Romar has embarrassment of riches

Washington's Men's Basketball team is blessed with an embarrassment of riches. The deepest, most athletic roster in the program's history opened practice Friday, setting the stage for what has the potential to be a historic season for the program. But before anyone starts booking hotels, looking for ladders and sharpening scissors in preparation for cutting down nets, much work has to be done.

With so many talented athletes, the Huskies must first dial in their rotation – and do it at a much quicker rate than last year. A daunting non-conference schedule, which potentially includes nationally televised games against Virginia, Kentucky, Michigan State, Texas A&M and Texas Tech means the Huskies don't have the luxury of stumbling through the first month and a half of the season like they did in 2009. That said, the brutal early schedule could pay off handsomely if Washington can take care of business with some signature wins. The Huskies will enter the season ranked somewhere in the top-20, and a Maui Classic Championship would presumably vault UW into a justifiable top-10 ranking - maybe even top-5 - and with all of the trappings that come with it. And that's just after the first two weeks of the season!

In the big picture of the season, it's putting the cart before the horse: There's a starting lineup to fill; a rotation to define, and for the first time in memory, there's more than enough talent to fill it. While there's no denying the sheer quality of athletes that fill out the roster, Washington has been handicapped by disappointing starts. There's little margin for error this season though. After tune up games against McNeese State and Eastern Washington, they'll say farewell to the mainland and jet to the Hawaiian Islands, where the granddaddy of all pre-conference tournaments awaits at the Maui Classic. The Maui Classic will set the tone for the Huskies this season, and they'll know very quickly, whether or not this team is for real.

The funny thing about trying to break down the Huskies' position battles is that there aren't really positions to break down at all; not in the conventional sense anyways. Not with the sheer versatility of the athletes ringing the Huskies roster. That isn't how Washington's system works.

With such a deep, flexible group from first to last, Washington Head Coach Lorenzo Romar has options just about everywhere, especially in the back court.

Co-Captain Isaiah Thomas has already secured his spot in the starting lineup as the Huskies' lead guard. The rapidly maturing Thomas will be the team's primary scorer/playmaker and has developed into one of the conference's better defenders. The Pac-10 Player of the Year frontrunner also appears to have addressed his biggest deficiency during the offseason, shooting upwards of 1000 jumpers a day, and was dialed in from outside all summer. His minutes are etched in stone.

The same can be said for fellow Co-Captain Justin Holiday, who should be one of the Pac-10's biggest surprises. Already known for his fabulous defensive skills, the senior's offensive skills began to catch-up during last year's postseason. He spent the summer working out back home in California with younger NBA brother Jrue and teammate Darnell Gant, and his efforts should be rewarded with more consistent offensive contribution. The Pac-10's transition to more of a face-up four man means that Holiday is more than capable of guarding most of the conference's smallish power forwards. Though he probably won't start there, he'll likely see plenty of time at the four position, enabling coach Romar to maximize his depth at guard.

Though the specifics of Venoy Overton's final season at UW aren't yet fully defined, nobody questions what his role will be: He's the energizer and the intimidator. He's the most dangerous player on the floor and every opposing point guard's worst nightmare. And he knows it. Despite slowed by a tweaked hamstring, his conditioning is better than years' past, his three-point range has improved, and coach Romar believes his decision-making has improved as well. He'll share point guard duties with Thomas and Abdul Gaddy, though he'll play off-ball as well. The biggest question is where he starts the game, though the hamstring injury may have taken the decision out of his hands.

Obviously more than capable of starting as he did his freshman season, Overton may be at his absolute best coming off the bench anyway. There's always a palpable hum in the building when he heads to the scorer's table to enter the game for the first time. Opposing point guards glance nervously at the sidelines, while the Dawg Pack feeds on his energy - and vise-versa. The effect on the game is tangible as he elevates the energy level of his teammates and his fans the second he steps on the floor. For that reason, though he's a starter in spirit, it won't be surprising to see him coming off the bench – the same way Brandon Roy did five years before.

That's where things get interesting, because there's a starting role up for grabs. The presumed favorite to win the spot is sophomore guard Abdul Gaddy, who learned on the job during his up and down frosh season. He's trimmer and quicker now with more confidence, and should be more effective on both ends of the floor. Gaddy is also a fast starter and scored effectively during the opening minutes of play, which was important last season because of Quincy Pondexter's tendency to ease his way into games. Gaddy's composure during the opening minutes was a stabilizing presence in a lineup that at times tended to get ahead of itself and push the tempo at the expense of game flow.

With a season under Gaddy's belt, Washington's physical brand of defense should come more instinctively as well, allowing him to play more reactively, rather than over-thinking his job. The Husky coaching staff is optimistic that Gaddy will break through this season as his confidence grows, but he'll have his work cut out for him if he has aspirations beyond his 17 minutes a game last season.

The Huskies are the indisputable favorite to win the Pac-10 because of their veteran talent, but it's their raw potential that has insiders buzzing: Potential in the form of three extraordinarily talented six-foot-six-inch wings who add a new long-range dimension to Washington's attack.

Junior Scott Suggs spent the better part of his first two seasons as a spot-up shooter who gave occasional glimpses past that, without ever managing to put it all together. By all appearances, the light seems to have finally come on. Arriving to summer classes in the middle of the July, Suggs raised eyebrows amongst open gym observers with a renewed confidence as he stepped beyond his shooting, attacking the basket with surprising tenacity and playing very effectively in the open court. While his offensive skills leave little to doubt, it's his deficiencies on defense that have held him back his first two seasons. As a veteran of the system, his sheer skill and polish offensively should grant him plenty of chances to forge his place early in the rotation.

Having already developed a cult following amongst hard-core Husky fans, redshirt freshman CJ Wilcox's highly anticipated debut will be closely followed. Watching last season from the sidelines, the unheralded Utah native will finally get the opportunity to showcase his remarkable shooting talents. There's also considerable excitement about his work on the defensive end of the floor. Though he lacks Suggs' and true freshman Terrance Ross' sheer athletic explosiveness, Wilcox is still a dynamic athlete in his own right. With his workmanlike approach to the game, he's going to shoot his way into the rotation. The bigger mystery is whether he can transition beyond the "pure shooter" role this season to a consistent impact contributor.

Terrence Ross is a bit of a wildcard in all of this: He's got the highest upside of anyone on the roster, but he's got a ways to go after spending his senior season on the sidelines as he transitioned back home in Portland after spending his junior year on the east coast. After a quiet start adjusting to college life, he blossomed late in the summer as his game started to gain momentum. He's a natural talent and a fabulous shooter. He's also among the top pure athletes on the team and proved to be a remarkable offensive rebounder in summer sessions. As with all of the freshmen trying to adjust to Washington's physical defensive system, there are bound to be bumps along the way; but with exceptional lateral quickness and footwork, a lengthy body and solid instincts, Ross' defensive upside is high. On a team with so much superb talent, he's got his work cut out for him though, but he's a guy that could really pop later in the season.


Over the last decade, Husky fans have become accustomed to, even spoiled by, high caliber backcourts. What they haven't had however, was a dominating frontcourt capable of matching the Huskies high octane guard play. This season, that may finally change.

It all starts with Matthew Bryan-Amaning, who roared to life during the Huskies second half Sweet Sixteen run. The 6-foot-9 London native will debut an expanded offensive arsenal this season as he adapts to more multi-positional role with the team. The Huskies' primary post scoring option has also significantly improved his mid-range game. As long as he and center Aziz N'Daiye get in sync, he'll be expected to stretch opposing defensives in a role similar to how Quincy Pondexter did after blossoming the second half of his junior year. Regardless of what form his role takes, Bryan-Amaning will start and play major minutes.

Aziz N'Daiye was a revelation during the offseason, impressing just about everyone with his attitude, work ethic, personality and raw physicality. He's an impressive physical specimen, checking in at a muscular 7 feet and 260 pounds. He's an absolute beast under the basket, both as a defender as well as collecting rebounds. Blessed with eye-opening speed in transition, he finished strong around the basket and is working on a baby hook which should become an effective weapon in time. He's likely to spend plenty of time in foul trouble though because he is so physical, which means Romar may not be able to rely on him as much as he would like. Although he's been suggested as a potential starter alongside Bryan-Amaning, he'll likely start the season coming off the bench, growing into a larger role as the season goes on.

Now in his fourth year in the system, Darnell Gant finally appears to be coming into his own. As a freshman starter, Gant was valuable because of his defensive versatility. Unfortunately, his offensive contributions and defensive inconsistencies slowed his development after a promising first season. That may change this season. Over the course of his career, Gant has gradually extended his shooting range, which now extends beyond the three-point arc. Ideally his shooting will open up the paint to dribble penetration for the guards, as well as creating space for Bryan-Amaning to operate. An essential skill for all Husky bigs, Gant is an effective finisher in transition, using his bouncy legs for impressive dunks on the break. It's defense and rebounding where Gant will have to make his mark though, as the Huskies eye more of a 'rebounding by committee' identity. He's certainly a candidate to start, but despite his improved shooting touch, it's his success around the basket that will ultimately determine how much he plays.

The other wildcard is Desmond Simmons, who's been sidelined the last couple of weeks with a minor knee injury. Over the summer, he revealed himself to be a multi-dimensional player in the same mold as Justin Holiday or Bobby Jones. A committed defender and rebounder, he also possesses surprising ball and shooting skills and was effective in transition before being hobbled by the injury. At this stage Simmons is not a redshirt candidate, as the Huskies are vulnerable up front should any of the other bigs be sidelined for any length of time. His strength of will, athleticism and versatility translate well to Washington's system, and though he looks like the odd man out competing for minutes this season, he certainly appears to have a bright future with the program. Top Stories