Fall Pre-Camp Hoops Primer

The 2011-2012 predictions have hit the newsstands, and judging by the early returns the outlook for the Pac-12 from a national perspective is improved over the last couple of seasons. The Sporting News predicts four ranked Pac-12 teams in their pre-season magazine - Arizona 12th, UCLA 15th, Cal 23rd and Washington 25th. Lindy's ranks Cal 11th, Washington 15th, UCLA 20th and Arizona 22nd.

Blue Ribbon doesn't even rank UW, and ranks Arizona 10th, Cal 21 and UCLA 23rd.

Clearly there appears to be a lot of potential out west. Arizona has a loaded roster full of talent that's been brewing since Sean Miller arrived three years ago. UCLA boasts one of the top front courts in the country, while the same can be said about the Huskies' enormous back-court rotation. Cal returns a proven, veteran starting lineup. Yet all four Pac-12 frontrunners also have their flaws. Arizona lost their top three players and the 'Cats don't project a starter over 6-foot-8. The Bruins backcourt situation is mediocre at best - they lack shooters and don't feature a small forward on their roster after losing Tyler Honeycutt and Malcolm Lee to the NBA. Cal's depth is razor thin, and their only proven post player - Harper Kamp - is playing on bum knees and will be lucky to average 25 minutes a night. Washington has no proven post scorer and lost four key upperclassmen, including Isaiah Thomas.

Bottom line; conference expectations have improved considerably, yet there still isn't a clear cut favorite, nor is there a perceived national title contender in the bunch.

Looking at Washington, starting the season ranked in the lower 20's seems about right. Their upside is undeniably high and the roster is deep, but none of it is proven. UW Head Coach Lorenzo Romar has assembled a backcourt rotation worthy of being ranked among the best in the country. Yet their leading returning scorer - Abdul Gaddy - missed two-thirds of the season with an ACL tear. Is it fair to expect breakout seasons from several Huskies? Yes, this team has a ton of potential, but as we know potential just means you haven't done anything yet.

Watching the Huskies in various venues this summer, one thing became readily apparent; they're armed to the teeth, or at least should be. Terrence Ross has generated a ton of pre-season buzz as the conference's biggest breakout candidate, and together with C.J. Wilcox and Scott Suggs gives the Huskies arguably the scariest trio of pure shooters in the country. But Ross is still moving from obscurity toward the spotlight, something every player handles differently and success is never guaranteed. Senior co-captain Darnell Gant may surprise people this season. His mid-range range jump shot is impressive, and if he can hit the three ball the way he has this summer, Washington is going to get consistent offensive production from the four spot - even if it's from long range, rather than underneath the hoop. In fact, you could use the term "breakout candidate" for the top seven players of Washington's rotation. They all have the capability to bust loose at any time; there's that much raw talent on the roster. But again, every ounce of it is 100 percent pure potential.

Romar stated recently that the position battles are wide open heading into fall camp. He has not settled on a rotation, let alone his five starters, and while that may be true, the reality is that the top-7 are pretty well established.
Point Guard: Abdul Gaddy, Tony Wroten, Jr., Andrew Andrews

The post-Isaiah Thomas era means there's a new captain running the offense. Both Abdul Gaddy and Tony Wroten, Jr. bring considerable contrast to the floor. Gaddy is the cerebral floor general, while Wroten channels the flair of Magic Johnson and competitiveness of Will Conroy in an explosive, 6-foot-5 package. Both players give Romar the ability to alter the complexion of the game on the fly. Gaddy is the incumbent starter and was player on the verge of big things prior to his injury. He's the favorite to earn the starting nod at the point, which is no knock on Wroten, who is a stupendous talent. The Husky lineup has been completely reset and Gaddy's stabilizing presence is going to be key, especially in the early goings.

Wroten enters UW as one of the most celebrated recruits in the program's history. If early indications are accurate, he's everything Husky fans have been dreaming about since he first hit the Seattle hoops scene even before his celebrated prep career at Garfield.

Andrews, as Darnell Gant and Desmond Simmons before him, will redshirt this year. It's a luxury for the Huskies, as Andrews has shown during summer leagues that he's more than capable of stepping up and pushing for minutes from Day One. He's an instinctive scorer and streaky shooter, a player that might end up earning comparisons to former Husky Adrian Oliver, who went on to stardom at San Jose State. But he'll have at least a year before having to worry about the burden of expectations.

The Rest of the Back Court: Scott Suggs, C.J. Wilcox, Terrence Ross, Hikeem Stewart

The battle at the second guard spot could go to just about any of the guards, though Scott Suggs and C.J. Wilcox are the most obvious candidates. Suggs, a senior, is probably the favorite to earn the starting nod. Though victimized by a steep learning curve on defense and lousy injury timing during his first three seasons at Washington (is there ever really a good time for an injury?), he still scored in double digits 11 times last season. As a senior Co-Captain with four years in the system, Suggs will be given every opportunity to earn a starting role. In fact, it would seem odd to have a captain on the bench to start games, but it could happen.

Wilcox, meanwhile, averaged over 12 points per game during the final third of the season, and might be the Huskies' most dangerous offensive weapon. Suggs and Wilcox are both splendid shooters, and will ultimately play similar minutes regardless of who starts.

Terrence Ross is the obvious favorite to hear his name called at the third guard spot (or whatever you want to call it). The Huskies' most versatile player opened eyes last year, capping a stellar post-season with a scintillating 19-point performance off the bench in Washington's second-round loss to North Carolina. Like the rest of the roster, Ross' star potential is obvious. But he isn't a demonstrative personality on the floor, and it's anyone's guess how he stands up to the scrutiny that comes with being projected as a future NBA lottery pick. Is it reasonable to expect him to double his contributions of 8 points and 2.8 rebounds a game? Probably not, but it isn't that far-fetched; he's that talented.

So when it comes to back court integration, any number of combinations should be expected here. Romar has five stellar options at his disposal, and they'll all play a ton.

The Front Court: Darnell Gant, Aziz N'Daiye, Desmond Simmons, Martin Breunig, Jernard Jarreau, Shawn Kemp, Jr.

Up front, it's hard to imagine fifth-year senior Darnell Gant starting the game on the bench. The UW Co-Captain will see his role expand significantly as the Huskies look for offensive productivity in the paint. Offensively, Gant is more of a guard than a forward, and he's not likely to address the Huskies' post scoring concerns. Defensively, he's more than capable in the post.

Competing for back-up minutes at the four spot will be three freshmen; redshirt frosh Desmond Simmons and versatile perimeter-oriented forwards Martin Breunig and Jernard Jarreau. With a junkyard dog mentality and a full season to learn the system, Simmons is an easy favorite to join the rotation. He's a relentless rebounder and defender, channeling his inner Jon Brockman and Justin Holiday in his approach to the game. Jarreau and Breunig will have their work cut out for them to play their way into the mix, though they both possess intriguing traits due to their size and unique skill sets. They're both athletic, highly skilled and strong ball-handlers on the perimeter, but they're also physically immature and will require some time adjusting to the speed of the college game. Their ability to defend opposing post players and to rebound effectively will likely determine their fate on the floor this season.

Like Gant, it's hard to imagine 7-foot center Aziz N'Daiye not starting. The UW enforcer will anchor the Huskies defensively, and should be improved offensively, even if the bar isn't set very high. He's an emotional leader, and physically imposing. Realistically, N'Diaye could average 6-8 points a game just on junk plays like tips, put-backs and dunks. Surprisingly, the Huskies most effective post weapon might be freshman center Shawn Kemp, Jr, who displayed an impressive arsenal of moves during the summer. With his offensive skills and N'Diaye's penchant for foul trouble, Kemp should get plenty of opportunities to earn his way into the back half of the rotation as he works himself back into playing shape after a two year lay-off.
Fearless Lineup Prediction:

Sure practice is just starting and they did lose a ton of senior leadership and guile, but this team isn't nearly as mysterious as some would have you believe. The pieces are in place, and on paper the roles aren't that difficult to figure out. The foundation of leadership is strong - vocally in the form of guys like Gant, Gaddy and Aziz, while the three wings lead the offensive assault on the floor. Throw in Wroten - a player with limitless defensive upside on top of his immense offensive talents - and you've got the makings of a Pac-12 title contender.

Predicted Starting Lineup:
G Abdul Gaddy 6-4 Jr.
G Scott Suggs 6-6 Sr.
G Terrence Ross 6-6 So.
F Darnell Gant 6-8 Sr.
C Aziz N'Daiye 7-0 Jr.

For all of the early talk of Washington being a young team, this lineup has plenty of experience, including 25 NCAA Tournament games between them - a statistic unrivaled by any other team in the Pac-12. Obviously, the size of the lineup immediately jumps out at you. They average nearly 6-foot-8. Other than N'Diaye, the four starters collectively shot nearly 40 percent from the three-point line last year, which will be the strength of this unit. Defensively, the unit is solid, if unspectacular. Gaddy, Suggs, Ross and Gant are above average defenders, and Aziz is...Aziz. According to Romar, their size and length is already starting to cause some problems in terms of hands getting into passing lanes, deflections, etc… so that's a promising sign for a program that feeds off relentless defensive pressure and transition offense.

The Rotation:
G Tony Wroten, Jr. 6-5 Fr.
G C.J. Wilcox 6-6 So.
F Desmond Simmons 6-7 Fr.
F/C Shawn Kemp, Jr. 6-10 Fr.

Make no mistake: Both Tony Wroten, Jr. and C.J. Wilcox are going to play starter's minutes. They're too good not to. Wroten will provide an immediate energy and defensive lift the minute he hits the floor. He has the ability to totally change the flow of a game. Wilcox offers a similar lift. He'll stretch defenders to their breaking point with his range, freeing up space for Gaddy, Wroten and Ross to penetrate inside. Wilcox is also the team's quickest player and one of the top defenders on the team.

After that, things are a little more hazy. Desmond Simmons, with his versatile skills and rugged approach to rebounding, has to be a frontrunner. He's more post-oriented than Gant but slightly undersized to defend traditional post players. He provides a physical alternative to N'Diaye, who struggled last season against smaller players in the block. Kemp, Jr will likely be limited to backing up N'Diaye when he runs into the inevitable foul trouble concerns against bigger lineups like UCLA and Duke.

Breunig, Jarreau and guard Hikeem Stewart are probably a year or two away from contributing consistently, though they'll all get their shot. Last season, Washington used a 10-man rotation before Gaddy went down, so they could do it again. Injuries are a part of the game, and all three freshmen are skilled enough to contribute if called on.

I get why the pre-season magazines are unsure about Washington: This year's squad is 180 degrees different than last season. Last year, the Huskies were totally dependent on the upperclassmen for the bulk of their contributions. It wasn't until Wilcox and Ross emerged late on that UW had viable alternatives to supplement the All-Conference trio of Thomas, Holiday and Matthew Bryan-Amaning. This year, the Huskies should go 7-deep with no drop off. Romar hasn't had this level of talent and personnel depth since the 2005-2006 season - and we all know what happened that year.

Ultimately, the team is one giant unknown, with a huge helping of potential on the side. The talent and experience are there. There's plenty of depth at every position, and the roster is taller that any in the program's history. Much like the rest of the conference, the Huskies are an exciting team partly because we know so little about them, and also because of what they could be.

Ah, potential.

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