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.

Andrew Andrews Is Pretty Great

The last great Husky basketball team was from the 2010/2011 season.  Isaiah Thomas’ last year, MBA and Justin Holiday playing big minutes; Wilcox, Ross (as a Freshman), Suggs, Overton, Gant, Aziz, all rounding out a deep and quality roster that saw this team run the table through the Pac-12 Tournament (with IT’s Cold Blooded moment against Arizona one of the most iconic single plays in the program’s history), nab a 7-seed in the NCAA Tournament, and lose in the Round of 32 by three points to an Elite Eight-bound North Carolina Tar Heels team.

THAT … was a fun Husky basketball team.

Every year since then, I’ve tried to talk myself into this being a fun basketball team to watch.  As my expectations dwindled, I at least had hope that there’d be some entertainment value to those teams.  The 2011/2012 season saw two NBA prospects (Ross & Wroten) lead the team to a regular season conference title; but a first round exit in the Pac-12 Tournament relegated that team to the N.I.T.  The 2012/2013 season was built around C.J. Wilcox and not a whole lot else; they were bounced in the first round of the N.I.T.  We had hope for the 2013/2014 season with Wilcox in his senior year, alongside heavily hyped Nigel Williams-Goss, Andrew Andrews in his second year, and JuCo transfer Perris Blackwell rounding out our front court with some other hold-overs we hoped would see some natural improvement.  That team wasn’t even good enough to qualify for the N.I.T.  Which led us to last season, where we bottomed out with a mighty 5 conference wins.  NWG returned for his second season, Andrews was an upper-classman, Robert Upshaw transferred here and looked like the real deal, and Shawn Kemp went into his senior season.  By all accounts, last year’s team should have been something special, or at least A LITTLE better than it was.  Instead, Upshaw got kicked off the team, and the rest of the roster never really meshed.

Which brings us to this year, where the only notable hold-overs are Andrew Andrews and Donaven Dorsey.  Romar’s incoming Freshman class was one of the highest rated in the country (and maybe his highest rated ever), but with that comes a lot of uncertainty.  Would Romar be able to mold everyone into shape in time?  Would the players play well with one another?  Or, would they all be playing for themselves, in hopes to parlay their individual successes into NBA stardom?

It’s taken me a while to want to write about this Husky team, because aside from Andrews, I didn’t know much at all about these guys, aside from what I read in the newspapers.  But, reading about basketball is nothing compared to watching it, and soaking it all in.  I can say, from what I’ve seen so far this season, there’s A LOT to like.

For starters, I just have to say this, Andrew Andrews is playing out of his mind.  As the only senior on this team, he’s had a lot on his plate since the minute last season ended.  And, he has absolutely come through like gangbusters!  I’m sure everyone respects Romar and the other coaches, but basketball teams need on-court leaders, and Andrews has been that and then some.  When you factor in all the youth (six Freshmen playing regular minutes, with a transfer – Dime – also new to the program), this team was only going to go as far as Andrews was able to carry them, especially early in the season, when everyone was just getting used to playing together.

So, what has Andrews done?  Well, he’s leading the team in minutes (33), points (21.7), and free throws attempted and made (189 & 159, respectively).  He leads all guards in shooting percentage (.401%), and he’s second on the team in rebounds, assists, and steals per game (6.2, 4.7, & 1.4 respectively).  Andrews has always had the reputation as sort of a loose cannon when it came to the way he’d jack up crazy shots, but you don’t score over 1,500 points in your career by passing the ball all the time!  He’s currently ranked in the Top 10 of all time Husky scorers, just ahead of legends Detlef Schrempf and Brandon Roy.  Right now, he has 1,513 points.  If he manages to average 20 points per game the rest of the regular season, he’ll end up with 1,733, which would put him just ahead of IT for 7th all time.  An extended Pac-12 Tourney run, with a likely N.I.T. or NCAA Tourney appearance, and it wouldn’t be impossible to see him get up into the 1,800 range (he’d need to finish with 1,805 to tie Jon Brockman for 3rd all time).

In short, Andrew Andrews will go down as one of the greatest Huskies of all time.  I know points aren’t everything, and he’s played on some pretty bad teams the last three years; if he weren’t having the year he’s having now, with the success this team is having so far, I don’t think we’d be having this conversation.  But, he IS having the year he’s having, and this team IS successful so far, and Andrew Andrews is the biggest reason why.  If he’s able to lead this team back to the NCAA Tourney – after so many years in the wilderness with supposedly more talented players (Wroten, Ross, NWG) – then I don’t see how you don’t include Andrews in the same breath as the greats like IT, Roy, Brockman, Pondexter, Nate Rob, and the rest.  Here’s a guy who’s loyal, who stayed through his senior season, who was forced to play behind some highly-recruited 4-star prospects, who’s now shining the brightest when given the opportunity to lead his own team.  He’s the consummate Romar Guy, who has improved each and every year of his college career, and is finally reaping the rewards of all that hard work.  He’s one of the best players in the Pac-12 right now, and absolutely deserves to be in the discussion for Pac-12 Player of the Year.

This was going to be a different post, but sort of morphed into a love letter to Andrew Andrews.  I dunno, I feel like a lot of Husky fans are skeptical about the guy.  Like he’s all of a sudden going to fall apart, watch his field goal percentage plummet, and start jacking up even more crazy shots to compensate.  Do the haters not see how he’s getting so many of his points at the free throw line?  38.5% of his overall points are from free throws!  That’s crazy and awesome!  He’s going to find a way to get his and contribute to this team’s success, even if he has an off shooting night here and there.

But, probably more importantly, as this season continues, there’s going to be less and less of a need for Andrews to be The Guy.  As players like Dejounte Murray and David Crisp start to assert themselves, and as our bigs get more comfortable with the college game and the way fouls are called … I mean, we’re already starting to see those guys step their games up.  But, going forward, I would anticipate there will be less pressure on Andrews to carry the whole team.  He’ll be free to play within the flow of the game and continue to contribute in his usual ways, with the peace of mind to know that it doesn’t have to be ALL on him.

Tomorrow, I’ll talk more about the rest of the team, as Husky Basketball Week prattles on.

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.

The Last Five Years In Seattle Sports

2008 was the lowest point in Seattle sports.  It was our Absolute Zero.  Rock Bottom.  The total nadir of sports humanity!

It was the primary inspiration for the title of this website.  Take an already-crappy sports city, with practically no history of real success whatsoever, then rain down a million boulders while giving fans only a tiny umbrella to protect themselves.

We did NOT deserve this …

Well, we just finished the 2012 sports year with the 2012/2013 Husky basketball season coming to its conclusion.  As such, I have taken it upon myself to take a look back.  Five years ago, it was 2008; we were just getting started with the worst year ever.  How have things changed with our primary Seattle sports teams?

Seattle Mariners

The Mariners came off of a surprising 2007 campaign that saw them appearing to turn a corner.  Beltre, Ibanez, and Ichiro led the offense.  We hoped that a possible resurrection of Richie Sexson would bring about a further boost.  Two young guns up the middle – Lopez & Betancourt – were proof positive that what we were doing in our farm system wasn’t a complete joke.  Felix was coming into his own.  Losing Weaver & Horacio Ramirez was addition by subtraction.  You figured, with another quality starter, and another bat or two, and we’d be in business!

Well, we know what happened with 2008.  The Erik Bedard trade was a total and complete disaster (though, it went a long way towards the Orioles making their surprising playoff run in 2012).  The Mariners opted to let Jose Guillen walk and replaced him with the corpse of Brad Wilkerson.  Richie Sexson became a local pariah.  And, oh yeah, the other big pitching piece – Carlos Silva – was signed to the single-worst contract in recorded history.  You tack on little things – like J.J. Putz going from the greatest reliever in baseball in 2007, to an injured pile of crap in 2008 – and it all boils down to this team losing 101 games.  The first team with a payroll over $100 million to lose over 100 games.  Everyone was fired; it was brutal.

Enter Jackie Z, who could seemingly do no wrong at first.  He replaced Sexson with Russell Branyan – big upgrade.  He traded Putz for Franklin Gutierrez, who had an amazing season both in the field and at the plate.  We also ended up with Jason Vargas in that Putz deal, who came in and earned his way into the starting rotation.  He brought in Ken Griffey Jr., who wasn’t a total disaster as a DH.  In short, there was an immediate turnaround thanks to God knows what.  Good vibrations?  Luck?  I dunno.  But, this team improved 24 games over 2008 and contended well into the summer.  Everyone thought we’d struck gold!

Then, like some kind of sick fucking plague, every move Jackie Z made to help bolster the 2010 team turned to shit.  Chone Figgins was signed to a 4-year deal and immediately was the worst player in baseball.  Branyan was allowed to walk in favor of Casey Kotchman; Kotchman was terrible and Branyan was brought back in a panic-deal mid-season, because we had the most punch-less lineup in all of baseball history.  Silva was traded for Milton Bradley – which was a move of pure GENIUS until it turned out trading one cancer for another still leaves you on your deathbed.  Griffey was brought back, because HEY!, he hit 19 home runs the year before and it’s not like players suddenly lose all of their ability to swing a bat all at once or anything.

Mind you, just about everything Jackie Z did in anticipation of the 2010 season was believed to be the right thing.  Except for Griffey, but really, if we didn’t make the playoffs that season, it wasn’t going to be exclusively the fault of our elderly DH.  And, to a lesser extent, the Brandon League for Brandon Morrow trade was a bit questionable.  I mean, who trades a bona fide Major League starting prospect for an 8th inning reliever type? Nevertheless, this was a bold move looking to shore up our bullpen.

The cherry on top was the Cliff Lee trade.  We gave a bunch of Bavasi draft rejects to the Phillies for Cliff Lee in his final season.  At best, he’d be the starting pitcher to put us over the top.  At worst, we’d be a losing team and trade him at the deadline to the highest bidder for the best crop of prospects.

Like everything else that happened in 2010, even THIS ended up backfiring.  Cliff Lee came with a built-in contingency plan!  And he was traded for Justin Smoak – a disappointment to date – Blake Beavan – a less-than-adequate starting pitcher – and what has turned into a season’s worth of Michael Morse, a season’s worth of John Jaso, and a season’s worth of Josh Lueke.  There’s still time to turn around our fortunes, but unless Smoak figures out a miracle cure to his sucking ways, this has bust written all over it.

So, what happens when every single offseason (and in-season) move you make backfires?  You lose another 101 games, your franchise icon retires mid-season, your manager gets fired, and your GM is lucky to still have a job.

2010 was a wake-up call, both for fans and for the organization.  The last two times the Mariners had winning records – 2007 and 2009 – they immediately went out the very next offseason and tried to Win Now.  All the moves they made in hopes to Win Now were total disasters, so they had to come up with a new plan.  Either you keep riding this rollercoaster, firing your manager and/or GM every two seasons, or you start over from scratch.

Even though Jackie Z managed to bungle every Major League move known to man, he had still built up the minor leagues a fair amount.  With another high draft pick in his pocket, he put his head down and went to work.

The 2011 season was essentially given over to the kids.  Our major offseason moves included bringing in Miguel Olivo, Jack Cust, Adam Kennedy, Brendan Ryan, and handing over the starting rotation to guys like Michael Pineda, Doug Fister, and Blake Beavan.  In addition, Ackley, Seager, and Carp all got their feet wet; Peguero was given an inordinate amount of playing time for what he was actually bringing to the table.  Others, like Wells, Trayvon Robinson, Saunders, and Halman all got varying amounts of playing time.  2011 was Try-Out central in Seattle.  Throw a bunch of spaghetti noodles into a pot of boiling water, take them out and see which ones would stick to the wall.

2012 took it a step further.  The big free agent pick-ups consisted of Millwood, Iwakuma, and a backup shortstop in Kawasaki.  We traded away Pineda – our best pitching prospect – to bring in Jesus Montero, because we absolutely could not live with the same old offense we’d had the past two seasons.

What did 2011 and 2012 accomplish?  Moderate gains in the win/loss column (+6 wins in 2011, +8 wins in 2012), moderate gains in our offensive production, and a whole lot of salary coming off the books.  The Silva/Bradley money, the Ichiro money, the Olivo money, another season’s worth of the Figgins money.

Now, it’s 2013.  The Mariners brought in some big bats via trade – Morse & Morales for Jaso & Vargas respectively – and some veteran bats via free agency – Ibanez and Bay.  They re-signed Iwakuma (when they realized he’s actually a quality starter), brought in Joe Saunders (who will probably be terrible), and have given the back-end of the rotation over to youth (Maurer and Beavan).  The crown jewel of the 2012/2013 offseason was re-signing Felix through 2019.  That’s huge.  The Mariners may never make the post-season while he’s with us, but God damn it, if they do WATCH OUT.

There is reason for optimism five years after bottoming out in 2008, but we’re still in a Show Me stage.  I’ll believe it when I see it, and all that.  2013 is critical, because if they don’t show some significant improvement, I think a lot of people will be out on their asses again and we’ll be looking at ANOTHER rebuild.

Husky Football

The Huskies ended their 2007 season with a 4-9 record.  Their 2007 schedule was deemed by many to be the toughest schedule in the nation.  Tyrone Willingham was coming off of his third consecutive losing season (going 2-9 in 2005 and 5-7 in 2006), and many believed he should have been fired then and there.  I was one of those simple-minded folks who said we should give him ONE more chance.  Jake Locker had a full season under his belt, why not give Willingham an opportunity to turn things around with the guy he brought in as his quarterback?

Well, we kicked off 2008 by being trounced in Oregon (who would go on to finish 10-3).  Then, we lost by a single point at home to BYU (thanks to the infamous penalty flag thrown on Locker as he ran in for the would-be game-tying touchdown and tossed the ball over his shoulder … thank you Pac-10 referees for being so damn competent) on a missed extra point at the end of the game.  Then, we lost at home to Oklahoma (who would go on to lose to Florida in the BCS National Championship Game).

THEN, we lost our quarterback, our best player, and really our only GOOD player, in the Stanford game.  After that, with the likes of Ronnie Fouch at the helm, we proceeded to lose all the rest of our games (including a pathetic heartbreaker of an Apple Cup, 16-13 in overtime).

0-12.  Doesn’t get any worse than that.  Can only go up from there, right?

Willingham:  gone.  Sarkisian:  in.

The 2009 Huskies improved by 5 games.  There was a signature win at home over the then-#3 USC Trojans, 16-13 on a last-minute field goal.  There was a signature near-win the first game of the season at home against LSU.  Jake Locker took huge strides in his development as a passer.  Everything looked great for the future.

The 2010 Huskies weren’t all that much more improved than the 2009 team, but they managed to win six regular season games (winning out after starting 3-6, thanks to a soft schedule to finish things) and earned a bowl game against Nebraska.  Of course, they got killed by Nebraska, IN Husky Stadium, earlier that season.  But, in the rematch, this Husky team was totally reborn and they took it to the Cornhuskers, stifling them 19-7.

That led to somewhat higher expectations for 2011, but how high could we possibly make them?  Let’s face it, we’d lost our best player and were breaking in a new quarterback.  Our defense was still on the fritz, and we were still in a very tough conference with Oregon, Stanford, and USC.  Not to mention we had to go to Nebraska, where we most certainly got our shit kicked in.

2011 was a disappointment because there was no Signature Win.  In 2009 and 2010, we had victories over USC and Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl.  In 2011, we barely squeaked by Eastern Washington in the first game.  We were absolutely terrorized by the aforementioned heavy hitters (losing the games to USC, Oregon, Stanford, and Nebraska by a combined 190-93).  In spite of losing ALL the games were were technically “supposed” to lose, we were still in line for a 1-game improvement over 2010.  That officially died when A. we went into Oregon State and lost (they ended the season with 3 wins) and B. we faced RGIII and the Baylor Bears and gave up 67 points on 777 yards of offense in losing by 11.

Back-to-back 7-6 seasons left a bitter taste in our mouths.  After storming the field against the Cornhuskers, we bent over and grabbed our ankles against the Bears.  2012 would SURELY be different, though.  We had a full season with Keith Price, he had surpassed our wildest expectations by throwing for over 3,000 yards with 33 touchdowns and only 11 interceptions.  How could 2012 NOT be a huge improvement?  On top of all that, we didn’t wait that extra season to see if Nick Holt could turn things around on defense.  We went out, brought in some heavy hitters at recruiting and defensive coaching, and nabbed some top prospects in the process.

Well, there was improvement.  The 2012 Huskies DID manage some signature wins against the likes of Stanford and Oregon State (both in the top 10 at the time we beat them), but they also fell completely flat against the likes of #3 LSU, #2 Oregon, and #11 USC.  In spite of yet another 3-game losing streak in the middle of the season, these Huskies were looking at possibly winning 8 or 9 games when all was said and done!

They were 7-4 (riding a 4-game winning streak) going into the Apple Cup in Pullman.  They had an 18-point lead going into the final quarter … so of COURSE they ended up blowing the game in overtime.  This ultimately led to the Huskies facing Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl and ending up – once again – 7-6.

In short, the Huskies went from 0-12 in 2008, to 5-7 in 2009, to 7-6 in 2010, 2011, and 2012.  No 7-6 record is created equal, obviously, but at the end of the day people don’t remember how you got there.  They just see where you were and shake their heads.

Keith Price showed all the promise in the world in 2011.  But, he lost all his major weapons (Kearse and Aguilar at receiver, Chris Polk at running back) and couldn’t recover in 2012.  In the Baylor bowl game, Price accounted for 7 touchdowns on offense and looked like the best quarterback on the field – even better than the Heisman Trophy winner and ultimate #2 overall draft pick.  However, in the Apple Cup and again in the Boise State bowl game, Price ended both with interceptions.  He was going into the 2013 season fighting for his job, but from all accounts he’s got it locked up after Spring Ball.  Nevertheless, I have to imagine he’s on a short leash.  We can’t suffer the kind of downgrade in production again.

At this point in Sark’s tenure, he’s got all his own guys now.  2013 is the year we’re expected to win and win consistently.  The non-conference schedule is relatively easy, and the conference schedule isn’t too bad either.  We’ve got veterans in all the right places, we’ve got some serious talent on defense for the first time since he got here, and Price has had a chance to gel with his offensive weapons.  2013 isn’t a Rose Bowl or Bust, but it’s close.  The Huskies have to at least be in the conversation.

I’m not gonna lie to you, beating the Ducks for the first time in eons would go a long way towards cementing Sark’s status as a legend ’round these parts.

Husky Basketball

The 2007/2008 Huskies were a definite low-point in the Romar era.  They finished the regular season 16-16, losing in the first round of the Pac-10 tournament, and received the #1 seed in the College Basketball Invitational.  You know, that post-season tournament for the teams not even good enough for the N.I.T.

We lost.  To Valparaiso.

In 2008/2009, we brought in Isaiah Thomas and he was a firecracker right from the start.  We enjoyed Brockman’s senior season, and we rode that wave to a 4-seed in the NCAA Tournament and a Round of 32 loss to 5-seed Purdue by two points.  More or less, it was a successful season, but once again it ended prematurely.

In 2009/2010, we had another senior leader taking to the forefront.  This time, it was Q-Pon, who averaged 19 and 7 per game in leading us to a Pac-10 Tournament victory, an 11-seed in the tournament, and upset wins over #6 Marquette (where he hit the clutch game winner) and #3 New Mexico.

Once again, though, the Romar-era Huskies couldn’t get past the Sweet 16.  This time, we lost to West Virginia, thanks to them totally having the length advantage on us.

In 2010/2011, we had our version of a Big 3 with Thomas, MBA, and Holiday.  The last two were seniors and Thomas was playing in what would be his final season.  We rode this squad to another Pac-10 Tournament victory (you all remember COLD BLOODED don’t you?).  This resulted in a 7-seed – our third consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance – and a victory over 10-seed Georgia before losing in the Round of 32 to 2-seeded North Carolina (by only 3 points, but still).

The 2011/2012 season saw the emergence of Tony Wroten and Terrence Ross.  Both were young, extremely talented, and irritatingly inconsistent.  Ross would disappear for minutes at a time.  Wroten had no jump shot whatsoever, so he had to fight for every single basket in the paint.  This team ended up winning the Pac-12 outright, but since the Pac-12 sucked dick that season, and since the Huskies lost in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament, AND since they had no quality wins over ranked non-conference opponents, the Huskies were denied a fourth consecutive NCAA invite.  Instead, they locked down the #1-overall N.I.T. seeding and ran with it to the Final Four in New York City.  It ended with a loss to Minnesota, who would end up losing to eventual-champion Stanford the very next game.

The less said about the 2012/2013 season, the better.  Wroten and Ross both bolted for the NBA, and absolutely no one came in to replace them.  That’s what happens when you’re a good-not-great recruiter in a good-not-great university for basketball:  sometimes you DON’T bring in a player of quality and you suffer as a result.

Gaddy, Wilcox, Suggs, and N’Diaye were left to pick up the pieces.  This team was pretty solid on defense, but ultimately inept on offense, and now at least three of those guys are gone (with Wilcox having a difficult decision to make regarding his final year of eligibility).  The 2012/2013 Huskies didn’t beat a single ranked team, only beat three teams who ended up going to the NCAAs (Saint Louis, California, and Colorado), and wound up being a 6-seed in the N.I.T., where the subsequently got their shit kicked in at BYU.

What’s in store for 2013/2014?  Well, a solid incoming class with one McDonalds All American at point guard in Nigel Williams-Goss.  If Wilcox comes back, that gives us a veteran scoring presence (for the record, he’s a fool if he leaves; his past season was absolutely dreadful and injury-plagued).  If we can get anything from our young forwards, you could look at a team that surprises a lot of people.  Or, you could be looking at a third-straight N.I.T. bid.  If it’s the latter, I’m not so sure I’d be confident about my job security if I was Romar.

Seattle Supersonics

I won’t go into excruciating detail on this end.  We all know what the last five years have been like for the Sonics.  They went 20-62 in their final season in Seattle (after drafting Kevin Durant and bringing in one of the finest GMs in the game from the San Antonio organization).  They were given away by the city of Seattle, they struggled again the following season, and then they went to the playoffs four straight seasons (losing most recently in the Finals to the beloved Miami Heat).

Now, we’ve got an ownership group and an arena deal in place, and we’re fighting like crazy to steal the Kings from Sacramento.  If all goes according to plan, we will have pro basketball back in Seattle for the 2013/2014 season.  If it doesn’t, then this part of next year’s “Five Years” post is going to be REAL fucking depressing.

Seattle Seahawks

I’m saving the best for last because I can.  Because, honestly, it’s all a little too much and I can hardly believe it myself.  There is cautious optimism for the Mariners and their young core to turn things around.  There’s more confident optimism that the Husky football team will turn some heads this fall.  There’s hope that the Husky basketball team can somehow gel with their new incoming players and make an improbable Tourney run.  There’s delusions that the NBA will be back in Seattle this time next year.

But, that’s nothing.  There is outright SWAGGER for the Seattle Seahawks.  How did we get HERE?

In 2008, we went 4-12.  We had dicked around with Mike Holmgren, we signed on his replacement – Jim Mora Jr. – to be his defensive backs coach, and all the major veterans took a huge dump.  This was coming off of a 2007 season where the Seahawks once again won the division.  But, Shaun Alexander was released at the end, losing out to another injury.  So, Tim Ruskell opted to reload via free agency.  Julius Jones and T.J. Duckett were brought in to liven up the running game, but no dice.  Hasselbeck missed a bunch of games, Walter Jones tried surgery but wasn’t the same and was forced to retire at season’s end … it was just a mess.

In 2009, there was something of a fresh start expected with Mora.  T.J. Houshmandzadeh was brought in on a huge free agent deal, Aaron Curry was signed as our can’t-lose first round draft pick … in short, we were one of the oldest and least-talented teams in the NFL.  When all was said and done, these Seahawks improved by only 1 game and both Mora and Ruskell were fired.

2010 was the REAL fresh start.  Pete Carroll and John Schneider tag-teamed this roster from head to toe.  They traded for Marshawn Lynch, Leon Washington, and Charlie Whitehurst (hey, they can’t all be winners).  They got rid of Housh (taking a healthy bath in the cap hit) and later Deion Branch.  They brought in a rejuvinated Mike Williams who led the team in receiving.  They drafted Russell Okung, Earl Thomas, Golden Tate, Walter Thurmond, and Kam Chancellor.  They made hundreds upon hundreds of free agent moves, giving tryouts to anyone and everyone who they thought might be an upgrade.  They got significantly younger, and thanks to a piss-poor division, ended up making the playoffs with a 7-9 record.

Understand, this wasn’t a legitimate playoff team.  Yes, after two years in the wilderness, they found their way back to civilization, but it was totally phony!  The fact that we beat the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints at Qwest Field is a travesty of common decency (though, it did provide us with the greatest NFL play ever, Beastmode’s Touchdown Scamper).  Our “Cinderella” run ended the following week in Chicago, and you had to wonder how long it would be before the Seahawks made the playoffs again.

The 2011 Seahawks were hamstrung by the NFL Lockout.  They fired their offensive coordinator and hired Darrell Bevell from Minnesota.  Which meant, if they stood any chance of competing in ANY games that season, they’d have to bring some people in who knew Bevell’s system.  This meant Tarvaris Jackson at quarterback.  They let Hasselbeck go with a cordial goodbye and handed the keys to the team over to Tarvar (without so much as a second look at Whitehurst, who was as bad as we all remember him being and then some).

Tarvar proved tough, but ultimately inept when the game was on the line.  Those 2011 Seahawks also finished the regular season 7-9 and weren’t given the benefit of a lousy NFC West to “earn” a home playoff game.

With a full offseason going into 2012, the Seahawks needed to make a change.  They’d drafted well, bringing in guys like Richard Sherman and K.J. Wright.  But, they needed a signal-caller with some zazz!  So, they signed Matt Flynn to a three-year deal, and they went out and drafted Russell Wilson in the third round.

People say if Wilson was just 2-3 inches taller, he would’ve been a Top 10 pick.  But, he’s not, so now he’s ours.

Wilson earned his opportunity to have an Open Competition in Training Camp.  This led to him wowing us in the Pre-Season, which ultimately led to him winning the job and running with it.  The 2012 Seahawks took it easy with him for the first few weeks, but once they knew he could handle himself, they opened things up.  This resulted in the Seahawks being the best team in football over the second half of the season.  Still, their early-season slip-ups meant that the 49ers won the division, relegating us to the fifth seed in the NFC.

We went into Washington and somehow came away with a victory.  Then, we went into Atlanta, gave them a 20-point lead, and somehow led in the game with 30 seconds to go.  That was choked away, but the message was sent.  It wasn’t, “Wait Until Next Year,” the way most fanbases say it, more resigned to their current fate as losers, sorely, bitterly hoping that things will turn around for them in short order.

No, this is, “Just you WAIT until next year, chickenfuckers!”  Because the 2013 Seahawks are a runaway train that has Super Bowl or Bust written all over them!

In five years, the Seahawks have gone from one of the oldest and worst teams in the NFL to one of the youngest and best teams.  In five years, the Seahawks have gone from bottom-feeders to would-be kings.  We fans are cashing in our 401Ks in anticipation of buying Super Bowl tickets in 2014.  It’s never been so clear and so positive in the city of Seattle.  They can single-handedly reverse the fortunes of this desolate sports city.  All they need to do is win.

What’s more, they’re spreading around the positivity.  People are stoked on the Mariners WAY more than they should be thanks to the good will generated by the Seahawks.  Sports fans have something to look forward to and spirits are bright.  This is carrying over to the other sports in hopes that the good vibes will roll on.

We’ll see.  If the Seahawks win it all, the Mariners contend for a playoff spot, the Huskies make a run at the Rose Bowl, the basketball Huskies make a run at the NCAA Tournament, and the Sonics return to Seattle, we could be talking about the greatest 5-year turnaround any sports city has ever seen.  Fingers crossed.

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.

2008: A Seattle Sports Apocalypse

Editor’s Note:  To read this blog post, click HERE.  It is one of Seattle Sports Hell’s “Featured Articles”.

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

Lorenzo Romar Deserves To Be Pac-12 Coach Of The Year

Pending the results of the next two games, obviously.  Because to get this far, then lose to the worst team in the conference (USC), followed by a team in turmoil (UCLA), would be a great way to kill any coach of the year momentum.

The arguments against Romar are few:  he’s got a roster filled with future NBA stars (likely three, maybe even up to four).  That’s nice and everything, but that doesn’t automatically make you a championship team.  The NBA talent the Huskies currently have isn’t equal to the NBA talent across the country (like, say, Kentucky).  First of all, you have to look at the role players around that NBA talent.  I would argue that Kentucky’s role players are far more impressive than those on the Huskies.  The Huskies have three guys who can score on a regular basis; the rest of the guys do what they can, but they’re not exactly world-beaters.  Plus, you have to factor in how thin our team is depth-wise.  We frequently run with a 7-man rotation (Gaddy, Wroten, Aziz, Gant, Ross, Simmons, Wilcox) with cursory minutes going to guys like Seferian-Jenkins and Shawn Kemp Jr.  Aside from the big three (Wroten, Ross, & Wilcox), you will STRUGGLE to find a guy who is currently playing at even a D-League level.  That isn’t to say those other guys won’t blossom; that’s just saying that, right now, this is what Romar has to deal with.  And he’s KILLING it.

The arguments for Romar winning the Coach of the Year award are many.  At the top of the heap, you have to talk about the veterans we lost.

This Husky team lost four MAJOR contributors to last year’s team!  IT was our team leader, MBA was our primary big man, Holiday was a Jack-of-all-trades who was also a lockdown defender for guards and forwards alike, and Overton was a lockdown defender for the other team’s best guard.  Overton was also our all-world 6th man who could run the offense in IT’s absence (however brief they were last season) or when IT needed a spell from running the show.

In their place, we have Gant as our only senior who plays regular minutes (and even those tend to fluctuate thanks to foul trouble).  Gaddy is in his third season, but he spent the last half of last season coming back from surgery.  Aziz is in his second season in D-I ball.  Ross is in his second season, but he played a minor role on last year’s team until tournament time.  Wilcox made a name for himself last year after red-shirting the year before, but he’s still fairly new to the system.  And Simmons red-shirted last year.  Everyone else, including our leading scorer, are brand spankin’ new players.

Regardless of their collective talent, it’s MIGHTY difficult to mix and match a bunch of new and young guys into a unit that can win you some ballgames.  You’ve got to get everyone on the same page scheme-wise, get everyone to learn the defense, find the floor matchups that work best, set up a rotation that gives guys enough minutes to keep them fresh and improve their overall games.

THEN, tack on the early-season turmoil with our 6-5 start.  Coming back from such a mediocre-to-poor non-conference schedule to potentially go 15-3 and win the Pac-12 conference outright is nothing short of amazing.  You’d have to figure that, with the talent we have, the Huskies would be a better team than they were in those first 11 games; but to be THIS good against this conference (regardless of how “down” it is, these teams are still hated rivals and are giving us their best effort every time out) is better than I could have possibly imagined.

Now, look at the other head coaches being talked about for this award.  Arizona?  I’m sorrry, but we beat that team twice this season.  That should automatically take Sean Miller out of the running.  Colorado?  Come back to me when they win a road game.  Cal?  Seriously, how difficult of a road have they faced?  Their most-impressive win was the game @ Washington (we never had a chance to play them on their home court to see if we could return the favor).  But, you’re talking about a team in Cal who is pretty much the opposite of Washington.  They RETAINED all of their veteran leadership from last season!  They didn’t have a bunch of new guys coming in to learn a new offense and a new defense.  They didn’t have to tinker early in the season to see which players played best together.  They got to keep right on truckin’.  AND, in spite of all of that, they still couldn’t do what we’ve done thus far to date.  If we do what we’re supposed to do and win these next two games, the Huskies will win the Pac-12 conference outright.  Cal couldn’t do that!  The best they can hope for is a tie (because, seriously, there’s no way we’re losing both of these games).

Give it to Romar.  The man has earned it this season.

Unless, of course, this team loses its next two games.  Then, forget everything I just said.  Coach of the Year candidates don’t go to the NIT.

It Turns Out C.J. Wilcox Getting Hurt Was A Terrible Thing

Now we know how spoiled we were as Husky fans these last few years.  You are able to do so much more, you’re able to get AWAY with so much more, when you have a true lockdown defender on your team.  You could argue the Huskies have had three in recent years, with IT, Overton, and Justin Holiday.  When the Huskies were up by three with 10 seconds in the game, you could put any of those three guys on the other team’s best shooter and force them into their second or even third-best option.

That’s what a Jorge Gutierrez can do for you.  THAT is ultimately why the Huskies lost yesterday.

In my previous Husky post, I thought the notion of Wilcox going down would be of great help to a guy like Terrence Ross.  Maybe it would pull him out of his shell, force him to assert his offensive game a little more.  What that argument fails to recognize is:  Wilcox going down makes Terrence Ross not just our best option, but arguably our ONLY option.

And, when you’re down by three, and your only option is a long ball by one guy on the floor, that’s where a lockdown defender like Gutierrez takes the game over and ultimately wins it for your team.

I’m not going to snap and lose my shit over Darnell Gant’s performance yesterday.  He had an off night, that’s it.  Gant has had many more great nights where he’s filled up the stat sheet with lethal, weapons-grade productivity.  I’m also not going to dismiss Romar’s call to give the ball to his senior forward in the closing seconds for two reasons:

  1. As I’ve been saying throughout this post, there was no way Gutierrez was going to allow Ross to touch the ball in that scenario.  That’s a no-brainer on par with walking Barry Bonds at the height of his steroids-abusing power.  Allegedly.
  2. Gant has proven he can hit that shot.

That second argument is a little harder to defend, but let’s look at it.  There’s no doubt the kid has been working on his long ball the past two years.  He doesn’t shoot it often from long range, but when he does he hits them with a good-enough regularity to consider him dependable in that situation.  Yeah, he was 0 for 8, but just because you flip a coin and it lands on Tails 8 times in a row is no kind of indicator that it’ll be Tails on that 9th flip.  At some point – and this is what I love most abour Romar – you have to put a player into a clutch situation to see what he’s made of.  Having that kind of confidence in your player – even when he’s 0 for 8 up to that point – is why players love playing for a guy like Romar.

And, look at it this way:  who else would you have trusted in that position?  Abdul Gaddy?  Not hardly.  Tony Wroten?  Not when you’re down three.  Desmond Simmons?  Please.

Which is why, ultimately, not having Wilcox out there was a terrible thing.  It would’ve been far more likely that we would have won these past two games with a healthy Wilcox.  I can’t say for certain in that Wazzu game, but I know without a doubt we would’ve beaten Cal yesterday.  At the very least, he could’ve given our guards more of a break than they got!  All three of our guards played 36 minutes or more!  We essentially had a 6-man rotation yesterday!

The sooner Wilcox can come back, the better.  I hereby repent!  We need you, Wilcox!

If we somehow find a way to beat the Cardinal tomorrow, I’ll have a reasonable amount of hope for winning the Pac-12 this season.  If we lose, I’ll be back on here dismissing the rest of the regular season and looking forward to the Pac-12 Tournament.  Shaky times in Montlake this week.  We’ll find out what we’re made of tomorrow afternoon.

Young Tyee Club Moocher Goes To A Husky Basketball Game

I’m tellin’ you, those Tyees know how to throw a shindig!

I’m not a member of the Young Tyee club, but I’ve got friends who are involved.  They pay the yearly dues, they’ve got season tickets for football, and when they can they go to the events being thrown by the school.  One such event took place during the football season; you go to a building on campus, there’s free food & drink, and on this particular occasion Coach Sark stopped by for a Q&A.

Last night, there was another.  Only this time, substitute Coach Romar for Sark.

I arrived with a friend a little before 5pm & we waited for the rest of our party, who arrived within the half hour.  At around 5:30, Coach Romar stopped by, gave a little spiel (going so far as to apologize for our effort in that game against South Dakota State), and held a lengthy Q&A.  Some of the questions were awful, but some were great as well (of particular interest to me were his opinions on who his favorite players to coach were; a tie between Jon Brockman and Zane Potter).

I asked a question, but it was pretty toothless (a hardcore journalist, I am not).  I asked something along the lines of how difficult it is to replace important team leaders like IT, Justin Holiday, and the like.  Essentially, his answer was:  under normal circumstances, someone always steps up (be it Brockman, Q-Pon, IT, etc.).  Really, what I was looking for (and failed to ask) was:  who does he think will ultimately be the leader of THIS year’s team.  And also, something along the lines of:  how do players ultimately distinguish themselves as leaders (is it all due to performance on the court, or do they inevitably have to take that step behind the scenes).

Anyway, it was truly a great time.

As was the game.  BOY did we kick some motherfuckin’ ass!  Of course, that was to be expected; there was no way we were going to follow one of our very-worst games of all time by coming out flat and uninspired.  Nevertheless, the second half was sloppy as shit.  I want to say we held them to something like 4 for 25 shooting in the first half (with the bulk of their points coming at the line, as we couldn’t seem to stop fouling them).  In the second half, with the massive 30-ish point lead we generally held, it was a brutal spectacle to watch.

But, we won, and that’s what’s important.  Now, we get a week off before facing Oregon State in our Pac-12 opener at Hec-Ed next Thursday.  Time to see which Husky team we’re going to get – the team that held its own in New York against Marquette and Duke, or the team that sucked balls against South Dakota State and Nevada.