New Huskies Starting To Make Big Impact

You couldn’t help but take a Wait & See approach to this Husky basketball season, with all the turnover compared to recent years.  With Andrew Andrews being The Guy, and everyone else being complete unknowns, I don’t know if I’d blame you for feeling like, “Oh, here we go again!”  I mean, there we were, coming off of arguably Lorenzo Romar’s worst season as the head coach of this team, which itself came off of three other seasons where we failed to make the NCAA Tournament, and now our only experienced player is a guard who arguably shoots too much?

But, here we are, a little more than halfway through the season, and this team has a real shot at contending for an At Large bid, if not an outside shot at winning the Pac-12 Tourney.  Andrew Andrews was and is the glue that holds this whole thing together, and without him, I don’t think this team has a shot, but if this team is going to make the leap and BE a Tournament team, it’s going to need the kids to mature in a hurry.

If you watch enough Husky basketball, you’ll notice a few things.  Here’s what I’ve noticed so far.

Dejounte Murray is probably the biggest star, and most NBA-ready player, in his class.  Without really knowing the college basketball landscape, I have no idea about what this year’s draft is going to look like.  I think, if the season ended today, Murray could probably find himself selected somewhere in there (I would argue more likely in the second round).  He’s flashing brilliance, and what he’s got going for him are the next 11 regular season games, along with the Pac-12 Tourney and whatever other post-season tournament we land ourselves in.  These are Murray’s showcase games, for all intents and purposes.  These games will go a long way towards showing NBA scouts whether Murray is a first round talent, or a guy who could use another year of seasoning.

I’m of the opinion that college guys could ALWAYS use another year of seasoning, but I can certainly see the risk involved.  Tony Wroten, for example, probably maximized his value in his 1 & Done season.  Unless he was going to remarkably improve as an outside shooter in his second year in college, I don’t think he could have done much better than where he was selected (with all the risk in the world of him stagnating and falling in the draft as a result of him staying a second season).  Isaiah Thomas left with a year of eligibility at his disposal, but again, I think he had proven everything he needed to, especially in his final year here.  He risked seeing himself overshadowed by Tony Wroten of all people.  So, one might argue that Murray could see himself overshadowed by an incoming Freshman next season, but don’t forget this:  Andrew Andrews won’t be here.  So, if Murray decides to come back, this will be HIS team in 2016/2017.  If he lights the stat sheets on fire the rest of this season, he’ll certainly feel the pull to be a 1 & Done player.  But, if his game log up to this point is any indication, he still tends to have his good days and his bad days, and all those bad days aren’t doing him any favors.

What’s working for Murray is that he’s got an outside shot.  It’s not great, he’s hovering around 31% from beyond the arc, but he’s not a total liability.  His height is NBA-calibre (6’5), so no issues there.  He’s leading the team in rebounds, assists, and steals (6.4, 4.7, 1.7 respectively) but he’s also leading the team in turnovers (3.4), and that’s where, I think, he can make the most progress in his game.  If he stays one more year, cleans up his ball-handling and decision-making, he’ll see those turnover numbers go down and those assist numbers skyrocket.

The other guard in our 3-guard rotation is a guy I like A LOT.  It doesn’t hurt that I’ve got a huge man-crush on Andrew Andrews, but David Crisp reminds me a lot of Andrews.  His quicks, his fearlessness in taking the big shot, his ability to make shots from anywhere on the court.  Crisp nailed a dagger from the corner to force that Utah game into overtime, and I don’t think that’s the last we’ve seen of his clutchness.  My favorite thing about Crisp:  I don’t think he’ll be leaving us anytime soon.  Not to say he isn’t good, but he’s not the prototypical NBA guard the way Murray is.  That doesn’t mean he can’t take his game to the next level, but it likely means he’s going to need to stay for 3-4 years, watch his game flourish, and continue to shine when the lights are on him.

I don’t think I’ve seen a Freshman this ballsy since IT.  He absolutely wants the basketball in his hands in crunch time, and isn’t afraid to take the last shot, even knowing it’s more likely to be missed than made.  He’s hitting a decent 34% of his outside shots, but for now, that’s pretty much all he’s shooting.  Of his 175 attempts taken, 111 are behind the arc.  So, you know, he’s going to have to develop a dribble drive, and an ability to finish at the rim.  But, let’s not forget that he’s probably this team’s third or fourth option (behind Andrews, Murray, and whatever big man gets position in the post).  As Crisp develops, and as this roster changes in the coming years, look for him to take on an increased role, and I would wager he’ll be up to the task.

Of the Freshman forwards we have on the roster, Marquese Chriss might be the most dynamic.  He’s also, unfortunately, the most prone to get into foul trouble.  It’s the main reason why he’s only averaging 23 minutes per game.  The Huskies have played 19 games this season, and Chriss has fouled out in TEN of those games (Good God, Lemon!), with five more games where he finished with 4 fouls.  He’s fouled out in all but one of our seven Pac-12 games to date, so obviously that’s something that needs to change.

When he’s on the court, though, he might be the most naturally talented basketball player we have.  He’s hitting 53% of his shots, grabbing 5 boards, and hits a decent (for a big man) 70% of his free throws.  Mostly due to the foul trouble, he’s had an up & down season kinda like Murray, and at 6’9, 225 lbs, he’s not the ideal size for an NBA power forward.  So, in that sense, I think he’s more of a lock to be back next year.  Likewise, he has no outside shot whatsoever, so he’s not going to be your typical small forward in the NBA.  He probably needs to bulk up a little more (in muscle, obviously), develop a mid-range jumper, and cool it on the bone-headed fouls.  Once he takes care of that, his natural abilities around the rim will ensure he’s got a future in the NBA, probably as a bench player, good for defense and those tough points in the paint.  I can’t wait to see what he can do in a Husky uniform in the next year or two; I think he could be really special for us.

Noah Dickerson is the other Freshman big man who’s making an impact.  He also tends to get into foul trouble – not quite as much as Chriss – but he’s taken great steps to improve his game since conference play started.  Dickerson has scored in double digits in four of the last five games, with a lot of hard-fought buckets in the paint.  He’s not quite the natural scorer that Chriss has proven to be so far, but he’s a better rebounder, and he doesn’t even try to have an outside game.  His mid-range jumper is coming along nicely, as he tends to be the guy standing at the free throw line when other teams put their 2-3 zone on us.  He can hit that jumper from the stripe, which is odd because he still needs work on his actual free throw attempts.  At 6’8, he too is undersized for a power forward at the NBA level, so I wouldn’t expect him to go anywhere anytime soon.  But, if he’s already this good now, as a Freshman, how awesome is he going to be three years from now?

In keeping with the Freshman theme, Matisse Thybulle is absolutely going to be a fan favorite.  He’s a 6’5 small forward with rock solid defense, and he fills up the stat sheet.  5.7 points, 3.7 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.2 steals, 1.0 blocks, and only 1.6 turnovers over 24 minutes per game.  He’s somewhat of an anomaly, as he has a better 3-point percentage than his overall field goal percentage (39.6% vs. 37.4%), but it’s not like he’s out there just jacking threes.  He spots up, and teams are going to leave him open because they’ve got so many other players to worry about.  But, to his credit, Thybulle is knocking down an impressive number of those attempts.  He’s a role player, and he’s likely always going to be a role player for this team, but as the years go by, he’ll find himself playing starter’s minutes and making a huge impact for the Huskies, much like Justin Holliday and Bobby Jones before him.

Finally, if you watch Husky games, you’ll note that there’s a 7-man base rotation, of players all averaging over 20 minutes per game.  Anyone below that threshold (Donaven Dorsey, Dominic Green) tends to play on a situational basis (depending on foul issues, and the like).  The big man I’ve been most impressed with so far has been Malik Dime.  He’s a Junior College transfer, coming to Washington with two years of eligibility remaining.  He’s 6’9, and listed as a forward, but he’s essentially what passes for this team’s center.  His wingspan is out of control, which is a big part of why he leads this team in blocks (at nearly 3 per game).  He’s shown a knack for avoiding foul trouble (for the most part), so even though he’s technically this team’s 6th man, he tends to be in the game early, and playing a good chunk of minutes (while also finding himself usually on the floor at the end of games).  From Senegal, like former Husky Aziz N’Diaye, Dime doesn’t quite have the stone hands of his countryman ex-Dawg.  He’s also got the athleticism to run up and down the court with these guards, who frequently reward him with alley-oop jams.  I don’t know what Dime’s future holds, as far as his NBA prospects are concerned.  He’s a little under-sized, and a little under-weight to bang around with the big boys in the pros.  And, he could probably develop more of a post game, if he wants to be a role player at the next level.  But, his defense, rebounding, leaping ability, and overall athleticism make him an interesting prospect.  Maybe someone who could benefit from some further development at the D-League level, if he doesn’t feel the need to seek out professional employment overseas right away.  My only quibble with his game so far, if you can even call it that, is he tends to have a heavy hand with his blocks, with the balls flying out of bounds rather than into the waiting hands of a teammate ready to push the ball the other way.  That’s where someone like Robert Upshaw really had a knack.  Of course, I highly doubt we’ll ever face the type of off-court troubles with Dime that followed Upshaw around, so in that sense I guess you take the good, you take the bad, and so on and so forth.

The overall consensus with this Husky team is that right now, it’s good, it’s exciting, and we all can’t wait to see what’s to come next in the remainder of this season.  But, even more thrilling is the possibility of what this team might look like NEXT year.  I know, as fans, we tend to over-value the future at the expense of the present, but think about this for a second.  The Huskies are off to a 5-2 start, and have as good a chance as anyone to win the Pac-12 regular season title.  Going into the 2016/2017 season, the only person we’re guaranteed to lose is Andrew Andrews.  If Murray and the rest of our Freshmen stay on board, even with whoever is slated to join us, we’re DEFINITELY going to be one of the top teams in the entire conference, with a high likelihood of going into the season ranked nationally.

I honestly don’t think we’ve seen a Husky basketball team this talented since the heyday of Nate Rob, Brandon Roy, Tre Simmons, Bobby Jones, Will Conroy and the like.  We all wondered if we’d ever get back to that level, and if we did, would Lorenzo Romar still be the guy calling the shots?  For the last few years, I’ve been on a one-man crusade calling for the Huskies to keep Romar and let him turn this thing around.  Well, I believe he’s done just that.  AND, if he can keep it all together, we could be looking at some real Tournament darlings for years to come.

Get excited, Dawg fans.  We’ve put up with a lot of crappiness in recent seasons.  THIS is the payoff.  Husky basketball is back, in a big way.

C.J. Wilcox Is Yet Another Husky Drafted Into The NBA Under Lorenzo Romar

Last night, with the 28th overall pick, the Los Angeles Clippers selected C.J. Wilcox, shooting guard from the University of Washington.  That makes 7 first round draft picks – and 10 draft picks overall – in the Lorenzo Romar era.

Someone with MUCH more time on their hands than myself can go around the ranks of college basketball and see where that ranks among the other head coaches out there right now.  I’m sure he’s a step or two behind Calipari and the like, but he HAS to be in the top ten of active college basketball coaches, right?

Here’s the breakdown (remember, Romar has been with us since 2002):

  • Nate Rob – 2005, first round (21st overall)
  • Brandon Roy – 2006, first round (6th overall)
  • Bobby Jones – 2006, second round (37th overall)
  • Spencer Hawes – 2007, first round (10th overall)
  • Jon Brockman – 2009, second round (38th overall)
  • Quincy Pondexter – 2010, first round (26th overall)
  • Isaiah Thomas – 2011, second round (60th overall)
  • Terrence Ross – 2012, first round (8th overall)
  • Tony Wroten – 2012, first round (25th overall)
  • C.J. Wilcox – 2014, first round (28th overall)

Anybody else remember Bobby Jones getting drafted?  Yeah, neither did I.

A lot of special players on that list.  A lot of potential that, for whatever reason, wasn’t fully realized.  Nevertheless, a good number of them are still in the league, and putting up productive careers.  I.T. has been a rock for the Kings.  T-Ross has showed flashes of greatness up in Toronto.  Q-Pon is a valued contributor for the Grizzlies.  Tony Wroten has dramatically improved his shooting touch, to go along with all of his other, more impressive qualities he featured in college.  Hawes is a solid big man who has yet to really find a home in the league.  And, of course, Nate Rob is the guy who won’t say die.

Lorenzo Romar has been living life on the hot seat the last couple years.  His gift is his curse:  he helped Husky fans grow accustomed to contending for Pac-10/12 championships and reaching the NCAA Tournament on an almost-yearly basis.  We didn’t have NEARLY the kind of success we’ve had recently, prior to Romar … you have to go back to the mid 80s, and then back again to the God damned 40’s & 50’s!  Now that we’re three seasons removed from the Tourney, the same guy who elevated the program is seeing himself torn down by the fans and in the press.

And yet, he can sit here and point to the fact that he has had ten players drafted into The League.  And a few more undrafted guys have had cups of coffee.  On an almost-yearly basis, we’ve seen another Husky infiltrate the league.  And, if they manage to stay healthy, the Romar kids generally produce at a high level, while remaining hard working and incredibly easy to coach.  Lorenzo Romar’s basketball legacy is out there, doing great things, and C.J. Wilcox continues the trend.

Wilcox is the greatest shooter we’ve ever seen.  It’s just too bad we couldn’t get a team around him that was competitive.  When I saw that he was drafted by the Clippers, I couldn’t have been happier.  For starters, because he’s not playing for OKC.  But, more importantly, because he’s on a good team that’s still on the rise, with a good head coach, and now a good owner who will hopefully do what it takes to win.  It’ll be nice to hear sporadic great things about Wilcox when he does well in the years ahead.  Here’s to hoping he’s the piece that pushes the Clippers over the top.

The UW Alumni Basketball Game Was Amazing

Just know that the following post is coming to you completely, 100% snark-free.  The spring and summer of 2013 – if it’s remembered for anything – will be remembered as a vast wasteland of Seattle Sports Hell.  Dark, desolate, Mariners-filled … we don’t get to look forward to the Sonics returning, we likely won’t have pro hockey anytime soon, and the wait for Seahawks and Husky football is absolutely excruciating.  It’s been a crappy last few months, and it’s going to continue to be a crappy next few months.

But, smack dab in the middle of our calendar year, an oasis in the endless desert that is Seattle sports, we had an event at Hec Ed yesterday afternoon that – for a few hungover hours – left me feeling like a kid again.  With a smile plastered on my face like the first time I ever saw a pair of naked boobs in my face.  And, truth be told, every time since.

For an idea that seems so much like a no-brainer, this was a first for Husky basketball.  An All Star Game comprised exclusively of Husky players over the last 10 years or so.  Split into two squads:  pre-2009 and post-2009.

You’re talking about a who’s who Husky greats!

Pre-2009:

Will Conroy
Brandon Roy
Nate Robinson
Tre Simmons
Spencer Hawes
Bobby Jones
Jamaal Williams
Mike Jensen
Hans Gasser

Post-2009:

Isaiah Thomas
Quincy Pondexter
Jon Brockman
Justin Holiday
Justin Dentmon
Terrence Ross
Tony Wroten
Matthew Bryan-Amaning
Darnell Gant
Ryan Appleby

I had a feeling that the older guys would win the game, thinking that they SURELY would have wanted it more.  Plus, you’ve got some wily vets on that team who can pull from a deeper bag of tricks.  Couple things of note, though:  the pre-2009 bench was MUCH leaner (indeed, there was even one fewer player on the pre-2009 roster), and the post-2009 team was flat-out stacked.

Post-2009 won the game 107-103, though for the most part it didn’t even feel all that close.  You’re talking about an All Star Game, so defense wasn’t really the name of the game.  Post-2009 generally held comfortable leads, while Pre-2009 would go on the occasional spurts to tie the game or hold brief, small leads.

The Spencer Hawes/Jon Brockman battle was epic.  That was surely worth the price of admission by itself.  Hawes was certainly the best player on his team, scoring 21 points and grabbing 17 boards, but Brockman was the only guy on the post-2009 team that could even come close to containing him.

Will Conroy looked like a man possessed; I think he wanted to win that game more than anyone.  He didn’t come out of the game until midway in the second half after he’d picked up his 4th foul; I was sure he was going to just stay in the game until he fouled out (apparently, they were playing by NBA foul rules, as Conroy picked up his 5th late in the game, but stayed in).  He didn’t appear to have off-the-charts numbers when I watched live, but apparently he ended up with a triple-double (16 points, 12 boards, 11 assists), with a quadruple-double if you count the 10 turnovers.

Tre Simmons led his team in scoring with 23, making 6 of 19 shots (5 of 16 from behind the arc).  Nate Rob started each half, then left after about 11 minutes each time and never returned.  He had a quiet 7 points even though he was jacking up shots practically from mid-court.  Roy had a quiet game too, but started to pick it up in the second half; he finished with 13 points.  Bobby Jones didn’t get into the game (I think) until the second half (for some reason; I blame Warren Moon’s erratic basketball coaching style) and was instant offense in the early going.  Mike Jensen looked better in yesterday’s game than he did in his entire Husky career, making all five of his shots and remaining somewhat active on defense.  Jamaal Williams is a big dude who provided a physical presence for the vets.  As for Hans Gasser … he played five minutes and scored 0 points.  So there’s that.

Isaiah Thomas was the MVP of the game, with 24 points on 10 of 20 shooting (4 of 11 from behind the arc).  He simply took over in the second half and willed his team to victory (just as he did for us so many times in his Husky career).  Q-Pon somehow managed to get to the free throw line 11 times, making 8.  He had a quiet 17 points.  Tony Wroten looked MUCH improved, both with his jumper and at the free throw line.  It was pretty sweet to see how he and IT played off of one another.  That 2011/2012 team really could’ve been a mad-dog with both of those guys playing in the back court.

Justin Dentmon continued his hot string of shooting, carrying it over from his final season in a Husky uniform.  Holiday and Ross were fairly quiet, scoring a combined 17 points, but taking only a combined 17 shots.  MBA was effective in limited duty (9 points & 8 boards in 15 minutes).  Gant and Appleby were limited in a numbers crunch, as the rest of the squad was too good to sit for too long.

The whole event was a total victory.  There was a Legends Game to kick things off, with some real old timers doing a short game with 10-minute halves.  Lorenzo Romar won the MVP of that game as he jacked three 3-pointers in finishing with 11 points.  There was a 3-point contest at halftime of the Alumni Game, with Dentmon beating out Simmons, Pondexter, Nate-Rob and Appleby.  And, after the Alumni Game, they had a Dunk Contest with MBA, Holiday, Gant, and Ross.  The latter two made it to the finals, with Gant winning it all thanks to a fan-vote on Twitter.  Gant’s best dunk was a bounce off of the shot clock followed by a slam.  Ross’s best dunk happened in the first round (and it was the best dunk of the whole day), where he had Tony Wroten go 15 rows into the stands, throw the ball into the court, and on a bounce Ross caught it and windmill’d it home.  Each netted a 50 for their efforts on those two, but that’s what happens when you use your best dunk in the first round.

When I first heard about this event, I had it pegged as something that might draw 5,000 fans or so.  Turns out, they sold out, with the Will Call line stretching all the way down the street to the New Husky Stadium.  If they’re able to bring in the same crop of guys every year, I don’t see why they wouldn’t keep this tradition going!  You’re talking about 10 NBA players on the same college basketball court putting on one hell of a show.  I would very much go to this every year they’re able to put it on, no doubt about it.

Huskies End Regular Season On A Bummer

Since I dragged my ass to Hec-Ed to watch this silly game, I’m going to write about it!

And since it was Senior Day, I’m going to try my damnedest to not rag too hard about the Seniors on this team.  But, holy mother of god are these some of the most underwhelming Seniors I’ve ever seen leave this school.

At this point, I’m beyond the point of really giving too much of a shit.  The season is over, and pretty soon I won’t have to worry about this team ever again.  But, all the flaws of this team were on FULL display Saturday morning.

You know what kind of gets downplayed a lot when people talk about Abdul Gaddy?  Everyone likes to talk about how many turnovers he produces, about how he’s not a very good shooter, and as one of the most highly-touted players coming out of high school, what a disappointment he’s become.  On the flipside, his supporters will point to the fact that he’s one of the top guys in Husky basketball history with assists.  And they will also lament a serious lack of a quality big man, which has surely hampered his numbers in both assists AND turnovers.

But, until you watch this team live, and until you see them play a team like UCLA – who is constantly pushing the ball up the court for fastbreak points – you don’t get the full picture about how SLOW Abdul Gaddy truly is.  When you look at the Bruins, who like to run all the time, you’re looking at a team that isn’t always in a great defensive position.  So, when they surge for a fastbreak bucket, more often than not, you – as the opponent – should be able to push the ball right back down the court for your own fastbreak opportunity!  And yet, EVERY SINGLE TIME, Abdul Gaddy would slow the ball up at half court and wait until every Bruin was in proper defensive position.

Is he not good enough to push the ball?  Is he TOO worried about making a mistake?  Is he favoring that knee he busted up a couple years ago?  For a guy who doesn’t seem too concerned with making boneheaded passes on the reg, he seems WAY too concerned with not getting too carried away driving towards the basket.

But, of course, he isn’t the reason why we lost this game on Saturday.

Now, I genuinely like Aziz N’Diaye.  His defense in the paint is second to none.  He had a couple of blocks on Saturday that were out of this world!  He seemed to jump out of the gym to swat those balls, which makes you wonder why he settles for so many crappy lay-ins off the backboard when he could just as easily dunk the ball.

I’ve seen him do it!  I know he’s capable of dunking!  He’s seven God damned feet tall!  With his wingspan, he can practically dunk the ball while standing flat-footed!  Reasonably, he would need to jump the height of 2-3 stacked phonebooks, depending on the size of the city.

But, whatever.  Offense isn’t his game.  Since he does everything else well on the defensive end, I’ll give him a pass.  Truth be told, I liked him in there early, as I thought he really gave UCLA star Travis Wear fits down low.  Wear can’t do ANYTHING in the paint with Aziz between him and the basket.  So, with Aziz in the game, that pushed one of UCLA’s premier big men to the 3-point line.  Advantage:  Washington.  And, you could see its effectiveness when Aziz left the game, as Wear took advantage of smaller guys like Jarreau and Simmons.  But, as the game went on, and it looked more and more like the Huskies were going to have to actually SCORE to win this game (and not just sit there preventing baskets like they did in the first half), Aziz was a liability they could ill-afford to keep on the court.

But, of course, he isn’t the reason why we lost this game on Saturday.

Scott Suggs has been an entirely different kind of disappointment altogether.  He was lost for the season last year and we all thought that was probably for the best.  Had the team needed him, or if he had already used a red-shirt year, Suggs could have played for half a season (or thereabouts).  But, with a healthy portion of the shooting coming from Wroten, Ross, and Wilcox, last year’s team didn’t exactly need a fourth wing player.  Minutes and shots were already at a premium as it was.  AND, you figured with Wroten and Ross both likely to leave after the season (which they did), we would need SOMEONE to pick up some of the slack.

I had hoped Suggs would be that guy.  I had high hopes of him stepping up and taking over games.  Instead, he’s pretty much been what he’s been every year of his college career:  a complementary player.  A guy who doesn’t shoot more than he has to, who rarely takes the ball inside, who can’t really finish at the rim, and who can’t draw fouls and get to the free throw line.

On Saturday, Suggs was a man possessed.  Romar gave him the important task of guarding the best Freshman in the Pac-12 – Shabazz Muhammad – and I thought for the most part, Suggs did a brilliant job.  Yes, Muhammad got his points, and he scored a decent percentage of his shots, but when Suggs was on the floor, he was constantly in his face, physically bodying up on the bulkier Muhammad every chance he got.  When Suggs scored that basket and nearly got T’d up for talking trash, I thought that was just the momentum-swinger he needed.  Unfortunately, Romar opted to take him out of the game immediately to try to prevent that technical foul.

Which, in the end, goes a long way towards explaining why the Huskies lost this particular game:  timing.  Just as the Huskies were on the ass-end of some poor officiating (what else is new from the Pac-12?), the Huskies were also cooled off by timing and circumstance.  Like Romar taking Suggs out just as he was heating up.  Like in the middle of the 2nd half, when the Huskies ripped off a momentum-swinging run and had all the fans on their feet and yelling like crazy, UCLA REALLY took advantage of their timeouts.  They tried to slow things down to a crawl, but the Huskies were still able to take a 2-point lead when all was said and done.  Unfortunately, right after the Bruins played their timeout game, we were stuck with a TV-timeout about 30 seconds later.  That 2-point lead with 8 minutes to go in the game wasn’t nearly the advantage we needed from such a huge momentum swing, and in the end the Bruins were able to walk us down and beat us handily.

Which makes it all the more frustrating that Suggs only ended up taking 10 shots (hitting 6 of them).  It’s one thing to not force things, and to let the flow of the game come to you.  But, when you see a guy in Wilcox, who was OBVIOUSLY having an off-day shooting, there’s got to be a switch you can flip where you take over the game offensively.  Suggs doesn’t have that switch.  Or, if he does, he constantly leaves it in the OFF position.  Either way, he did more than enough to keep us in the game, but not nearly enough to win it for us.

One final comment before I’ll close:  Where’s The Hustle?

Desmond Simmons is the ONLY guy who hustles on this team.  A couple other guys are try-hard types, like Suggs and Aziz and Andrews, but no one truly hustles like Simmons.  From Simmons, you get the feeling that every possession is life-or-death.  That’s the type of play that really endears someone to Husky fans more than anything else.  It’s why guys like Darnell Gant, Justin Holiday, Jon Brockman, and Bobby Jones were such fan favorites.  Anyway, here’s to hoping we see more hustle out of our 2013/2014 Huskies.  It will be a refreshing change of pace.

Also, my prediction:  the Huskies lose to the Cougars, then they lose in the first round of the CBI, then I puke my guts out.

The Best Washington Husky Basketball Players In The Lorenzo Romar Era

Before Lorenzo Romar came to town, I was never really much of a Washington Husky basketball fan.  Though, I do remember being in high school on Thursday, March 19th, 1998, when Rip Hamilton ripped our guts out in the Sweet 16.  Aside from that shot, and the fact that Todd MacCulloch was on the team, I don’t remember much else from the Bob Bender era.  After that game, and the following season where we lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, three years of 8th and 9th place finishes sealed Bender’s fate.

Then, in 2002, we signed Lorenzo Romar.  And everything changed … though not right away.

Romar came to the Huskies with 6 seasons’ worth of head coaching experience, 3 with Pepperdine and 3 with Saint Louis.  In his 6 seasons, Romar had a 93-88 record, with one NIT and one NCAA Tournament appearance.  I can’t say that expectations were super-high for Romar coming to Montlake.  But, it turns out he exceeded those expectations beyond our wildest dreams.

That 2002/2003 team had some talent, but they weren’t quite there yet and we finished 9th again.  In his second season, however, we made it to the Big Dance.  What followed that underachieving first season was post-season appearances in every other season but one (2006/2007).  Six NCAA appearances in eight seasons, including three Sweet 16 appearances.  We’re 8-6 in the Tourney, and even though we haven’t been able to get past the Sweet 16 under Romar, it’s easy to realize just where he’s taken this program since he got here.

We’ve won two outright Pac-10/12 championships, we’ve won three other conference tournament championships.  He has coached at least six major NBA players (and another three at least who have had cups of coffee in the league), and that’s not counting Ross and Wroten, who both figure to be first round picks this year.

So, in honor of all the great Lorenzo Romar has brought to the Washington Huskies, I’m compiling a roster of 12 guys.  The greatest men’s Husky basketball players to play under Coach Romar.

The obvious place to start are the five guys who have not only gone on to make a dent in the NBA, but also made a significant dent with the University of Washington.  They are, in no particular order:

It’s a tad undersized, so I probably wouldn’t make that my Starting Five, but those are the five who are the most obvious choices to be on this All Romar Team.  All of them played at least three seasons in college and all of them got progressively better each and every season – a trademark of just about any Lorenzo Romar student athlete.

In the next grouping, I think these guys are almost just as obvious, but in this case we’re talking about critical role players Lorenzo Romar has cultivated over the years.  Again, in no particular order:

Even though Bobby Jones and Justin Holiday are essentially the same player, I’m including both of them on my team, because you can never have enough hard-nosed defenders.  I believe that, and I know Lorenzo Romar believes that.

I figured this team needed another true point guard (because, let’s face it, Nate Rob was many things for the Huskies, but a true point guard he was not).  It came down to Conroy and Justin Dentmon in my mind (with no apologies to Ryan Appleby), and while Dentmon might have had the better offensive numbers (especially in his Senior season), Conroy always had the better assist numbers.  Now, if Abdul Gaddy comes out next season and blows everyone away with his leadership abilities, then this might change after next season.  For now, Conroy is my guy.

And, to round things out, I needed a pure shooter.  THIS one came down to Simmons and C.J. Wilcox.  Granted, Simmons only played here for two seasons, but he was cash money while wearing the purple and gold.  Of course, should Wilcox come out next season and blow me away, he will rightly deserve a spot on this team.  Until then …

At this point, you’ll notice that no one on my team is taller than 6’7.  We need big men!  Unfortunately, what has plagued Lorenzo Romar throughout his tenure with this team is the fact that he can’t regularly get quality big men.  Sure, he got Spencer Hawes, but he was one-and-done so nuts to him.  Romar has had to take what he could get and do the best with what he had.  Therefore, the following two guys also make my team (until a day comes when we get someone better):

These might not be the most popular choices – especially MBA – but look at it rationally.  I’m not going to include any one-and-done players on my list (sorry Tony Wroten), and if you look at the rosters through the years, these two really ARE the best true big men he has coached.  If anyone wanted to see the genius of a Lorenzo Romar, look no further than the career trajectory of Matthew Bryan-Amaning.  He was positively DREADFUL in his first season with the Huskies.  Field Goal Percentage around 40%, rebounds per game around 3, minutes down around 14 per game.  Then, look at his Senior season!  28 minutes per game, nearly 55% from the field, and an even 8 rebounds per contest!  That’s the Lorenzo Romar Effect in a nutshell.  And, as for Aziz, he’s slowly but surely getting there.  In his second full season, he made the All Pac-12 Defensive Team.  Sure, he might get into foul trouble more often than not, but he will give other teams hell for about 20 minutes a game in the paint.

My 12th man isn’t going to some bottom-feeder who never played a lick of meaningful minutes (like Zane Potter or Brendan Sherrer).  There’s too much talent on the All Romar Team to waste on a pasty white guy.  This pick is more of a personal favorite.  Even though he left school early, he’s still made an impact on me.  And, I think he’ll fit on this team quite nicely.  He is:

Not a one-and-done, so he fits the mold I’ve set.  The only downside is thinking about the potential he had to be a Player of the Year candidate.

I think it’s a pretty decent squad.  Here it is again, from shortest to tallest:

  • Isaiah Thomas 5’8 (PG), 2008-2011
  • Nate Robinson 5’9 (PG/SG), 2002-2005
  • Will Conroy 6’1 (PG), 2001-2005
  • Brandon Roy 6’5 (G/F), 2002-2006
  • Tré Simmons 6’5 (SG), 2003-2005
  • Justin Holiday 6’6 (SF), 2007-2011
  • Terrence Ross 6’6 (SG/SF), 2010-2012
  • Bobby Jones 6’7 (SF), 2002-2006
  • Quincy Pondexter 6’7 (SF), 2006-2010
  • Jon Brockman 6’7 (PF), 2005-2009
  • Matthew Bryan-Amaning 6’9 (PF), 2007-2011
  • Aziz N’Diaye 7’0 (C), 2010 – Present

Now, if I’m picking a true Starting Five, to compete against actual teams, it’s looking something like this:

  1. Nate Robinson (PG)
  2. Brandon Roy (SG)
  3. Quincy Pondexter (SF)
  4. Jon Brockman (PF)
  5. Aziz N’Diaye (C)

You get Aziz in there to be a load in the paint.  You’ve got lots of great scoring in our guards and small forward, and you’ve got stellar defense & rebounding out of our forwards.

Now, if you want to play matchups, you’ve got a whole world to play with.  Need to go small and run up the score?  Try this lineup:

  1. Will Conroy
  2. Isaiah Thomas
  3. Tré Simmons
  4. Terrence Ross
  5. Bobby Jones

Want to clamp down defensively?

  1. Isaiah Thomas
  2. Justin Holiday
  3. Bobby Jones
  4. Quincy Pondexter
  5. Aziz N’Diaye

Anyway, that’s it.  These are the Lorenzo Romar All Stars.  I’ll update it accordingly in the years to come.

To close things out, for your information, is Lorenzo Romar’s career record with the Washington Huskies:

2002/200310-17 (5-13), 9th in Pac-10
2003/200419-12 (12-6), 2nd in Pac-10, lost NCAA first round to UAB 102-100
2004/200529-6 (14-4), 2nd in Pac-10*, lost NCAA Sweet 16 to Louisville 93-79
2005/200626-7 (13-5), 2nd in Pac-10, lost NCAA Sweet 16 to Connecticut 98-92 (OT)
2006/200719-13 (8-10), 7th in Pac-10
2007/200816-17 (7-11), 8th in Pac-10, lost CBI first round to Valparaiso 72-71
2008/200926-9 (14-4), 1st in Pac-10, lost NCAA second round to Purdue 76-74
2009/201026-10 (11-7), 3rd in Pac-10*, lost NCAA Sweet 16 to West Virginia 69-56
2010/201124-11 (11-7), 3rd in Pac-10*, lost NCAA second round to North Carolina 86-83
2011/201224-11 (14-4), 1st in Pac-12, lost NIT Final Four to Minnesota 68-67 (OT)

* – won Pac-10 Conference Tournament

A Proper Send-Off For Our Seniors

The last month of the season notwithstanding (for all three of them), you gotta appreciate the jobs these guys did for this team.  Hell, EVERYBODY loves seniors!  You get to witness a person’s incremental improvement over four years; so by the time they’re fully ripe, you know you’re going to be winning plenty of ballgames.

Let’s start with Venoy Overton.  Our 6th Man of the Year, for at least the last couple seasons.  You had to love his quicks, first of all.  Whenever he had the ball on a break, it looked like he was going to out-run his dribble every time!  And he’d attack the paint like a ram getting ready to jam the lamb, no matter how many guys-taller-than-him were in there.

Of course, what we’ll all remember is Game Overton.  That’s because, in spite of not starting the bulk of these last two seasons, he was almost always in there at the end of games.  When we needed stops, when we needed to create turnovers, there he was.  There was nothing as exciting as when he got up in the ball-handler’s face … and the refs weren’t calling any fouls.  I mean, shit, he would practically hump the guy closest to him every trip back on defense! 

Well, last year anyway.  I think Overton was reigned in quite a bit this season.  Because, let’s face it, when the refs decided to call every ticky-tack call, Overton would be no use to us because he’d pick up 2 fouls in his first 10 seconds.  That was kind of annoying, more because of the refs.  I hate refs.  All that power with seemingly nothing at stake for themselves … doesn’t seem right.

Overton, your defensive tenacity will be missed.

In sticking with the defensive theme, next we’ll say goodbye to Justin Holiday.  Boy, when you think about it, we are REALLY losing our defensive identity with this outgoing class.  Who do we have left who really gets after it?  Isaiah and Gant and … that’s about it.  Hopefully some of Holiday’s fearlessness rubbed off on some of our younger swingmen left remaining.

He was truly fearless, make no mistake about that.  Holiday would take on anybody, from point guard to center, and he’d lock them down with the best of ’em.  From the old Bobby Jones School of Defense, you really NEED guys like these!  Long, athletic, glue to your rubber, willing to muck it up down low and crash the boards with guys half a foot taller, and can hit the occasional open jumper when required.

Holiday made great strides from around Tournament time of last year to this year in his shooting.  Unfortunately, towards the end here, his shot eluded him, but for a while there he was lethal.  Teams could no longer opt to leave Holiday wide open anymore, opening up our offense for the bulk of this season.  You could say, right around the time Holiday lost his stroke, things got worse for MBA.

Nevertheless, Holiday, you will also be missed.

I don’t know if I’ve seen ANYONE improve from his Freshman year to his Senior year as much as Matthew Bryan-Amaning.  After his first year, when he was averaging 14 minutes, 4 points on 40% shooting, and a mere 3 rebounds – with no post game whatsoever to speak of, crappy footwork, and hands like bricks – I didn’t think MBA would EVER be worth a damn.

But, to his credit, he worked at it, got stronger, and learned from Jon Brockman the art of leading a team by example.  You can look at the stat sheet and see MBA’s progression; it’s truly remarkable.  In his first two seasons (behind Brockman), he averaged 4 and 6 points in minimal minutes.  Then, once the Power Forward position opened up thanks to Brockman’s graduation, he jumped up to 9 points and 6 rebounds, as well as averaged a block more per game than his Freshman year.  He was still a bit of a black hole down low (no one is going to confuse MBA with Arvydas Sabonis when it comes to passing the ball out of the post), but you could tell he was a little offseason work away from being a force.

And that’s exactly what he became this year.  One of the best big men in the conference.  He jumped up to 15 points and 8 boards while playing nearly 30 minutes a game.  He had 10 double-doubles this year.  He played with some of the big boys and still managed to put up quality numbers.

In fact, it required teams resorting to a 2-3 zone where they packed it in the paint to finally slow MBA down!  He saw nothing but double-teams the last 8 games of the season.  Remarkably, we went on a run starting with the Pac-10 Tourney, in spite of MBA’s diminished production.  Mostly, that had to do with our shooters hitting shots, as you could certainly see the importance of teams focusing in exclusively on our big man.  It made us one-dimensional.  For a while there, it worked for us.  But, in the end, missing MBA’s production ultimately cost us a chance at the Sweet 16.

MBA, surprisingly, you will be missed most of all.  I shudder to think about where we’re going to get our points in the paint next season …

The Pride Of The Pac-10

It’s funny, because in high school I didn’t give two shits about the school or any of the sports we played in. I remember going to 1 football game in my 4 years (not counting the freshman football I played, that is) and 1 basketball game when we went to state and were allowed to go to that in lieu of going to class.

Pretty much, I hated school and almost everything about school; I’d go to class, do my time, and get the fuck out as soon as the bell rang (earlier if they tried to make us sit through a stupid Pep Rally).

So, what the fuck is it about college – and specifically the University of Washington – that has me all in a tizzy? Arguably, my high school teams saw more success (reached the state championship game in Football and men’s basketball in my senior year) … but whatever. Go Dawgs.

There’s an article on Some Website I’ve Never Heard Of Before that’s claiming the UW Men’s Basketball Team is “emerging as the top program in the Pac-10.” It goes on to make the point that indeed we’re not at the point where UCLA or Arizona have been in the past, but that we’re just starting what could be a nice little run of dominance.

Not for nothin’, but it also points out the Seattle/Tacoma hotbed of basketball talent that’s gone largely overlooked on the national scene. And the fact that we’re dominating recruiting in our home turf.

What do I think, you ask? Well, I’ll tell you: I’ll believe it when I see it.

Granted, we’re unquestionably a better program than we were … probably ever in the school’s history. I think Romar is indeed one of the best coaches in college basketball – doing with the talent he brings in what he does and getting out of them the best possible results (Spencer Hawes year aside) – and I think Romar will without fail go down as the greatest Husky Basketball coach of all time.

But, that right there kinda says it all.

Yes, Romar is able to Coach Up his players, as it goes. Making guys like Overton, Holiday, MBA – and in years past guys like Justin Dentmon and Bobby Jones – into majorly productive role players. Adjusting the offensive and defensive schemes to the talent he brings in year after year … it’s all incredible work. But, he’s not necessarily bringing in the elite of the elite. That’s no knock against him, that’s just a fact of life. He’s not John Calipari, he’s not Mike Krzyzewski. This isn’t North Carolina or Syracuse or even Texas. This is the University of Washington tucked all the way up here in Seattle, Alaska. Nobody pays any mind to us unless we come out of nowhere to win the Pac-10 and make an unlikely tournament run into the Sweet 16. With all the other options at all the other huge basketball schools, Blue Chippers are unlikely to pick my alma mater over fucking Kentucky.

Or UCLA or Arizona for that matter. Because they still have the pedigree.

Surely we could always CONTEND for the Pac-10. Obviously there will be down years on occasion, but more often than not it’s Romar who’s going to ensure those down years don’t string together. Which is why he’ll go down as the greatest Husky basketball coach. That and because of the fact that it’s not like he’s up against stiff competition. Bob Bender?

Still, it’s big that we’re in the Sweet 16 this week. It’s also big that we’re the only Pac-10 team standing this late in the season. Get some national attention, get the eyes of future college basketball stars upon us, and who knows? We may not have the blue chippers of a Kentucky or a Syracuse or even a West Virginia, but a team can always gel at the right time. Things can start clicking when it counts. A team that was once shaky-at-best shooting behind the arc can find their shot. A last-second tip-in with the game tied can fall …

And a team from the Pacific Northwest can make a surprise Elite 8 run. And, dare I say it …

Let’s just hope for my well-being that all this national attention doesn’t result in one of those aforementioned big-time schools taking our Romar away. I can’t go back to the Bob Benders of the world.