Beach's Bits: A Look Ahead, Part 1

The Washington Huskies are a team in transition. They face the loss of the second-best scorer in the program's history, as well as an unfinished roster with some big holes to fill. I'm not making excuses: Husky Basketball was really tough to watch this season. And not just for fans, but for media members as well.

I've had the pleasure of covering Lorenzo Romar's Husky program for nearly a decade now and during that time, the team's performance has ebbed and flowed, as sports teams inevitably do. The highs and lows read like a Disney script; equal parts laughter and tears. That's how it's been at Washington under Romar, at least until recently when the program took a more drastic turn, treading the waters of mediocrity for the better part of three seasons. And whether or not the team improved this season in a vastly improved Pac-12 versus last year (it did) the results in the standings were pretty much the same.

Fans keeping track at home can throw away the statistics this season. The only thing that was consistent about this particular group of players was their inconsistency. Digging into box scores and plus/minus figures with these guys doesn't yield any epiphanies. When C.J. Wilcox was connecting from outside - which happened sometimes - the Huskies stood a good chance to win. But sometimes they didn't. When Nigel Williams-Goss or Andrew Andrews were controlling the game, they usually won. Except when they lost.

That was the way of it this season.

Wilcox, the team's leading scorer and the last man standing of the most forgettable stretch of the Lorenzo Romar era, is graduating. He follows Abdul Gaddy and Scott Suggs to the professional ranks, where he will almost certainly find a home in the NBA thanks to his brilliant jump shot. Those former UW teammates, along with guys like Darnell Gant and Justin Holiday, are truly some of the nicest basketball players you will ever meet - friendly, mostly soft-spoken and reserved. And while being good guys may be a wonderful quality for life in general, it's proven not be the best personality type to build a basketball program around - as UW Basketball fans have learned. Nice doesn't win you conference titles and trips to the NCAA Tournament.

The Huskies need to stop playing nice. They need a leader to step and be the opposite of nice.

Yes, the Huskies need a leader - a fearless competitor. An Isaiah Thomas, a Nate Robinson, a Will Conroy, a Jon Brockman. They need an offensive standout - a Brandon Roy or Quincy Pondexter. They've lacked those ingredients recently, and it's no surprise they've faltered during that time. It remains to be seen if that type of player exists on their current roster. So far the answer is inconclusive, though there's reason for optimism.

Despite posting a nearly identical 17-15 (9-9 Pac-12) record versus 18-16 (9-9) last season, the Huskies played a different brand of basketball. After a total roster reboot which saw four new players join the eight-man rotation, youth was served this season. The result was that Washington paid a heavy price for their lack of experience. Injuries also took a heavy toll on them. Ultimately, the results were the same.

The good news is that youth matures, and the youngsters' trial by fire should pay dividends next season. Williams-Goss narrowly lost Pac-12 Freshman of the Year honors to Arizona's Aaron Gordon, and he's the prime candidate to assume the leadership void. Despite some admittedly freshman moments, Nigel's debut season was an unqualified success on several levels. Yes, he turned he turned the ball over too much, but his offensive contributions outpaced all but the most optimistic expectations.

Meanwhile, his backcourt running mate Andrew Andrews took a big step forward as well, nearly doubling his scoring average while improving in almost every statistical category. After a benching in the second half of a close win over Stanford, he saved the best for last, averaging nearly 17 points a game the last six games of the season.

In Williams-Goss and Andrews, the Huskies' top returning scorers reside in the back court, which is par for the course at UW. Mix in Darin Johnson - whose offensive capabilities where on full display in their season-ending loss to Utah - and you've got a potentially potent starting backcourt next season. Throw in Mike Anderson, who hit a wall during conference play, plus 6-6 wings Quevyn Winters and freshmen Donaven Dorsey, and the Huskies should feel pretty confident about their guard rotation.

It goes without saying that the chemistry between Williams-Goss and Andrews will be absolutely critical if the Huskies are to have any success in 2014-15. Both are vocal leaders, something the program has lacked of late. The tandem will almost certainly be Washington's top scoring option after averaging nearly 26 points per game between them this past season.

While guards may rule the Pac-12, conference titles and NCAA Tournament games are won in the front court. In that regard, the Huskies are a giant question mark going forward. On the one hand, if the cards fall the right way the Huskies could potentially feature one of the most athletic, physically imposing front courts in the conference. On the other hand they could really, really stink.

The returning starters, Shawn Kemp, Jr. and Desmond Simmons, have yet to demonstrate that they are anything more than role players at the Pac-12 level. Kemp, when he manages to avoid foul trouble (which is rare) is an athletic finisher but a dreadfully bad rebounder and defender for a player with his athletic gifts. While his struggles with Graves Disease were surely to blame the first few months of the season, there's simply no excuse for Kemp's ineffectiveness on the glass.

Simmons is the opposite. Despite being undersized and lacking great athleticism, the senior-to-be forward makes up for his physical deficiencies with hard work and hustle. But he's not the low post scorer the Huskies badly need.

Those players do exist on the Washington roster, and that is why there's hope that the Huskies' flawed front court can be addressed before the start of next season.

When Jernard Jarreau was felled by an ACL tear just minutes into the Huskies' season opener against Seattle U, the team's 2014 prospects effectively went up in smoke along with him. His play during fall camp had cemented his spot in the starting lineup and the growing buzz indicated that the stars were aligning for a monster break-out season for the sophomore from New Orleans.

Sadly, Washington's margin for error was too slim to absorb a hit like that to their front court, and Jarreau's injury was more than their thin roster could take. His combination of skill, athleticism and length harken back to an era when Detlef Schrempf was lighting up Pac-10 scoreboards for the Huskies. Obviously comparing Jarreau to the 14-year NBA vet and three-time All-Star is a bit of a stretch, but the physical similarities are there. He'll have nearly a full year of recovery to get healthy before practice begins in the fall.

As for the other big front court question mark, the answer is less certain. Romar has taken a gamble on a gifted, but troubled 7-footer in Fresno State transfer Robert Upshaw, who was booted off his former team for undisclosed disciplinary reasons. The former top-50 prospect oozes potential - think Aziz N'diaye with offensive skill - but needs to mature and prioritize his off-court responsibilities before he ever sees a minute of playing time wearing the purple and gold. Optimistically, he could be a game changing force for UW, but based on local scuttlebutt the odds are split on his chances of ever finding the court, let alone playing a game on it.

If he's still on the roster in this fall though, the Huskies' front court could be special.


Dawgman.com Top Stories