Washington comes into this season after winning the Pac-10 conference tournament last season, their second in a row, and suffering a three-point loss to North Carolina in the third round of the NCAA tournament. The Huskies lost their top three contributors from last season after star guard Isaiah Thomas(named after him, but no relation to the former Detroit Pistons star) declared for the NBA Draft. Thomas had a breakout year for the Huskies, averaging 16.8 points per game, more than 6 assists, and leading the team in steals. Washington also lost forward Matthew Bryan-Amaning (15.3 points, 8 rebounds, led team in blocks) and guard Justin Holiday (10.5 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists).
One of the reasons Thomas was able to flourish so much last year was because he had to take on a heavier load after starting point guard Abdul Gaddy went down with a torn ACL 13 games into the season. Gaddy will return this season and will be flanked by a set of talented wings in freshman Tony Wroten Jr, sophomore Terrance Ross, sophomore C.J. Wilcox and Senior Scott Suggs (UPDATE: Suggs is injured with a stress fracture in his little toe and will not play until December). The Huskies also return 7 foot Junior Aziz N’Diaye and 6 foot 8 inch forward Darnell Gant.
Washington coach Lorenzo Romar will count on Gaddy to be a calming presence in a young backcourt. Romar runs a very up tempo offense, similar to Coach Hunter, that will look to take a lot of three point shots. The Huskies will rely upon Gaddy to be a floor general to make sure that the offense pushes the tempo while remaining in control. He did just that in Washington’s 77-60 exhibition win against Seattle Pacific, scoring 15 points while dishing out 4 assists and not committing a single turnover.
Wilcox and Suggs will play significant minutes this season next to Gaddy on the wing, where they will most likely be the key cogs in the Huskies three-point attack. Suggs finished third in the Pac-10 last season in three-point percentage and Wilcox showed his prowess from long range in the exhibition, scoring 19 points while making five three-point shots. The Huskies 7 foot big man, N’Diaye, missed the exhibition due to concussion symptoms but is expected to play Saturday against Georgia State. Without him, the Huskies did not dominate the boards as might have been expected against a smaller and less talented team, acheiving only a 41-36 rebounding edge. However, with N’Diaye expected to be back, the Huskies will have a distinct size advantage over the Panthers.
Perhaps the most important player to the Huskie’s success is Sophomore Terrence Ross. Terrence averaged only 8 points per game last season, but showed his potential when he helped Washington win its second consecutive conference tournament by averaging 15.3 points per game and shooting 52 percent from the field. The 6’6 sophomore was also recently named to the Naismith Player of the Year preseason watch list, which includes the top 50 players from around the country. Ross opened this season with a 15-point performance in the exhibition last Friday.
Washington also features a set of Freshmen standouts, including the fourth ranked Point Guard in the 2011 class, Tony Worten. The 6 foot 5 Worten will certainly play significant minutes beside Gaddy and Ross to complete what is sure to be one of the most talented backcourts Georgia State will face all season. The Huskies will also be looking to add front court depth in the form of redshirt freshmen Desmond Simmons, who sat last season after undergoing knee surgery. Also looking to contribute as freshmen are Shawn Kemp Jr and Martin Breunig.
Both Breunig and Kemp ended up at Washington in interesting ways. Kemp, the son of Shawn Kemp Sr, the former Seattle SuperSonics star, originally committed to play at Alabama, but did not meet the academic requirements to get into the school. After going to prep school, he then committed to Auburn, but once again his academics would not allow it. Finally he appears to have his ducks in a row, and the Huskies need him to add depth to the front court. Breunig also came to Washington after having committed elsewhere. The 6 foot 10 German born player originally pledged to play for Gary Williams and the Maryland Terrapins. However, once Williams retired he was granted a release and went on to sign with Washington last summer.
Georgia State will certainly have their hands full on Saturday. Both of these teams love to run the floor and will always be looking to land the three point shot. This test will show Georgia State fans right away how much Hunter has done with his team in the little time he has had.