One More Year

SEATTLE - The Dawg Pack was whipped into a lather Saturday afternoon. UW sophomore sensation Terrence Ross calmly stepped to the free throw line and buried two free throws as the echoes of "One More Year," reverberated throughout Alaska Airlines Arena. He couldn't believe what he was hearing, so he started shaking his head.

The free throws capped a brilliant performance by Ross, who, despite being limited by foul trouble in the second half, still managed a game high 25 points against rival Arizona in what was perhaps the finest performance by the Huskies this season. But when he addressed the press after the game, his thoughts weren't about his points, the win, or even the fact that his team is currently tied for first in the Pac-12 with California.

"I wasn't shaking my head to be like, 'No, I'm not coming back'" explained the UW sophomore, grinning ear to ear. "I was shaking my head because I can't believe they're chanting this right now."

The Huskies raced to an early 10 point first half advantage as Ross peppered the Wildcats with mid-range jumpers. His 15 points during the period helped keep Arizona at bay as the momentum tried to shift in their favor.

For most of the season, Ross has saved his best work for last. The former Portland prep star's second half heroics powered the Huskies to big wins against Arizona and UCLA. It was the same story in New York against Duke where he scored 16 of his 18 points after intermission, as the Huskies came roaring back to life.

At home he's been even better, averaging 9.4 points and a blistering 59 percent from beyond the arc. But as effective as he's been to close out games, he's been a totally different player out of the gates. In recent weeks, the discrepancy has been even more glaring, averaging 14.4 points in the second half versus a paltry 4.4 points in the opening period.

That all changed against Arizona Saturday when Ross morphed into the Pac-12 Player of the Year frontrunner we've all been waiting to see.

In his second season with the program, Ross has emerged as one of the Pac-12's top players. He's electrifying at times and one of the finest rebounding guards in the country. After an up-and-down freshman season which ended in loss to North Carolina to get to the Sweet Sixteen, Ross has steadily matured into the Huskies' most consistent player. He's sixth in the conference in scoring at nearly 16 points per game and fifth in rebounding, grabbing seven boards per contest. Like the rest of the team, Ross' focus tends to ebb and flow like the tide, but when he's mentally engaged there are few players more dangerous in the country.

The chants of 'One More Year!' simply underscored the debate that rages on about Ross's readiness for the NBA. He's unquestionably talented enough to thrive on the game's biggest stage. The NBA is built around one-on-one skills, and Ross possesses them in spades. However, the 2012 draft is expected to be loaded, after uncertainty surrounding the NBA season last spring discouraged many of college basketball's elite players to postpone their NBA aspirations.

Ohio State's Jared Sullinger, UNC's Harrison Barnes and Kentucky's Terrence Jones were among those who decided to stick around and refine their craft in college for another year. Most NBA mock drafts have Ross being selected midway through the first found of the NBA draft, and most observers agree he'd greatly benefit from one more season at Washington. The 2013 draft on the other hand, is expected to be very weak. The NBA rookie pay scale for a mid first rounder would earn about 4.5 million dollars over three years. Not chump change by any stretch, but consider that by moving into the top five a player earns nearly nine million during the same three year period taken as the fifth pick. That's four and a half million more reasons to stick around a little longer.

Not that he needs the extra financial incentive to stick around Seattle. The Huskies are a family that clearly enjoys playing together. This isn't UCLA, where fringe NBA prospects bolt from the program like it's been stricken by plague. Ross and the rest of the Huskies love playing for Lorenzo Romar. And with a pre-season trip to China on the docket and all but one player back, the Huskies should be a well oiled machine by the time the season starts this coming November.

Plus, the UW system naturally showcases raw talent like few programs in the country, and with the new Pac-12 ESPN TV deal kicking in next season, they'll have all of the exposure they can handle. If both Ross and freshmen phenom Tony Wroten decide to return, the Huskies will be immediately thrust into the national title conversation. Arizona and UCLA are expected to bring in the top two recruiting classes in the country and their fans are justifiably excited about their teams' potential next season. But for Husky fans, it should elicit more of a collective shrug. A Husky squad with Ross and Wroten along the most talented veteran rotation in the conference will be more than a match for anything the PAC-12 can throw at them.

For the moment, Ross has his mind on other things. The Huskies have three games remaining in the regular season, including a showdown against a dangerous Washington State squad that will do just about anything to spoil the Dawgs post season aspirations. They've also got a third consecutive Pac-12 Tournament to win.

"I was flattered, but I don't know what I'm going to do," Ross answered sincerely during the post game interviews. "I might come back, but at this point it's whatever happens in these last games and in the NCAA tournament. Just got see how the future plays out, but at the moment I'm just focused on our team."


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