Alumni Game Matchups Provide Intrigue

SEATTLE - It's a game 10 years in the making.  The inaugural UW Alumni Game tips Sunday, June 23rd, marking a marquee moment in the program's history.  On display will be the greatest athletes to ever grace the hardwood at Washington, and though the game has an all-star aura about it, don't expect it to play out that way - especially if the score is close in the second half.

Over the last decade, Lorenzo Romar has quietly turned Washington into a fertile proving ground for future NBA stars. The Huskies have put nine players into the NBA over the last decade. On the west coast, only iconic UCLA has developed more NBA talent, sending 11 players to "The League" during that stretch - but even that figure is misleading. Washington doesn't just turn blue chip one-and-dones into NBA players, as programs like Kentucky and UCLA do, though UW does that too: Lorenzo Romar and his staff have become masters at identifying under the radar talent - 3 and 4 star players - and turning them into professionals.

Nobody out west does it better, which brings us back to Sunday and the a culmination of a decades' worth of roster and personnel development. It's an opportunity for Romar and company to remind people how truly special the program has become. It's a Husky Hoop fan's dream come true, and all the great ones will be there. Plus it's the closest thing to an NBA game the city of Seattle will see for the foreseeable future.

There's also the recruiting angle. It isn't hard to imagine the game having a powerful impact on potential recruits, and there will be several in attendance: 2014 recruits Donaven Dorsey, Zylan Cheatham, Evan Fitzner; 2015 recruits Allonzo Trier and Dejounte Murray - as well as 2016 local standout Isaiah Brown are all confirmed for Sunday. Bringing together such a large group of former Dawgs who have moved on to the professional ranks sends a powerful message, but there's plenty more to the story. Washington basketball is first and foremost, a family. It's one of the most compelling reasons (besides Lorenzo Romar, of course) why players choose to spend their college years at Montlake.

But this is still a game. So in the spirit of friendly competition, here's the breakdown of the expected matchups.

Nate Robinson (Chicago Bulls) versus Isaiah Thomas (Sacramento Kings): In a rivalry that has existed for nearly a decade - from fierce high school battles to sunny afternoons at Greenlake; open gym runs at Rainier Vista to the NBA hardwood - the battle between the NBA's marquee little guys is sure to be one of the day's top highlights. Robinson, fresh off a post-season of heroic play for a banged up Chicago Bulls squad, is pound for pound the most dynamic player in the history of Washington basketball. Nate averaged 16.3 points per game for the Bulls this season, admirably filling in for injured Bulls star Derek Rose, and his play reached new heights during the 2013 Eastern Conference Finals, including a Jordanesque 24 second half points in a Game One overtime win over the eventual NBA Champions Miami Heat. Meanwhile, Thomas was a revelation in his second season in Sacramento, taking over point guard duties for the Kings en route to averaging 13.9 points per game.  Both players exemplify the hard working traits prized by Romar, and fans can fully expect both players to approach this game the only way they know how - full throttle. 

Bottom Line: This should be an epic showdown between two of the biggest warriors in the program's history.  Each will get their piece of flesh, so it's hard to pick one over the other.
Brandon Roy (Minnesota Timberwolves) versus Terrence Ross (Toronto Raptors): The Huskies took little time hanging Roy's jersey from the rafters shortly after he was awarded the NBA's Rookie of the Year award in 2006-2007 while playing for the Portland Trail Blazers.  In his four seasons at Washington, the Husky legend drove the program to new heights before a controversial double foul, including a technical foul, in the second half of a tightly contested Sweet 16 matchup against Connecticut prematurely ended his UW career.  Roy, who has battled knee problems his entire career, was eventually waived by the Minnesota Timberwolves after re-injuring his knee. But nobody will forget that the Garfield high school standout was a budding NBA superstar, who averaged 18.8 points per game during his NBA career.

Meanwhile, the Huskies were just scratching the surface of Ross' immense potential before he declared for the NBA, ending up a surprise 7th pick in the 2012 NBA draft.  Ross' rise to stardom began after an eye-opening second round NCAA Tourney performance against North Carolina.  During his sophomore season, he led the Huskies to the 2012 Pac-12 title before declaring for the draft.  He returns to Montlake after averaging 6.4 points in 17 minutes a game during his rookie season in Toronto.

Bottom Line: Roy was a superstar at Washington, and when healthy a true difference-maker, while Ross is the most spectacular athlete in the program's history. Ross is healthy, so the nod has to go his way - but don't ever discount the man with the jersey hung in the rafters of Hec Ed.
Quincy Pondexter (Memphis Grizzlies) versus Bobby Jones (Vertus Roma, Italy): In his four seasons at Montlake, Bobby Jones set the bar for the small forward position at Washington.  He spent three seasons in the NBA before heading overseas, and has garnered a well-earned reputation for smothering defense - a skill he honed at UW. On the other side of the ball, no player improved more over the course of his career at Washington than Quincy Pondexter, and that maturation has continued in the NBA. In his second season with the Memphis Grizzlies, Pondexter broke out in the playoffs, averaging 15 points a game for the Griz despite being swept by the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Finals.  Both players epitomize the small forward position at Washington.

Bottom Line: This should be another highly entertaining matchup in a game full of them. Jones will be racing across the Atlantic from Italy after playing in the Italian Pro League finals while Pondexter has had a couple of weeks rest.  As long as fatigue isn't a factor, expect the veteran Jones to give the young pup all he can handle, but Pondexter's confidence gained during the playoffs will be hard to ignore. 
Jon Brockman (Limoges CSP, France) versus Jamaal Williams (retired): Give credit to Jamaal for being brave enough to go toe-to-toe with the Huskies' legendary gladiator. A freak eye accident while stretching before his first practice in Texas sent Brockman overseas to France instead of coming off the bench for the Houston Rockets. That didn't stop the fearless Snohomish high school star from developing quite the cult following across the pond. "The Brockness Monster" fittingly describes the Huskies' humble star, who averaged a double-double with Limoges, France, this past season while drawing rave reviews for his fiery, passionate play.

Williams, who played a staring role in the post for UW during their first two Sweet Sixteens in 2005 and 2006, has since retired from basketball but will be a load to handle nonetheless.

Bottom Line: No matter who ultimately matches up with Brockman, it's going to be a mismatch. "Noses get broken and teeth get knocked out, but that doesn't make you a bad person," pretty much sums up Brockman's play in a nutshell (just ask Quincy Pondexter.) It falls on Williams' shoulders to stop him. Good luck with that, Jamaal.
Spencer Hawes (Philadelphia 76'ers) versus Matthew Bryan-Amaning (Radnicki Kragujevac, Serbia): Hawes, the former UW one-and-done lottery pick, returns home after five years showcasing his immense gifts for NBA fans. This past season, Hawes averaged 11 points and 7.2 rebounds a game for the 76'ers. Despite spending just one season as a Husky, Hawes has been a constant fixture on the sidelines for UW football games as well as a visible supporter of all things basketball and UW in his hometown.

Bryan-Amaning has spent his post-UW career playing professionally in Europe, and brings an athletic element to the younger team's front court.

Bottom Line: Despite MBA's high flying acrobatics, the older team should have a significant advantage with the uber-versatile, 7-foot-1 Hawes manning the post. The two players have spent the better part of the last half decade banging against each other during the offseason, so they know each other well.
The benches: On the surface, the older team would appear to be at a significant disadvantage, but anyone who has spent time watching Will Conroy knows that won't be the case. Conroy was most recently with the Minnesota Timberwolves before being waived but remained with the team as an advance scout. Other members include former standout sharpshooter Tre Simmons, who began his professional career in 2006 and has criss-crossed Europe and even the Middle East, most recently playing for Krasnye Krylya Samara of Russia. Reserves for the older team also include Mike Jensen and Hans Gasser.

The younger team would appear to have a sizeable edge with Justin Dentmon, Justin Holiday and Tony Wroten, Jr - all of whom played in the NBA at various points last season. Dentmon was the NBA D-League MVP two years ago and joined the Dallas Mavericks late last season. Holiday joined brother Jrue with the Philadelphia 76'ers in April and was immediately thrust into the rotation, averaging 4.7 points in 16 minutes per game. Wroten, a late first round one-and-done player, was shuffled back and forth between the Memphis Grizzlies and their NBADL affiliate Reno Bighorns. Forward Darnell Gant rounds out the younger players' roster.

Bottom line: Will Conroy's career will always be fondly remembered by fans because of his competitiveness on the floor. Expect him to approach this game the same way as he approaches every game, which is to take no prisoners. Simmons is no slouch either, and the grizzled veteran remains one of the great shooters in the program's history. Dentmon is generally under-appreciated in light of his significant contributions he made in his four years at UW. He plays with a fierce chip on his shoulder and he'll be out to prove he belongs with the other Husky legends. Same with "Fireman" Justin Holiday, whose maturation as a basketball player continues into his mid-twenties.

In a game that features some of the most dynamic athletes to ever bounce a ball at Hec Ed, Husky fans can expect a spectacle for the eyes, especially in the first half. We will be undoubtably be fed a steady diet of high flying, rim shaking dunks and ridiculously deep three point shots as the former stars feed off the fans' energy. But in the second half, cross your fingers the score remains close. If it's a tight affair with minutes to go, Husky fans will be in for a real treat.


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