Beach's Bits - 2012 Preview, Pt 2

Washington fans should approach next season with cautious optimistism. Darnell Gant and Aziz N'Daiye aren't suddenly going to evolve into consistent scoring threats from the block. They'll improve of course, but unless a major roster addition takes place between now and October, the Huskies aren't going to waste energy trying to manufacture an offensive post presence that isn't there.

The best UW can hope for is that both adapt a 'junkyard dog' mentality and get the majority of their points in the paint via putbacks and layins.

As good as the Huskies' backcourt should be next season, the opposite is true of their front court. In short, this may be the weakest front line Romar has fielded since 2002, his first year at Montlake. Romar has always had at least one go-to scorer in the post: Jon Brockman, Spencer Hawes, Jamaal Williams, Quincy Pondexter and Matthew Bryan-Amaning have all excelled in that role in the past. Unfortunately, there isn't a player like that on the 2012 roster. One look at UCLA's projected front court next season, and it's easy to understand the concern. Even if Reeves Nelson heads elsewhere, the Bruins will feature 6-foot-10, 325-pound center Josh Smith, former Burger Boys and North Carolina transfers Travis and David Wear - who both check in at 6-foot-11 - and 7-foot defensive standout Anthony Stover. The Huskies will counter with N'Daiye, Gant, and 6-foot-7 freshman Desmond Simmons.

You get the picture. It isn't all bad though.

The Huskies got a surprising late-season lift from Gant, who improved significantly over the course of the year. UW's biggest hole will be the one vacated by Bryan-Amaning, and Gant's maturation makes next season's post situation a little less bleak. His six rebounds a game in the post-season was second most on the team, despite playing less than twenty minutes per contest. That's a good sign for next year, because his presence in the paint will be sorely needed. He'll compete for the starting spot at the four, as well as back up N'Daiye in the middle.

N'Daiye ended his season on a solid note too, flexing his muscles against North Carolina en route to 11 rebounds in Washington's final game of the season. After an up and down campaign, N'Diaye has his work cut out for him in the off-season. The Huskies need more of everything from the 7-footer from Senegal; he needs to learn to defend smarter and avoid foul trouble, not an easy skill to work on over the summer. He figures to get more touches in the post next year, but how many remains to be seen. It will largely depend on how much time he spends in the gym over the next six months working on his offensive development.

Expect a marginal increase in minutes over this season, probably in the range of 20-22 minute a game. N'Diaye's time on the court will continue to be dictated by his success defending smaller posts, as well as ability to manage foul trouble - most likely his biggest challenge.

Simmons' UW career will debut this fall. He's a hard working, blue collar forward with a taste for grabbing boards. Romar said this week that in their practices this past season, he was their most effective rebounder. His game mirrors Darnell Gant in many ways, though he's more physical than Gant but less naturally athletic. Simmons possesses small forward skills on offense, including a solid three-point range and ball-handling skills, and should be able to defend multiple forward positions. He's expected to compete for a significant role in the rotation from Day One.

The Huskies also welcome several new faces, a couple of whom will compete for key roles right away.

The 2012 season will mark the debut of Seattle area prep phenom Tony Wroten, Jr. who will look to quickly put his stamp on the program. Wroten is an explosive athlete. Checking in at a well-built 6-foot-5, Wroten will add an exciting new dimension to the Huskies' lineup. Defying any true position, Wroten can play several different spots for the Huskies depending on the need of the moment. He's a master in transition, both as a playmaker and finisher. He'll see time running the offense from the point, as well as pairing with Isaiah Thomas and Abdul Gaddy off the ball. He possesses enough quickness, size and strength to defend all three guard positions and could even spend time at the four due to his exceptional rebounding and solid skills around the basket. His range, which has long been his achilles' heel, has improved despite a flat trajectory. On a roster loaded with shooters, his jump shot shouldn't be a major focus next season. Wroten brings a one-on-one dimension to the program that Washington hasn't had consistently since Brandon Roy's senior season. Terrence Ross showed glimpses of it at the end of last year, and is expected to have more opportunities in 2012.

The other newcomers are going to have their work cut out for them if they're hoping to crack the rotation next season. Jernard Jarreau is a highly skilled, 6-foot-10 wing from Louisiana with fabulous long-term potential, but he's got a lot of work to do from a strength and conditioning standpoint before he's ready to see significant time on the floor. Seattle's Hikeem Stewart battled knee problems his senior season at Rainier Beach. Both players are likely redshirt candidates. Junior college forward Kevin Davis struggled in his first season at Tacoma Community College and still has considerable work to do in the classroom before he is eligible to land at UW. Based on his underwhelming productivity, he could be another redshirt candidate.

There's a high probability that the Huskies land another big or two. The annual coaching carousel has begun, meaning coaches will be fired, leaving incoming recruits in limbo and looking for alternatives. There are foreign options as well, though they can be a challenge to gain admission.

Under head coach Lorenzo Romar, Washington has always been about guards, and clearly that isn't about to change anytime soon. The Pac-12 should be immensely improved next season, with several top-25 caliber teams. Washington is one of those squads, but only time will tell if there is enough back court talent to overcome their severe post flaws.

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