UW Basketball: A look ahead

After an epic championship game between Louisville and Michigan reminded all of us just how mesmerizing college basketball can be the 2013 season is finally one for the history books. Closer to home, the Washington Huskies hope to turn around two seasons of frustration by wiping the slate clean with a whole new cast of talented players.

Phenom Aaron Gordon's announcement that he had spurned Lorenzo Romar and the Huskies for Arizona was a fitting punctuation mark to the most frustrating season in Romar's 11 years at Washington. But, as they say, "when one door closes, another one opens" and that's exactly what may happen if stud UNLV senior Mike Moser transfers to Washington as expected.

Even without Moser, there's still plenty of reason for Husky fans to be excited next season. As many as seven new players will join the UW program this fall, giving Washington a much needed shot in the arm. The Dawgs will debut what should be their deepest front court in Romar's tenure on Montlake, as well as a host of talented new faces in the backcourt.

Other than championship contender Arizona, the Pac-12 is probably going to be pretty weak next season. With Cal sophomore Allen Crabbe's announcement that he is entering the NBA draft, there isn't another obvious top 25 team in the Pac-12. In fact, the conference is losing the bulk of its top talent to graduation or early entries to the NBA. Of the 15 players that made up the Pac-12's all conference team, the conference will be lucky to return five.

The stellar freshmen class will likely lose two of its brightest young stars - Shabazz Muhammud and Jahii Carson - to the NBA and standout players like Colorado's Andre Robertson and Spencer Dinwiddie, UCLA's Kyle Anderson, USC center DeWayne Dedmon, as well as UW's C.J. Wilcox are all weighing their professional options as well. In short, other than Arizona which has a giant target tattooed on its back as a preseason national championship favorite, the Pac-12 will be wide open next year.

It's already been a memorable start to the offseason.

Ben Howland was quickly canned by UCLA which raced to fill the coaching void, finding their answer in New Mexico Head Coach Steve Alford. USC filled their coaching vacancy as well, grabbing up NCAA Tournament sweetheart Andy Enfield from surprising Florida Gulf Coast which was bounced from the sweet sixteen little more than a week ago. Ironically, their tournament resumes are pretty similar. Ken Bone was granted a stay of execution at WSU but Oregon State, Stanford and ASU all have coaches on the hot seat to varying degrees.

As far as the Huskies are concerned, UW will turn over nearly half of their roster from last season, and that's a good thing given the way things ended. The graduation of Scott Suggs, Abdul Gaddy and Aziz N'Daiye signals a shifting moment in the program and the roster reset should aid the coaching staff in reestablishing many of the principles that precipitated its rise to national relevance a decade ago.

Replacing a starting point guard is always a big deal, but replacing a four-year starter is a program changing moment. For some, the change couldn't come soon enough. Suggs was an enigma during his five seasons at UW, quietly suffering through a unremarkable senior season before finding his groove late in conference play when it was already too late to reverse the team's fortunes. Wilcox' junior year was a success by most measures, but he never really found his rhythm consistently enough to pull the team out of its doldrums and he clearly has much to prove. He has a decision to make as well if the NBA comes calling. Though it's generally agreed that his draft stock declined during non-conference play, he still projects as a potential second round NBA pick. Whether a non-guaranteed contract is enough to lure Wilcox away remains to be seen, but it will loom large for the UW coaching staff as we near the NBA early entrant deadline.

One area the Huskies should see considerable improvement next season is in the front court. N'Daiye, a fan favorite, is gone, but the Dawgs will welcome fifth-year senior transfer Perris Blackwell - a former honorable mention all-conference center from the University of San Francisco - who sat out last season for UW and is a virtual lock for the starting lineup. He brings with him potent offensive skills and should be a double-double threat nightly and perhaps the best post scoring threat the Huskies have had since Mathew Bryan-Amaning.

Shawn Kemp began to come alive last season, giving fans a tantalizing glimpse of what may lie ahead for the talented forward. In the Huskies first round NIT loss to BYU, the son of the former Sonic legend, took on a starring role, scoring 15 points while grabbing 11 rebounds in the season ending loss. Similar growth is expected of freshman Jernard Jerreau, who began to establish himself offensively despite limited minutes, as well. Junkyard Dog Desmond Simmons remains and he is expected to provide energy in the paint while skilled 6'11" Dutchman Gillies Dieriex - a sharpshooting euro-forward - hopes to pack on 30 pounds of muscle by the time he suits up for his first game.

In the backcourt, it's a whole new ballgame.

Wilcox struggled this season with the weight of the team's offense resting on his shoulders, but the offensive load should be more evenly distributed this coming year. He will obviously remain a key ingredient in the Husky offense should he return, but he should have more help if freshman Andrew Andrews takes the leap many expect of him next year.

Andrews' impact on the floor was tangible as he pushed the tempo with every opportunity. Though his vaunted three point stroke never really materialized, his energetic play and pit bull style of defense harkened back to the excellent Husky defenders of the last decade. Junior Hikeem Stewart will also attempt to crack the rotation this season as well.

Then there's the incoming freshmen class.

For the first time in many years, last seasons' team had a shortage of high level talent in the backcourt. The coaching staff addressed that deficiency by adding three top flight youngsters. It's a good class, and looking better and better all of the time.

McDonalds All-American Nigel Williams-Goss headlines a talented crop of guards that more closely resemble the early backcourts of the Lorenzo Romar era at Washington. Williams-Goss is a 6-4 point guard possessing a tremendous motor as well as leadership qualities that Huskies have clearly lacked the last couple of seasons. His experience as a four-year starter for the nation's top high school team - Findlay Prep - as well as his heady play and intense defensive focus should translate immediately to the D-1 setting.

Four-star Sheldon (Sacramento, Ca.) High School senior Darin Johnson is an athletic, sweet-shooting two-guard, with impressive ball handling skills and exceptional quickness.

Recently committed 5'11 combo guard Jahmel Taylor was recently named California 4A State Player of the Year and purportedly channels qualities similar to former Husky greats Isaiah Thomas and Justin Dentmon.

Finally, Washington's most recent commitment is 6'5" junior college transfer Mike Anderson - a little-known JUCO wing out of Moberly Area CC with a reputation for athleticism and toughness - should fit in perfectly with the Huskies well-worn tradition of rugged guards.

And, as long as everything goes to plan, there's the new guy – Moser.

Before a dislocated elbow derailed his junior season, Moser averaged a stellar 14 points and 10 rebounds a game as a sophomore, and was mentioned as a possible lottery pick in the 2012 NBA draft. A former Portland-area prep star from Grant High School, Moser would add a star-studded, go-to scorer to a UW that badly needs one. Capable of playing any of the three frontcourt positions, Moser thrived in the power forward position at UNLV before the arrival of phenom Anthony Bennett moved him out to the wing.

Assuming he graduates as expected, Moser would likely move immediately into the starting lineup, giving the Huskies a formidable one-two post scoring punch the likes of which hasn't been seen as Hec Ed since Jon Brockman and Spencer Hawes filled the paint years ago. Given his previous role at the small forward spot for the Runnin' Rebels, the Huskies could potentially feature a starting lineup that includes Kemp and Blackwell with Moser playing the three.

Regardless of who starts where, one thing you can pretty much count on is that it's going to be a dogfight for playing time, down to the last practice before the start of the season. Though the Huskies lack a true center in the traditional sense, they've essentially got six versatile forwards, and enough beef in Blackwell and Kemp to compete against bigger frontcourts. Where they will really shine is in their mobility and versatility. Every member of the Huskies post rotation can step out and hit a jumper, and give the UW coaching staff the ability to experiment with bigger lineups as needed with Moser playing on the wing. The extra bodies should pay further dividends as the program returns to the higher-octane, transition oriented style of the past. The addition of Moser would add an element of post athleticism rivaled only by the youngsters in Tucson.

As far as the backcourt rotation goes, it is anybody's guess. Wilcox should he return and he would start at the third guard spot leaving one or two guard spots up for competition.

Andrews would be the clear leader for the starting nod at point guard were it not for the arrival of Williams-Goss, but he's going to play a ton whether he starts or comes off the bench. Williams-Goss has the talent to start from day one depending on how quickly he adapts to Romar's system (which probably won't be long considering his already formidable defensive abilities.) The good news is that young guards generally transition to the college game quicker than their taller teammates as evidenced by Oregon's success with stellar freshmen Damian Dotson and Dominick Artis who had the unheralded Ducks in the hunt for a conference title. The Huskies backcourt newcomers differ from other recent UW recruits because of their more tenacious approach to the game. Rest assured, whichever among them manages to earn a spot in the rotation, he will do so as much because of his commitment to the defensive end as well as the offensive side.

Washington won't be a conference title favorite next season.

That dubious honor belongs to star-studded Arizona Wildcats. However, maybe that's not such a bad thing. While UCLA and Arizona toiled in relative obscurity over the last 5 years or so, the Huskies vaulted to the top of the conference, but never truly seized control. When the conference bulls-eye shifted north to Seattle, the Huskies ultimately succumbed to the pressure of being the conference favorite before they could take the next step to national prominence. That window has closed, at least for the time being, and now they're back in familiar territory as the underdog, battling the 800-pound gorilla for their share of the limelight.

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