give Brennan credit though for seeing what Romar has been doing at UW.

Lorenzo meanwhile looked thin at hoops media day on Tuesday, probably due to hard work and perhaps a changed diet. Romar gave his state of the union address, followed by a Q+A with the media. After that all of the UW players gave interviews
to the media. didn’t provide a podcast of the Lorenzo’s comments, as they often do, but the Morning News Tribune ran video clips of comments from junior guard Abdul Gaddy, senior post Darnell Gant, sophomore guard Terrence Ross and freshman guard Tony Wroten on Tuesday.

There wasn’t much hard news at the event, but Romar appeared upbeat and optimistic about his team and rightfully so. I thought in what I was able to distill in watching the Dawgs work out over the summer, that this team has good chemistry, to go with very high level talent and depth, as least at the guard positions. Up front, Gant will tandem with junior Aziz N’Niaye to form a nice combo of a pure defensive center and a combo forward who will mess with the guards well, but in his 5th year at UW be able to at least hold his own in the trenches. Red-shirt frosh post Desmond Simmons is my sleeper on this team and his influence will be felt.

Simmons inherits the “glue guy” role vacated by Justin Holiday, who took that mantle from Bobby Jones. That role is defined as doing what you have to do to help the team win and I believe that Simmons will be where he needs to be to get it done. I see “Dez” playing behind Gant at the PF spot, but also versatile enough to spell Ross at the three. On offense Simmons lets the game come to him, successfully I might add, but on defense he is relentless and truly outstanding for a 1st year player. It would also not surprise me to see UW play Ross at the PF spot, to take advantage of his impressive offensive abilities.

The one negative that stays with me is that UW were not able to sign or keep healthy and eligible in 2008-2011 (4 recruiting classes) a big man who is ready right now to be a solid inside scoring threat. Gant will attempt to get it done, but that has not been his style. Simmons, Ross and Wroten will do what they can and it could be enough to go far. Freshman post Shawn Kemp will likely be the best choice when a big physical post is needed to sub for Aziz, who is raw as an offensive threat. Kemp is going to be good and is already big enough. The question is how long will it take for Shawn Jr. to be able to run with this team and face up with opposing players at this level?

Wroten will battle Gaddy for minutes at the point guard position and I am certain that we’ll see both guys in games often. Sophomore guard C.J. Wilcox and senior guard Scott Suggs are going to score a lot more points this season than they did last year. Suggs had a tough break, when it was discovered this past week that he had a problem in his foot that required surgery. According to Romar on Friday it will take eight weeks for Scott to come back. That is too bad, as he will miss the St. Louis game, which was likely booked so that he could play in front of his friends and family back home in Missouri.

I’m not real concerned about this, as far as having a huge impact on UW’s season, though it could mean an extra non-conference loss of two. UW will be hard pressed to beat Marquette and Duke in Madison Square Garden in early November anyway, where perhaps a Suggs dagger or two could be the difference in a tight game. That said, I was probably more surprised what I saw from Wilcox this summer than anyone on the UW team. Having Suggs out will mean more minutes in crunch time for C.J. and probably Wroten, but freshman guard Hikeem Stewart will also have more of a chance to show what he can do early in the year.

I expect a 10-man rotation of Gaddy, Wroten, Stewart, Wilcox, Suggs, Ross, Simmons, Gant, N’Diaye and Kemp, with Shawn and Hikeem playing much less than the other eight guys, when it comes to conference play. That said, the more quality time that Stewart can get in November and December, the more prepared he is going to be if needed in the Pac-12. I know it sounds a bit too much like a silver lining, but the Suggs injury could actually allow Wilcox, Wroten and Stewart to be better prepared when the games start counting towards a league title. The worry for Husky fans is if another player, especially a big guy gets hurt. That could be devastating for this year’s purple gang.

UW has depth behind ‘Ziz, “DG” and “Dez”, but freshmen Martin Breunig, Jernard Jarreau and Kemp are much less ready, from what I’ve seen. If two of those 2nd three were an accomplished low post, back to the basket scorer, you might be able to look to this 2011-12 team as Final Four contenders, but they have shown little sign that this is the case. All three are great prospects, but only Kemp has enough size to make me feel a little scared if I were preparing my big guys to defend the cup. Both Martin and Jernard are great players, in more of a combo forward sense, but not yet the “give me the ball and everyone get out of the way” type like Shawn’s dad and even Jon Brockman or undersized Jamaal Williams were.

UW will have to win with great guards and wings scoring from all over the floor, with big guys mostly defending, rebounding and using their superior speed to out-run their competition. Gant and Simmons will shoot the jumper when left alone and Aziz is improving his hook shot, but are you going to give the ball to one of them and tell them to create? That job primarily is going to be the domain of Ross, Suggs, Wilcox, Wroten and maybe Gant. Gaddy will take what’s given to him, as he orchestrates, like a true PG. Wilcox, Suggs, Ross, Gant and Simmons will mostly shoot jumpers and when the rest of their game is more put together, so will Jarreau and Breunig. The one guy I’m hoping proves me wrong is Gant.

UW was a #1 seed in the 2005 NCAA Tournament with a team that had only Williams off the bench as an instant inside scoring threat. That group of guards as a whole may not have been as good as this years and was certainly shorter. This year’s bunch is long, speedy, skilled and athletic, even more so on paper than that amazing team seven (wow!!) years ago. If the Dawgs can just stop the injury bug from spreading and find inside scoring, even if it is from big guards like Ross and Wroten, this year’s UW team will go far. On Tuesday Gant told Percy Allen of the Seattle Times that he believes that his team will find a way.

“Everything that people are thinking we can’t do, I believe we can do. So I’m just taking it as motivation to reach out potential and do the best we can.”

Losing Holiday, defensive fire plug Venoy Overton, lone inside scoring threat Matthew Bryan-Amaning and the dynamite little man Isaiah Thomas is no small set-back, but Romar felt on Tuesday that with this level of talent on the roster, “Those things tend to sort themselves out”. He could be right. On Tuesday Romar talked about how literally half of the team are freshman, which sounds bad in principle, but since the other half are literally all money players, the best player could be Wroten and Simmons is also a frosh, that leaves a strong eight-man rotation of very capable guys to center the youth movement.

“Half of our team has played in (conference) championship games and NCAA tournament games and road games, and the other half hasn’t played at all because they’re all freshmen. It’s a unique mix. We’ll have more freshmen this year than any
year we’ve been here. So we all will be very, very busy trying to get everyone on the same page.”

It will be a chore, but the leadership on this UW team is strong, even among the frosh in Wroten, Simmons and Stewart, who is bright and seems much more comfortable and confident than most frosh. Freshman guard Andrew Andrews is probably good enough to play long minutes for a lot of Pac-12 teams, but Romar said again on Tuesday that “Drew” would red-shirt. I did find it newsworthy on Tuesday that Romar said that he plans to use Ross as his defensive stopper on the wing this season. Ross looked a little lost at times on defense, but perhaps he has shown Lorenzo that he gets the team concept. Most of what he did wrong last year was not lacking individual defensive chops but understanding the team “D” concept.

I think that Simmons, Wilcox, Suggs, Wroten and Gant must and probably will also play important roles defensively. Other tidbits news wise on Tuesday were that Jarreau was up to 211 lbs. from 193 and that Kemp was down to 251 lbs. from 265,
both since July. That shows commitment to me more than a lot of things in basketball. It is often much harder for players to work in the weight room and on their diet than to focus on shooting or dribbling. To see more for yourself what this very new look UW team looked like on Tuesday, check out the photo gallery from who also ran a preview piece on the new team on Wednesday that focused on it’s length and youth.

I think that the youth is a bit overstated, as Wroten is possibly the best guard prospect ever from this city and Simmons is mentally more prepared to compete than the vast majority of top end freshmen nationally. Those two will fit in well
with a core of two seniors, two juniors and two sophomores, both of which are solid NBA prospects in C.J and Ross. The one thing that this group must prove that it can do is play defense. That was the common thread of the four guys that just left. Even Thomas, who was known as a poor defender coming in, became a solid defender. “IT”, Matt, Holiday and “VO” won more at Washington consistently than any class in modern school history and it all started on the defensive end.

Romar will not play guys that don’t buy in 100% defensively, so if one of the new kids is to step up it is going to be because they understand that a.s.a.p. On Wednesday Ryan Divish of the Morning News Tribune did a story which focused on
that point, based on quotes from Tuesday. Romar’s comments should sound encouraging to Husky fans.

“We have a great potential on the defensive end, but it’s just potential. We have to become a stellar defensive team, and they are capable.”

Defense was the focus of the first UW practice, at least in the “opening minutes”, according to a blog post about it on Saturday from Allen of the Times. There were some newsworthy bits, including the observation that Simmons was not wearing a knee brace and that retired post Tyreese Breshers was “helping the UW coaches with instruction”. Had Breshers stayed healthy and improved his shooting touch, Charles Garcia been admitted or Terrence Jones did what he said would do on that strange April afternoon, UW would probably would have won a lot more games over the past few years. It has been frustrating to watch the Dawgs struggle to find big men, but I think that the UW coaches will figure it out.

On Friday columnist John McGrath of the Morning News Tribune joined in the October optimism, pointing to the impressive new look of N’Diaye and the raw power of Wroten as the central reasons. I agree with this logic and this, along with my impressions of Wilcox is why I too an optimistic. Fans need to remember that Wilcox went cold when he was sick last year. Wilcox and Suggs (before he was hurt) look like they both can take big steps this season. Both had great moments last year. I wouldn’t be surprised to see both of those guys in the top-5 in the conference in 3-point percentage and increase their attempts by 30-40%. Thomas, for all of his greatness, took a lot of shots. Many of those will go to C.J, and Scott.

I get the impression that Scott will come back strong and still have a great year. The conventional negative is that Wroten will take too many shots, but I’m not buying it and neither is Romar from what I can tell. I think that Tony is going to get the ball to those guys and the others, as will Gaddy. I think that when all is said and done in April 2012, this team will have had it’s ups and down, but there are too many kids on that bench that you can’t count out in a boxing match or a chess game. Smart, competitive, speedy, tall (very important in hoops), skilled and enough collective confidence and commitment to prevail in the end.

This years team will probably put itself behind at times, but fight back in impressive fashion. This will lead to more great wins to add to Romar’s already large list of career highlights like last year’s Pac-12 Tournament championship game. On October 4th picked UW 23rd in the nation going into the season. While polls and predictions like this are not something to hang much emphasis on in my opinion, I felt that HR did a good job of breaking it down.

“Washington lost a lot of talent and experience, but the Huskies still have a solid group of players remaining in Seattle.”

Win or lose, UW will not be dull in 2011-12. According to Bleacher Report on October 5th, “Romar’s backcourt-focused offense has produced some tremendously entertaining teams at UW, and this year’s edition looks to be no exception”. BR
chose the Dawgs as the 8th “most fun to watch” team in the nation in 2011-12. The Huskies schedule is almost fully cooked, according to on Thursday, with only a couple of possible TV programming changes late in the year that could still happen. the first two regular season home games of the year won’t
on TV, nor will the Houston Baptist game on the day after Thanksgiving and Cal State Northridge on December 22nd.

With the changes in the new TV deal with ESPN and Fox Sports going into complete effect in 2012, this may be the last time that you see a UW game home or away that is not available on TV. Romar made mention recently that he is hoping that these non-televised games will be well attended, like they would be at one of the “elite” schools, that UW aspires to be. The other side to this is that these games aren’t real big name draws either, so hopefully bigger names in Hec-Ed in the fall will also be easier to secure for UW, with the new TV deal in the future as well. In three of the four non-televised games Suggs will be out, which could be entertaining with the prospect of seeing more of the other players get time.

Scott told’s Gregg Bell, “I’ll be all right” on Friday and everyone from Romar on down seems to sit OK with that prospect. UW fans panicked a bit with the prospect of “2-3 months” in a number of tweets about Scott from media across the nation and locally, but according to sources it should be less than two months. One interesting sidebar to this story that came out of the Friday comments in the Seattle Times from Romar on Scott’s situation involved Stewart. When asked if Stewart, who is low on the depth chart may have more of a chance with Suggs out, Romar replied.

“You said he was low on the depth chart. [Laughs] I didn’t say he was low on the depth chart. It’s an opportunity for everyone on the team that is a perimeter guy.”

I’m happy to hear Romar stick up for Stewart, who looked very composed and well rounded at the times that I saw him play this past summer. Though I was more impressed with Gaddy, Wroten and perhaps Suggs in that combo guard role than Hikeem, Stewart was not as far behind them as the 2nd trio of posts are to Aziz, Gant and Simmons. I think that Hikeem will do well with Suggs out and it will help Stewart for later in the year when he should be called on for duty. Romar also reiterated to the press on Friday that Andrews would still be red-shirting. Griffin Bennett of Montlake Madness talked about the rotation without Scott on Friday and I agree with his assessment much more than most.

“I think the two players who will see their playing time increase the most will be Desmond Simmons and Tony Wroten. Simmons is a 3/4 combo forward who will fill the void at small forward as Terrence Ross will probably be playing more at the shooting guard spot when Wilcox needs rest. He is a defensive presence who can shoot and will really benefit from the extra time. Tony Wroten was already in a battle for the time at the point but now Romar can use Wroten at the two-guard
position more while playing Gaddy next to him.”

I do think that Stewart will get some time as well, but if I had to guess I think that Romar will go with something close to Bennett’s take. Scott had a screw inserted in his foot on Friday, which sounds like no fun, but no one appears to be losing their cool over it, so I guess it’s no big deal. Ross is fully capable of playing the off-guard, in fact it is a nice mismatch against small teams when they have to chose who to put their biggest guy on, Ross or a big PG like Gaddy or Wroten. I almost like that look better, with Simmons at the three guard spot, but he is too needed at the four this year. Maybe in the future, as UW’s front court gets older.

The problem is with playing Ross at the two is that leaves too many good guards on the bench, which is a nice problem for Romar. Ross (or any other UW player) was not nominated for the Wooden award on October 3rd, but Andy Katz of ESPN
included Terrence on his “Players who might end up on Wooden list” feature that day.

“The Huskies can’t be dismissed as a major player for the Pac-12 title, and if they win it, Ross will be a significant reason why.”

Yahoo went further by saying that Ross was the biggest snub from the “Wooden Award Preseason Top 50”.

“With Isaiah Thomas, Justin Holiday and Matthew Bryan-Amaning all having graduated, Washington will need a new primary scorer. Enter Ross, a 6-foot-6 sophomore who averaged 15.3 points per game in the Pac-10 tournament last season and had 19 points and six rebounds in the Huskies’ NCAA tournament loss to North Carolina. Ross’ ability to draw fouls at the rim needs to improve, but he’s a versatile scorer with a smooth stroke and a quick first step to the basket.”

Others from the Pac-12 that made the Wooden list were Cal sophomore guard Allen Crabbe, Cal senior guard Jorge Gutierrez, UCLA junior post Reeves Nelson and UCLA sophomore post Joshua Smith. Ross also made number one on Bleacher Report’s list
on October 3rd of “12 Sophomores (Underwhelming as Freshmen) Who Could Be Stars”. I think that those five all have a pretty good argument for All Pac-12 first team honors this season and that Ross could be the best of the bunch. Whether he wins the conference player of the year is hard to predict, as they often give it to the guy that is on the winning team over the guy who has a better year.

That said, Jon Brockman lost to James Harden when UW won it all in 2009. Ross is being talked about by the draft sites as a potential lottery pick, but on October 5th did a nice job of breaking down his game both good and bad. If Ross can really be that first line defender that gets the UW team defensive concept and improves his ability to force and play through contact, look out Pac-12. As of October 5th listed Ross as the top NBA Draft Prospect in the Pac-12. In the last mock draft from from September 19th, Terrence was slated as the 13th pick in the first round.

If Ross is that good, there is a great chance that he will be gone in 2012-13, but he could stick around one more year, if he still needs work in those key areas. It seems to me to be a win/win for Husky fans. Another building year for Ross would likely mean a spectacular year for him the next year. If last year was any indication, slight improvement but not enough to leave would still be a very big problem in the Pac-12 and a spectacular year this year from Terrence might push him into the draft but it will spell doom for a series of 2011-12 UW opponents.

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Washington Husky Huddle for October 16th 2011 (Part One)