Washington was one of two Pac-10 Conference teams to have a coaching change heading into 2002, and it was a case of a hometown player returning to lead his alma mater. Lorenzo Romar was named top "Dawg" in April of 2002, and the former fine Huskies player graduated the University of Washington 23 years ago. He's known around the country as a 'Pac-10 guy', having played, assisted, and now coached all within what has to be his favorite conference. Romar is emotional at times, and posseses the demeanor of a former player who can't contribute on the floor some nights. When I watch him coach, I just get the feeling he wants to grab that rebound, or hit a winning jumper. Lorenzo has the unique ability to relate to most players, and that has made him a player's coach through and though.
It has been an average first year back in Seattle for Coach Romar though as his Huskies currently sit at 6-7 (1-3 in the Pac-10). The `Dawgs dropped their first three games of the season to Montana State, UNLV, and Gonzaga respectively, but rebounded with a big win over Wyoming. UW's lone win in the Pac-10 was over USC, and they have dropped conference games to UCLA, Arizona State, and Arizona. In fact, the Sun Devils punished them by 32 points last Thursday. When everything is said and done for the 2003 Pac-10 regular season, it'll be interesting to see whether UW can repeat last year's 8th place finish and qualify again for the Pac-10 Tournament.
Here is a quick look at the 2002-03 Washington team.
Projected Starting Lineup: (Returning starters in Bold)
PG-Curtis Allen 6'0, 170 Jr (9.3 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 1.8 apg, 35%
SG- Will Conroy 6'1, 185 So (13.8 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 4.3 apg, 38% 3-Ptr's)
SF-Doug Wrenn 6'8, 220 Jr (13.2 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 2.5 apg)
PF- Mike Jensen 6'9 220 Fr (5.5 ppg, 3.7 rpg)
C- Anthony Washington 6'9 220 Fr (4.9 ppg, 3.2 rpg)
Key Returning Reserves:
C.J. Massingale 6'3 210 Jr (4.1 ppg, 2.0 rpg)
Nate Robinson 5'9 170 Fr (10.1 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 2.0 apg)
Bobby Jones 6'7 195, Fr (5.5 ppg, 3.8 rpg)
Jeffrey Day 6'9 220 So (6.5 ppg, 5.0 rpg)
Marlon Shelton 6'10 280 Sr (1.3 ppg, 1.1 rpg)
The strength of the Huskies is their talented all-around back court depth. Starters Curtis Allen and Will Conroy are interchangeable at the 1 and 2 spots, but Allen usually handles the ball on offense. Conroy is an excellent passer and has led Washington in assists 11 of their 13 games already, and he's also leading the team in scoring too, though most regard him as a streak shooter. Curtis Allen takes predominately jumpers from behind the three point line. Junior C.J. Massingale is the #1 option off the bench for Coach Romar, however C.J seems to have really slumped as his career has moved on. Cal fans remember Massingale all too well, as he torched the Bears for 25 points and 7 rebounds in just 28 minutes for what eventually might end up as the game of his career. Massingale is completely being outshined right now by sparkplug freshman Nate Robinson, who despite being just 5'9 is having a huge impact on the team. Robinson played defensive back this year for the Huskies football team, and his big moment came when he stepped up with an interception to help UW win the Apple Cup. Robinson's father is former UW star RB Jacque Robinson, and some Cal fans might have seen Nate play football and basketball for Logan HS in Oakland. According to Lorenzo Romar, Robinson is perhaps the true building block of the UW program. "If you are not sure you can win the game going into it, just watching him out there with you kind of convinces you that you might have a chance. Nate's got a swagger about him that just rubs off on everyone else. It's contagious. Not to mention his ability to go up and dunk the ball at 5-9. He can do some things that electrify a crowd. The best way to describe him is as a hard-nosed winner." Needless to say, Robinson is an exciting young player, and it wont take a minute for everyone to see he has extraordinary skills.
In the front court, Freshmen Bobby Jones and Mike Jensen have shared starting duties, but I think Jensen will get the call in this game since he has the size to try and match up with Amit Tamir. That would allow Doug Wrenn to play more of the three spot, with Wrenn switching back to the four when Jones substitutes in. Jensen is a redshirt freshman, and actually has a decent mid-range game, while Jones is more of athletic wing. Jones played HS with A.J. Diggs for one season at Long Beach Poly. Doug Wrenn is truly the star of this team, combining speed and size to score the basketball. I think Doug's 13 ppg average indicates that he is not played that well this year, but he is surely capable of exploding. Most coaches have realized that putting a defender on Wrenn who possesses quickness usually will slow down UW's best offensive player. Perhaps the most disappointing aspect for UW fans is that Wrenn has shot the 3-pointer to the tune of just 28% - knocking down 8 trifecta's all year (13 games). On the post, Cal will likely see freshman Anthony Washington and sophomore Jeffrey Day. Washington, the starter, is the final piece of what looks to be one of the top freshman classes in the Pac-10 this year, though it might have been the best class in the conference had Anthony's HS teammate (Brandon Roy) gained his eligibility. Roy was a top 50 consensus HS player. Day is extremely athletic, but has some nights where he just forgets to look at the basket. Marlon Shelton might see a bit of action too as he winds his career down, though he did not play against Arizona.
California 2002-03 Team
Projected Starting Lineup: (Returning Starters in Bold) 2002-03 Statistics
PG- Richard Midgley, 6'1 200 Fr. (8.8 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 2.9 apg, 44% 3-ptrs)
SG- Brian Wethers, 6'5 215 Sr. (14.3 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 3.1 apg, 35% 3-Ptr's)
SF- Joe Shipp, 6'5 220 Sr. (20.6 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 2.4 apg, 47% 3-ptrs)
F- Amit Tamir, 6'11 260 So. (16.8 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 3.0 apg, 46% 3-ptrs)
C- Gabriel Hughes, 6'11 230 Jr. (2.2 ppg, 3.2 rpg)
A.J. Diggs, 5'9 165 Jr. (5.1 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 2.8 apg, 2.4 spg)
David Paris, 6'9 260 Fr. (2.3 ppg, 1.6 rpg)
Erik Bond, 6'7 205 Fr. (2.9 ppg, 1.7 rpg, 0.8 apg, 33% 3-Ptr's)
Conor Famulener, 6'6 230 Jr. (2.7 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 1.3 apg)
Donte Smith, 6'2 190 Sr. (Has Not Played)
Rodrique Benson, 6'10 195 Fr. (Limited Minutes)
Martin Smith (Limited Minutes)
Tashaan Forehan-Kelly, 6'3 170 So. (Limited Minutes)
Jordi Vilardell, 6'10 190 Fr. (Limited Minutes)
Cal enjoyed perhaps one of the most favorable early season schedules in the Pac-10 this year, and what's great for Bear fans is that the team took advantage of it. Perhaps no Bear stood out more than Joe Shipp on the recent home stand, as the 6'5 scoring wing was recently named Pac-10 Player of the Week leading Cal out to a 3-0 conference start. Shipp is coming off a career high 35 points against Oregon State, and though the scoring is amazing, its been his tremendous help on the glass that's been ultra impressive. Shipp might have the best nose for the ball in the conference, and gets a fifth of his points on follow-up's under the hoop.
The leadership of Brian Wethers has also been a staple. I think heading into this season, most people felt that A.J. Diggs or Amit Tamir would have stepped up into that role, however it has been Brian Wethers in charge. 'BW' has played solid defense all year long, and as I said in my pre-season article, Wethers is arguably the best athlete in the Pac-10. Richard Midgley has also earned a ton of respect for his play and toughness, and the freshman is knocking down 44% of his 3-point shots. The most pivotal player remains Amit Tamir though, and it seems when he goes well - so do the Bears. Tamir has played exceptional lately, leading the Bears in scoring 4 out of the past 6 games. Tamir can score on the block, and can also step out too. In each game this year, its been either Tamir or Shipp to lead Cal in scoring.
With a developing bench, Coach Ben Braun has his team playing superb basketball right now. Erik Bond is returning to his home state this week, attending High School less than 5 minutes from the UW campus. Erik seems to add a 3-pointer every game now, and his work on the glass has improved tremendously as the season has developed (credit Joe Shipp for that). David Paris is also emerging into a viable front court option, and its been his play that has every Cal fan excited since he adds a post presence off the bench. With the return of Donte Smith imminent, and the spark of A.J. Diggs again front and center...Cal is peaking.
I believe more than any game so far this year, the Cal-UW match-up will be about rebounding. Like all Lorenzo Romar teams, tempo is the key element. Setting the pace is usually the focus for his squads, and he enjoys the tempo fast. I think the mind set is to try and get out, push the basketball, and for the most part the players usually respond to that style. There are games in which that isn't the case, but more than likely Coach Romar gets his guys to compete. His teams do not get to the free throw line that much, and surprisingly do not take that many three's. They usually get out rebounded too.
And that's why I like Cal Thursday night, despite the heavy target the Bears are carrying. There's no doubt that every team in the conference loves to knock of the unbeaten, and that's the bulls eye the Bears now wear. So I believe we'll get the Huskies top effort for about the first 10 minutes, but the game should come into focus after that. Cal is a much better road team then they were at this time last year, and I don't believe playing in Seattle will be much of a problem for them. The most important thing is to see how the team responds during the first 10 minutes.
The best match-up of the night could feature Doug Wrenn against Joe Shipp, though the Bears will likely shuffle Brian Wethers on Wrenn too. Shipp has the ability to take a player way off his game with all the offensive pressure he puts on them, and I believe we saw that last year as Wrenn scored just 6 points in UW's 85-70 (Massingale) win. The other match-up of note is that of Diggs and Robinson, which pits an extremely confident defender against an offensive minded young Point Guard. Amit Tamir will play in tomorrow night's game despite suffering a minor knee strain, and he'll likely have an easy time with Mike Jensen, or Jeffrey Day. The key for the Bears is to not allow follow-up shots, and if they do so...they will win this game. Tamir might be a bit limited, so look for the entire team to focus on rebounding. UW does not shoot the ball that well, and they are used to playing behind in games. In this type of a game, the Huskies have to give themselves as many chances as they can...so again, it comes down to rebounding.
I believe Brian Wethers will have a big-time game against the Huskies, and I think he'll be able to get in the lane and use his height for that patented off balance 8 footer of his all night long. Joe Shipp should be on the backside, looking to clean up the mess...and Amit Tamir will probably use the ball fake a bit more. UW is the type of team that likes to jump out of their shoes for the big block shots. I think the Bears will handle the Huskies fairly well in all aspects, and I think after looking at the match-up's and the likely game-flow, the Bears should be able to stay in control most of the 2nd half. The game could see-saw some, but I think the Bears will post an 11 point win. I'll say 83-72 Cal, with Brian Wethers as my Player of the Game. I am currently 11-1 on Predictions this year.