Washington Husky Huddle for September 24th 2011

Sep 24, 2011, 5:12 PM | Updated: 5:25 pm

After watching the Washington team in it’s entirety, along with former Dawg Spencer Hawes and a couple of confirmed and aspiring walk-ons, on Friday I came away with a pretty good idea as to the raw make-up of the 2011-12 team. I voiced my thoughts at much greater length at huskydigest.com on Monday for our subscribers, but I’ll give you a thumbnail on the subject. To summarize what I saw on Friday, the big revelations were sophomore guard C.J. Wilcox and frosh post Desmond Simmons. ‘Dez” I’ve seen before recently, but he even surpassed that impression. Freshman post Jernard Jarreau and freshman guard Hikeem Stewart had the best days of four new guys who will either red-shirt or perform as deep reserves this year in conference games.

I feel that freshman guard Tony Wroten, Simmons and freshman post Shawn Kemp Jr. will be the 1st year performers who will be in the regular rotation, with Kemp and I believe Stewart getting considerably less in the 9-10 spots in the mix. After those 10 players there is probably not much PT outside of non-conference play. That said, I’ve seen the other two in post Martin Breunig and guard Andrew Andrews look hands down better on different occasions than Hikeem and Jernard. A number of others that I’ve spoken with after watching open gyms, summer league, etc. have expressed that opinion. I feel that UW could red-shirt Andrews, “MB” and “JJ” and benefit by evening the 2011 and 2012 classes.

After watching then run I also felt that senior guard Scott Suggs and Wilcox can step in and win games when Wroten and sophomore guard Terrence Ross are held in check. Also, junior post Aziz N’Diaye is not your friend on the court, especially if you are a UW opponent. ‘Ziz’ business is controlling the paint. Gant is not an NBA All-Star by any means, but he is starting to look like a legit pro prospect. Gaddy and Wroten as PG’s are capable of pulling this team together into a really dangerous bunch, but as Romar alluded to recently to Percy Allen of the Seattle Times, this group hasn’t really done much yet. There’s a ton of work to do and
there are going to be flubs along the way.

I see an up and down year, by recent UW standards, with a good chance of a strong finish if they stay relatively healthy. Since last season was relatively unlucky, perhaps a little luck will shine UW’s way. A little luck goes a long way, especially in the NCAA Tournament. Who knows, this could be the year that UW breaks the Sweet-16 barrier? Speaking of Romar’s recent conversations with Allen, there were a few interesting notes that I took away from reading the three part series of blog posts in the Times. Romar talked openly, but within NCAA guidelines, about the recruiting situation for the class of 2012. it sounds to me that one signee in the fall of 2012 would be satisfactory to Lorenzo.

“Right now, we just have a couple of pieces to fill (seniors Gant and Suggs). We don’t have very many holes. If we knew everyone was back, we could literally go without signing anyone and be just fine. If we knew everyone would be back
except the seniors, we would be fine.”

Romar spoke about it more later in the interview.

“Again 2012 to me is recruiting one or two guys for a specific need if guys leave early. Aside from that, 2012 is not a critical, critical recruiting year for us because we have a lot of things in place right now. 2013 can be a critical year.”

Allow me to interpret what Romar might be alluding to. 2012 wing Demarquise Johnson is visiting UW this weekend. I believe that UW really wants him, as their number one priority for a fall signee. Johnson will provide a great fit for this Husky team, as he can take Suggs minutes right off the bat. He is talented enough to be in the 2012-13 rotation. Gant’s spot may be filled by another post and I believe that UW is high on Anthony Bennett, who has announced that he will wait until spring to sign. Also at that time UW may need to fill other spots, should players declare for the 2012 NBA Draft. I am hearing that this is not likely, but very possible.

The greater problem will be after the 2012-13 season, where a number of players other than current juniors N’Diaye and Gaddy could leave. That lists includes Ross, Wilcox and definitely Wroten. The good news for UW fans is that the Dawgs are recruiting that 2013 class very hard and seeing results, by the way that people are talking in public and privately. In the 2nd part of the interview Romar said that this year’s team was the youngest since the 2006-07 team. I agree that the leaders in the departed Isaiah Thomas, Matthew Bryan-Amaning, Justin Holiday and Venoy Overton will be sorely missed. I also feel that comparing the 2006-7 team to the 2011-2 team is not a great comparison.

There is a lot more experienced talent this season than that year. That young talent included three future NBA players in Spencer Hawes (who looked great at last Friday’s open gym), Jon Brockman and Quincy Pondexter, plus a couple of solid
minor league pros in Justin Dentmon and Adrian Oliver. In 2011-12 there are a lot more potential pros and most of them are generally farther along than that group was. Romar needs to get his guys to realize though that filling the huge shoes left by “IT”, “MBA”, Holiday and Venoy is going to be hard. I expect the team this year to have some rough times getting on it’s feet, but the potential is there to go far. All of that potential and better levels of experience is good and well, but Romar has a lot to use as motivation for his guys to be humble, based on the numbers.

“We don’t have anyone that averaged more than 8 points a game. When we were really young that year (2007), I don’t think there was anyone other than Ryan Appleby – he was Newcomer of the Year – and he averaged nine or eight points a game. Jon Brockman averaged 8.5 points a game. He was Freshman of the Year. So that year was similar in that no one had really done anything yet. We’re pretty similar in that way. That team was younger, but this team is just not proven.”

In part three of the interview Romar said that there were no starters heading into fall camp. I agree with this approach and believe that Romar is sincere. There is nothing to say that it will not be better to bring anyone of Gaddy, Wroten, Wilcox, Suggs, Ross, Simmons, Gant or Aziz out as starters or off the bench. I believe that all will play long minutes. Everyone gets a chance though and the other five guys could all make a case. I just think that it will boil down to those eight guys and it is an impressive group potentially. If UW had Thomas to add to this bunch, it may have been the best UW team in a very long time, but with Gaddy and Wroten in place that position at least will not be a problem.

In the fourth and final part of the interview Romar revealed that UW would travel to China for an exhibition tour next summer. Lorenzo also revealed that he has not burned his bridges to Overton by saying, “We haven’t really talked, but we will”. I thought that this statement showed tremendous humility and demonstrated high ideals in the UW coach. Romar also mentioned that he would be in favor of raising the cost of attendance for NCAA D1 scholarship athletes, which is a major statement. A number of schools would have to leave D1, if they had to pay all of their athletes the extra $3K+ that is being discussed. I don’t see an argument to pay some athletes and not others that is going to fly.

What I feel Romar is saying is that it is better in his opinion to have less D1 schools, but also for scholarship athletes to live at a better level. Romar also mentioned that there is continued talk about construction renovations that will help his men’s hoops program. Depth is not as big of an issue for this UW team as most in the past. Instead getting players who have played in supporting roles to play in leading roles is the crux of the problem that Romar and his staff will have to deal with in 2011-12.Husky Haul was more optimistic than I am at the moment, when Carl Munson made the argument that UW was 10-deep on September 14th. To be fair, I felt a bit more optimistic before I saw them run this past Friday in regards to the ability of the 9-13 players on the roster, but actually more optimistic in regards to the players 1-8.

Munson played out a fantasy scenario of two 5-man teams that included my top-8, plus Kemp and Breunig and astutely divided them up into two reasonably even teams with Shawn and Martin on opposing squads. I think that Carl’s assessment
that there could be two full rotations on the UW squad is accurate, but I think an 8-man rotation is more what we’ll see. I kind of doubt that UW would red-shirt all three of Breunig, Jarreau and Andrews, but I think that they could. If I had to guess Andrews and Jarreau will red-shirt and Breunig will play for additional front court depth. Martin is a dynami player and I see him making a huge mark on the program after Gant leaves.

All of these predictions could be thrown out the window though if fall practices and workouts allow a player to emerge or to expose some major weakness. You always have to expect that these kids are going to get better and different rates and one or more of them will come out of nowhere to make a strong statement one way or another. I feel that this team is very talented, though there is the danger that they could be over hyped. My thought is that ther are guys who have been around a bit that are very humble, who will balance some of the hype with reality. Washington has often been portrayed as arrogant by WSU fans and here and there by some other fan bases. I guess UW’s recent success, combined with those opinions haveallowed this notion to spread to the point where UW was chosen by Bleacher Report as one of the most arrogant fan bases in the country in college basketball on September 14th. With all of the “elite” schools across the nation to pick from, I find this hard to believe, but I’m perhaps a little to close to the situation.

Gant is one of those players that is very humble and puts the team above his individual recognition. Darnell spent most of the summer in LA, where he regularly worked out with high level talent like NBA guard Jrue Holiday, Ron Artest, Elton
Brand and Andre Miller. You can see Gant playing in a video from nbcsports.com on September 8th with some of those guys. Gant has put in a lot of work on his game over the past five years that he has been a Husky. Whether it is hoops, music, acting, or any number of pursuits that Darnell may pursue in life, it seems to me that Gant has what it takes to be a huge success.

This year UW fans can expect Darnell to take a much wider role. Over the course of the off-season last year he came back to UW with a much better looking outside shot and having grown bigger and stronger. This season, the word is that Gant is
in the best shape of his career and has a better mid-range game and an improved inside scoring game. When I saw Darnell run in open gym at UW recently, it seemed as if he could be all of that, though I didn’t see enough back to the basket scoring to say that he has made major strides there. He was much better at creating his shot from 15 feet in and converting. As a PF that will play along side a true center in N’Diaye, that skill will be very important for UW.

Finding players that can attack the basket and draw attention and the fouls that ensue will be a key for the Dawgs this season. One of the most important things that Thomas and “MBA” did for UW was draw fouls and get to the line. Gant has
been a dependable free throw shooter and he must increase his FT attempts this season. Darnell is not the only one though as Ross especially, but for that matter the whole team need to make up for the loss of those two in that category. Settling for threes, as opposed to being aggressive to the hole, will be the important theme this year for UW on offense I feel. Gant did a two part interview with Griffin Bennett of Montlake Madness on Monday and Tuesday that revealed Darnell as confident, but humble and a genuine team first player. Gant talked about his mindset going into the 2011-12 season. Darnell also shared a lot about Romar’s style and the hoops philosophy that the coach preaches.

“In other years I came in with the mentality to score or get more shots, but I’m not looking for that this year. One of the main things that I’m looking to do is to get my team as many offensive possessions as I can.”

“I know what he preaches to the team every day and I know all of that like the back of my hand. What I can do, and what a captain should do, is piggy back off of what he said and motivate the team to do it his way, the right way, the Husky
way.”

Gant also told Bennett, “I want to have a better overall rebounding year”, when asked about personal goals. Darnell also had positive things to say about Simmons, who will spell him the most this season and talked about music, his 2nd love. I feel that Gant will be the first choice to spell Aziz at the five spot, with Simmons playing at the four where Darnell will likely start. Simmons will play when Gant is spelling N’Diaye and when he is on the bench. I believe that Kemp will play when either Gant is in foul trouble and Aziz needs a blow, both “DG” and ‘Ziz need rest or a bad match-up. I don’t see there being any real bad match-ups for Gant, who has shown a steadily improving ability to handle all sorts of players defensively. When UW faces bigger teams, there is definitely going to be times when Kemp is going to help though with his size and skill set.

I don’t see Breunig or Jarreau breaking into this rotation this year, but both certainly stand a great chance in 2012-13. You never know what happens until they lace ’em up in practice though. A lot of people feel that Martin could be that
special of a freshman, so I guess we’ll soon see. Gant is not getting a whole lot of publicity in the off-season, which I doubt bothers him much. Diamond Leung of ESPN in a chat response from Thursday talked about UW’s front court prospects without mentioning Darnell.

“Aziz N’Diaye has shown he can be a dominant force in the middle, and the continued development of his offensive game would be a great bonus. But there question marks because of the front court depth and youth there. Desmond Simmons is coming off a red-shirt season, and Martin Breunig is another freshman who could get early playing time.”

I don’t think that Gant is a “question mark”. I feel that UW fans can expect a fantastic effort from Darnell this season and that he is an excellent candidate to finish the year as an All Pac-12 performer. Do not be surprised to see Gant work his way into draft discussion either. He has good size and an improving skill set for an NBA three in my opinion.

Wroten is a Husky that has been the toast of the off-season media. On Tuesday prospect-central.blogspot.com chose Tony as the 3rd best freshman PG nationally, in what is a very good class. Though Wroten was chosen below #1 Marquis Teague of Kentucky and #2 Myck Kabongo of Texas, I have talked to many who feel that he has looked better at times than either. If Wroten is that good this season, UW should be a very tough team, if everyone can buy into the team concept. Gant is a given, as are the rest of the veterans for the most part. If Wroten can grasp the “Husky way” to quote Gant, this UW team is going to be very good. Wroten is a player that can draw fouls and force the action, much like Thomas.

If Tony is able to step into that role of the guy that wears down teams by getting to the line and putting opponents on the bench in foul trouble, you probably have to put UW back at or near the top of the Pac-12. If he doesn’t and takes too long to integrate into the team concept and to the pace at this level, UW will still be good but not close to as good, unless a lot of others make sharp improvements in going to the cup. That said Wroten is the only freshman, other than the red-shirt Simmons, who will play “starters minutes” right off the bat in 2011-12. His size, speed, athleticism and skill set are just too high of a level to keep him on the bench for too long. Tony was a huge reason that Bleacher Report chose UW as 20th in the top-20 2011 recruiting classes on Thursday.

If I prove to be correct that only Tony in a major role and Shawn in a reserve role will contribute from the six 2011 signees (Simmons is a freshman, but came from 2010), that doesn’t sound like that great of a class. This is not true, as teams at the level that UW is at now can’t afford to have too many freshmen play too big of roles too soon. ‘Zona was chosen 7th by BR in the piece, but the reason that the ‘Cats will still be good is probably not that class, but because of returning vets in sophomore PG Jordin Mayes, senior guard Kyle Fogg, senior wing Brendan Lavendar, junior wing Kevin Parrom, junior post Solomon Hill, senior posts Jesse Perry and Alex Jacobson and junior post Kyryl Natyazhko.

That’s eight guys with track records in D1. I feel that UW’s returnees are more impressive as a group, but that UA should have more contributions from freshmen. What that means to the success of both programs is yet to be determined, but
leaning too much on frosh is never a great idea. I feel that both teams could just as easily finish 1st as 5th. Thomas helped UW make a clear statement as to who was the better team head to head last season, with his “cold-blooded” buzzer beater to win the Pac-10 Tournament. Isaiah is doing well in off-season opportunities to show his stuff against fellow pros. On September 12th Thomas impressed at the Impact Basketball Training Series. It really looks like “IT”, who has 28 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists for a near triple double at that event, is on his way to a successful pro career. If he makes it that would make six players in the Romar era who have become solid NBA players, the others being Hawes, Quincy Pondexter, Jon Brockman, Brandon Roy and Nate Robinson.

There have also been four of Romar’s former Dawgs who have gone on to lucrative success overseas and a little bit of play from the NBA in Justin Dentmon, Bobby Jones, Will Conroy and Tre Simmons. I think that Isaiah is certain, barring injury, to fall into one of those categories and probably more of a full NBA guy than not. On Friday “IT”, Roy, Conroy, Hawes, Pondexter and honorary Husky Jamal Crawford were in attendance, per numerous reports, at UW’s open gym. There may have been a reason, as UW was hosting 2012 guard recruit Demarquise Johnson. It can’t hurt to have such a terrific show of force from those who have come out of the UW program to give a kid a good impression of Washington. Johnson has a “tentative” visit scheduled for UNLV on October 5th, but there is a good chance (according to Husky Digest sources) that he will decide this weekend. For the latest updates on this and other UW recruiting stories in progress, always go to huskydigest.com for the latest and best inside info.

One former UW player who’s story Husky Digest broke nationally as a Husky commit a number of years ago was 2008 guard Elston Turner Jr. Turner transferred to Texas A+M and after sitting out last season will be a major part of this year’s Aggies. Elston looks great in game film from the Aggies European exhibition tour this past summer from the schools official site. Turner came to Washington and was used to help fill the role of the departed all-time 3-point shooter in school history in Appleby. It wasn’t a role that Turner embraced, nor Appleby, as both players saw themselves as more than just 3-point threats. Ryan has chosen to pursue a career as a basketball trainer over a pro career after college.

Appleby has been growing his business over the last few years and has launched a brand new website with memberships and DVDs. He trains players of all ages from middle school to professional. He has launched a series of new free videos on YouTube to help inspire players to reach their full potential. To watch those videos, visit his YouTube channel “r9dimes” or go to www.applebybasketball.com. One YouTube clip that I felt was particularly interesting to UW fans was a “mini-documentary” that shows Ryan up in his old home town of Stanwood WA working out. The clip features comments from trainer Steve Gordon, who does consulting work for Portland in the NBA.

Not all former UW players play in the NBA. Turner, whose dad is the new defensive coordinator and an assistant for the NBA’s Phoenix Suns, looks like he may have a chance. Former Dawg Donald Watts, the son of NBA star Slick, never fulfilled his NBA dreams, but he certainly appeared to have what it took to make it at that level. Chronic fatigue syndrome stopped Donald from making that jump, but his performance in a 1997 Sweet-16 game against UConn was legendary. A Watts three in the final 20-seconds would have won it for Washington, but one of the “15 biggest game winning shots” according to Bleacher Report on September 12th, gave it to the east coast Huskies.

Had one of many Huskies who could have secured a rebound on that play converted, UW would have gone further in the “big dance” than any team in the Romar era or prior, all the way to 1953. Had Watts decided to enter the draft as well after that year, rather than play a senior season in which his disease surfaced, he would have likely gotten the 1st round guaranteed money that would have changed his life. There’s no such thing as close in the all of nothing world of hoops. Donald, like Ryan appears to be doing well and staying in the game that he loves by training, coaching and running camps. Coaching is no joke of a money maker and both of these former Dawgs could have a great future on the bench.

Basketball is a tough business, but the story of former Dawg Eldridge Recasner is one of perseverance and dedication that really paid off. After five years in the minor leagues Recasner, who was a recent guest on my weekly “Talkin’ Hoops” radio show on blogtalkradio.com, had a successful NBA career. On September 15th Recasner officially re-entered the NBA as an NBDL assistant coach for the Sioux Falls (SD) Skyforce, according to nba.com. Eldridge has made a name for himself as a basketball commentator in the Seattle area and may have a future in that profession as well, as a radio or TV analyst. I’m sure we’ll still see Recasner out and about in Seattle, as I do believe that he is a confirmed “Rain-brain”.

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Washington Husky Huddle for September 24th 2011