Beach's Bits - 2012 Preview, Pt 1

With the tumultuous 2011 Washington Men's Basketball season finally in the books, next year's team face the daunting task of replacing three program mainstays. The 2007 recruiting class, which included Venoy Overton, Justin Holiday and Matthew Bryan-Amaning, will have graduated and moved on, leaving behind some rather large holes to fill.

Fortunately, despite a flawed roster weighted toward the backcourt, there's plenty of reason for optimism.

It's no secret that Lorenzo Romar's program is a guard magnet right now, and the 2012 team might be the most talented collection of guards in the history of the program. Yes, that's right. There is potentially more raw talent than the special 2005 lineup, when Brandon Roy, Nate Robinson, Tre Simmons and Will Conroy were scorching Pac-10 nets.

The Huskies fell short this season for a host of reasons. The Terrence Jones recruiting debacle got the off-season off on the wrong foot. Losing Tyreese Breshers to retirement before the start of the season hurt, and Abdul Gaddy's season ending ACL tear hurt even more. Venoy Overton's season long battle with injuries diminished his effectiveness until the very end of conference play, and his off-the-court legal issues were a distraction to a team doing everything they could to hold it together.

The M.A.S.H. unit following the team around didn't help, but that's college basketball for you. At the end of the day, it was the number of walking wounded, plus diminished contributions of the seniors the second half of the season, that kept the Huskies from achieving their pre-season expectations.

Before one can even begin to project next season, Isaiah Thomas must first decide whether or not he's ready to pursue a professional career. To the outside observer, it seems like a rather easy decision; simply put, NBA scouts don't believe he's ready for a jump to the NBA, at least when it comes to being a high draft pick. But Thomas has made a career out of proving the naysayers wrong, and he firmly believes he has a future in the NBA. While the looming pro lockout may ultimately decide his fate for him, the question will continue to linger around the program until Thomas provides a definitive answer. Expect him to test the waters by going through the draft evaluation process, but also expect him to return for his senior season. He still has unfinished business at Montlake.

Assuming Thomas decides to stick around, his role will almost certainly evolve, as it did when Gaddy was hurt. The Huskies are absolutely loaded with guards of every size and shape. At times he'll play the able floor general, distributing in the paint as only he can do. He'll defend, he'll lead, he'll motivate, and of course, he'll score. But he won't be the alone in his quest for greatness. The backcourt is bulging with weapons at every turn, and a return to a four-guard lineup at times - something Romar has done in the past - is a virtual guarantee.

Between Thomas, junior Gaddy and freshman phenom Tony Wroten, the Huskies' guard rotation will feature three of the top point guards in the conference. Arizona returns Momo Jones and debuts five-star prep standout Josiah Turner. Arizona State will have freshman Jahii Carson, a Nate Robinson clone; Washington State returns Reggie Moore, and UCLA brings back serviceable seniors Jerime Anderson and Zeke Jones.

Overall, the point guard situation in the Pac-12 leaves the Huskies in an enviable position.

And than there are the wings, and they're a special group.

The struggles of Holiday and Overton opened up a window of opportunity for the younger Dawgs, particularly freshmen C.J. Wilcox and Terrence Ross, who made the most of their chances, especially in the post-season. Ross scored in double digits in four out of five post-season games, averaging 13 points a game over that span. Wilcox was similarly effective during that stretch, chipping in 11 points a game. To put those numbers in perspective, both players' post-season efforts exceeded that of Bryan-Amaning who averaged a shade over 10 a game. During the regular season, only Thomas outscored the Pac-10 Most Improved Player of the Year. When you mix in Scott Suggs' steady seven points a game, you get a true sense of the offensive shift that occurred out of necessity late in season. The Husky wings needed to step up in bold fashion, and they did.

Their roles will expand further next season. You could see the light come on for them late in the season, as they probed for ways to expand their offensive contributions beyond the three-point line. Wilcox, Ross, and Suggs are all exceptional, tall athletes. Aside from Thomas, the Huskies' backcourt rotation - including Gaddy and Wroten - averages 6-foot-5. Five years ago, insiders joked that coach Romar desired a lineup full of Penny Hardaways; these Dawgs aren't far off.

One key element missing last season was the lack of a true go-to scorer. Without a Brandon Roy or Quincy Pondexter to bail them out late in the shot clock, the offense often stagnated in the half court as the seconds ticked away. The Pac-10 Tournament title game aside, Thomas' ability to put the scoring load on his back in crunch time isn't considered one of his top attributes. The Dawgs were often limited to contested three-pointers as time wound down. Next season, fans can expect to see a lot more of Terrence Ross is those situations. They'll isolate him on the wing as they did their gifted predecessors, enabling his full offensive versatility to be brought to bear, including posting up smaller guards on the block for points in the paint.

Meanwhile, while Wilcox will continue to bomb away from outside, his offensive contributions should mature and evolve. Expect to see him exploit his size and quickness closer to the basket, as he gains confidence taking defenders off the dribble. Suggs should continue his steady improvement as well. The senior-to-be quietly developed into a consistent secondary scoring threat, as well as one of the team's most reliable defenders. He will be expected to shoulder a heavier scoring load.


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