'Will Power' overtakes Dawgs

When asked if he would have a hard time recognizing himself from a year ago, Washington PG Will Conroy stopped to ponder the question for a moment. A lot had changed for the man they call 'Dubb' and 'Will Power' in the past 365 days.

But ironically enough, his statistics haven't really shown much of a dropoff. Last year as a shooting guard the junior from Seattle averaged 12.7 points per game. This year? 12.1 ppg. Up are the assists, from 108 in 27 games to 138 in 30 games this season.

Conroy would insist changes aren't indicitive of what's shown on stat sheets, except for one crucial statistic - wins.

Last year was really like my freshman year because of the minutes I played the year before," Conroy told Dawgman.com. "Coach (Lorenzo) Romar came in and gave me a chance to reboot and settle in as a point guard. He helped me and Coach Dollar helped me. This year I haven't scored as much, or haven't looked to have scored as much. I get my share of shots, like all the guards do on offense, but somebody has to sacrifice for the team. When we have players that can put the ball in the basket, players that are emerging like Mike Jensen and Bobby Jones, who is sticking his shot a little more this year. And you've got (Tre) Simmons coming off the bench, who is ready to light it up at any time.

"Everybody can't get shots all the time. And with my game, coach said I do the best job of being able to get guys where they need to be and running the team. And whatever keeps me on the court, I'm willing to do it."

Romar considers Conroy one of those players that doesn't play with a 'cool jacket' on, meaning he's more concerned with the bottom line than with how he looks getting there. Will embraces his blue-collar ethic and drive to achieve team goals.

"There's no more talking about it," he said when asked about what it's like to finally be selected to dance in the NCAA men's basketball tournament. "We've been talking about it all year. Now I can finally say that it's not just talk, it's reality. You really don't understand how big the NCAA tournament is until your name is called. While we were sitting there, waiting for our name to be called - I don't know what it's like to be drafted in the NBA because I haven't done that yet - we were just ecstatic."

And Will has no problem embracing an underdog role, especially with a potential second-round matchup with Kentucky, the tournament's overall number-one seed.

"When you get to the NCAA tournament, it's not about the best teams," Conroy said. "Every year you see Cinderellas beat the number-one teams. It's all about who is playing the best that day, but it's not bad to get a little luck in the tournament too."

Even though the hoop dawgs have not been to 'The Big Dance' since 1999, it almost feels like they've been through a ton of post-season play already.

"The games we've been playing and the opponents we've been playing - we took a long trip to NC State at the end of the season - it feels like we've been playing tournament basketball for a long time. It's been a ride.

"For the past two months we've been hearing, 'This game is the biggest game of your career', so we've been kind of playing with a chip on our shoulder for a long time. So we're glad that we can just release all of that and just go out and play."

Will also talked about the drawbacks of playing at such a high level, mentally and physically, for the past month and a half. "It gives you an advantage, but it also makes you tired,' he said. "That was evident during the Stanford game. With so much riding on every game you play it takes a lot out of your body. Going into the (Pac-10) tournament, they said that if we didn't beat UCLA we might be NIT-ing it. So when we got UCLA off our backs, that was an emotional win. And then with Arizona, they said that nobody beats the same team three times, especially Arizona. We win that game.

"And then Stanford, we play hard and we all know how good Stanford is. They capitalize on every mistake you make. We played that game all the way 'til the end. So we were tired after that, but we've got so many people that bring energy, it's like a magnet. You see another guy that has a lot of energy and it sometimes flows into you. And then you find you're doing things you didn't think you were capable of doing.

"You see Bobby (Jones) hop over five benches, you want to make sure you hop over at least two to try and match him."

Conroy knows that once their plane touches down in Columbus, Ohio for their first-round game against Alabama-Birmingham, energy will not be an issue. "I think we've been getting ample time to get our legs and get accustomed to what we're doing when we're on the road," he said. "There was one trip where that we should have probably gone out earlier, and that was Wyoming. Coach couldn't say enough about the oxygen up there. It was cuttin' our lungs up. That's about the only trip where we probably didn't get enough time.

"Once we get that practice in Thursday we'll be just fine."

And what does Will expect from the Blazers? "UAB is similar to us," Conroy said. "We got a chance to check them out before a few of their games. They've been on TV lately. They pressure the ball for 40 minutes. They have a player by the name of (Mo) Finley who is pretty good. They are athletic. It will be a good test for us. It will be up-pace."

Will it be a case of hubris winning out over opening-night jitters on a national stage? Conroy thinks so. "We're so young, there's a lot of gym rats on this team," he said. "You go to gyms all across the country and you don't know who or what you're going to play, so you've just got to be prepared to bring your game. With us, we've just got to be prepared to play our game the way we've been playing lately on top of that."

And of course, the biggest question is - which team has the best nicknames? UAB has Carldell "Squeaky" Johnson. Who do the Dawgs have?

"Squeaky is a good name," Conroy said. "But would you rather have 'Squeaky' or 'Nate the Great'? We have some serious nicknames on our team. (Mike) Jensen, we call him the 'Great White Hope'. We love Mike. We call Tre 'Murder'. 'Tre Murder'. Because he kills everyone on the court. It doesn't matter who is out there. He'll go out there and shoot the same shots. He may end up shooting 'em off the wrong foot. But if he gets it going, he'll put four or five down and then after the game he'll just say, 'I went out there and killed 'em tonight'. That's Tre. We love Tre."

All joking aside, Conroy knows that once the tip comes it's going to be all business, and he's giving his opponent all the respect they deserve. "Going around campus all day, everybody is like, 'Go hose UAB!' and you try to tell them something about them, to make sure they realize UAB is a good opponent," said Will.

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