Beach's Bits - The Day After

Isaiah Thomas is entering the NBA draft, his departure signaling a new era for Washington basketball. While Thomas' legacy will be etched into the fabric of UW Hoops, it also feels like a part of that legacy will forever remain incomplete. Would he have been UW's all-time leading scorer three-point shooter and assist man?

We'll never know, but one thing is clear; his NBA defection opens up a window for a new era of Husky heroes to take the program to the next level.

Most teams would be crippled by losing a point guard of Thomas' caliber, but not Washington - not with Abdul Gaddy returning from injury, not with Tony Wroten's arrival looming just a few shorts months from now, and not with talented but unheralded Portland point guard Andrew Andrews waiting in the wings.

Washington's backcourt is suddenly going to be very tall, highly skilled and extraordinarily athletic. Without a true point guard to lead them last year, the Huskies stagnated in their zone offense. With Gaddy and Wroten at the helm, expect it to improve. Both players are better equipped to deliver pin-point passes out of the high post, a place where Thomas was simply to small to operate.

Looking at the potential starting backcourt, the Huskies will start some combination of Gaddy, Wroten, C.J. Wilcox, Terrence Ross and Scott Suggs. In a sense, it doesn't really matter who starts; they are all going to play major minutes. The Huskies lose 120 minutes a game between Thomas and the graduated seniors, as well as 48.6 points a game, which translates into 58 percent of UW's offense. Romar also has to find a way to replace 49 percent of their rebounding output, 72 percent of their assist, 69 percent of their steals, and 51 percent of their blocks.

Those numbers suggest nothing short of a total rotation upheaval, but it isn't as bad as it sounds - not for a program as deep as Washington. The Huskies' rotation will feature two seniors, two juniors, two sophomores, a redshirt freshman, a blue-chip freshman, plus whoever else the coaching staff can land between now and the start of the season. That's class balance.

One of the challenges next season will be overcoming Washington's lack of size and depth in the post once the rotation gets beyond 7-foot Aziz N'Daiye. Darnell Gant and redshirt freshman Desmond Simmons are the only other returning forwards on the roster.

The Huskies signed 6-foot-10 Louisiana forward Jernard Jarreau last fall, but he's thought to be more of a long-term prospect than an immediate impact player. Their lack of post depth means the UW guards are going to have to rebound like forwards. They're also going to have to defend forwards as well. Fortunately, they've got the height to do it. Expect Terrence Ross to routinely guard the four position when the Huskies run four-guard lineups. Also expect to see a steady stream of defensive swaps and bewildering defensive switches. It will give coach Romar the defensive alignment flexibility he's always craved.

The Huskies' starting lineup could look something like this: 6-foot-5 Tony Wroten, Jr., 6-foot-4 Abdul Gaddy, and 6-foot-6 Terrence Ross at the three guard spots, with 6-foot-8 Darnell Gant and 7-foot Aziz N'Daiye in the post. In terms of size, that's a lineup you'd see at the next level, and they're going to be a tough match up for just about everybody in the Pac-12 from that standpoint. They'll be a blur in transition, especially with Wroten pushing the throttle, and they'll finish the break in highlight-reel fashion.

The Huskies have featured many players who flourish in transition over the years, but no one integrates the court vision, passing skills, physicality, speed and raw athleticism quite the way Wroten - who recently ran a 10.78 in the 100 meter dash, currently the top mark in Washington State - does.

The bench won't be as deep as it has been in recent seasons once they get beyond Suggs, Wilcox, and Simmons, but it could be bolstered by Andrews' early arrival if Gaddy isn't fully healed by the start of the season. Jarreau could be pressed into service earlier than expected, depending on how well he assimilates into his new surroundings in Seattle, and also based on what Romar and his staff see during fall camp.

There's a high likelihood of at least one, if not two junior college posts joining the roster. The Huskies are also looking at a number of foreign options to bolster the front court. If there's an available impact post out there, Washington is going to have a go at them - but at this point in the recruiting process, you're usually canvassing territory nearly laid bare by recruiters one step ahead.

One critical area of concern for Romar is filling the leadership vacuum left not by his co-captains and the other seniors. Next year's team was going to be Thomas' without question - now it's up for grabs.

Gant and N'Daiye would seem to be the most obvious candidates to assume the leadership mantle - at least vocally - but the Huskies still need a quarterback, so to speak. Suggs, Gaddy, Ross and Wilcox are all less demonstrative. None are especially outspoken, but Gaddy has displayed leadership qualities his first two seasons. He may be a player Romar looks to capatin the team, but a year off the court might impact that decision.

Wroten has been front and center everywhere he's ever played, but depending on a freshman for emotional leadership is folly - especially with the experience that remains on next year's team. He will bring unquestioned toughness and attitude, however, and that's important. Without Venoy Overton around to raise the hackles of opposing fans and players, it will be up to players like Wroten to fill that role.

At the end of the day, Thomas' departure is an absolute game-changer, much more so than the loss of the three graduating seniors. As a Husky, he dominated the ball when he was on the court, as well as the locker room - casting a long shadow despite his smallish stature.

The team young Zeke leaves behind are as coachable a group of players as you'll ever find. They'll inevitably be forced to find new footing without their captains, though it may be uncomfortable at first. With so many talented pieces, it's a unique opportunity to reboot the program without having to restart. It's a chance to dial in the system behind Gaddy and Wroten – players that see the court as true point guards.

Odds are the season will have its share of ups and downs, especially early. They are going to stumble at times, particularly when the three-pointers aren't falling. But there are also one-on-one elements to next year's team that Washington missed this season.

Most of the players' roles won't change, and in fact they'll probably expand significantly. Ross and Wilcox will remain scoring focal points, asserting themselves offensively closer to the basket. So will Suggs, who could see a dramatic increase in field goal attempts. Wroten will pick up where Overton left off, assaulting the basket like a medieval siege engine. Next year's Washington Huskies will be exciting and challenging, and highly entertaining, especially as we move into the new territory of the Pac-12.

Though Thomas' departure cements the Huskies' status as an underdog next year, they won't be overlooked - nestled quietly behind pre-season favorites Arizona and UCLA. That should suit them fine, as it is a role Romar has played before. They're still a potential top-25 team by season's end, as they were this past season. They won't fall off the map – there's still too many veterans in the lineup for that, and they could actually emerge as a legitimate factor in the post-season if they play their cards right.

We are on the threshold of a new era of Husky basketball. The Isaiah Thomas era at Washington was a successful one. During his three-year tenure, the Huskies won two Conference Tournament titles, a Conference Championship, and went to three consecutive NCAA Tournaments, including a game in the Sweet Sixteen. Thomas led the team with equal parts hustle and swagger, buoyed at every step by an enormous chip on his shoulder and a will to succeed despite continuous shouts of doubt at every turn. His unique qualities will long be remembered fondly at Washington, and will always be known as one of the biggest fan favorites to have ever played at Montlake.

But now it's someone else's turn. Can next year's talented crop of players take the Huskies to heights where Purple and Gold legends like Nate Robinson, Brandon Roy, Jon Brockman, Quincy Pondexter - and now Isaiah Thomas - failed before them?

Stay tuned.


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