One Thing at a Time

After watching one of the most frustrating (but for me hope filled), seasons at Hec-Ed, I've decided to clear the air. This Husky team, including Bob Bender and his staff, deserve much more support and recognition for the work that they've put out trying to right this thing and put the program on track.

I find some of the criticisms directed at them to be completely unwarranted, but after losing basically 2/3 of their games for 3 long and difficult seasons, I can understand why.

Loyal Dawg fans, as well as regional sports geeks would chose to place all the blame on the head coach, Bob Bender, instead of looking closer at the overall situation.

These are my reasons why we should not change the head coach:

1. A close buddy of mine who follows college basketball religiously uttered the immortal words, "Can't recruit, can't coach".

Was he talking about Bob Bender? Nope. It was in reference to long time Iowa headman Dr. Tom Davis, who won with George Raveling's players, but failed with his own players. I draw this parallel to the Hawkeyes because one huge reason for UW's success and failure in the last 9 years has been in the realm of recruiting. The great class of Todd, Mark Sanford, etc, followed by Femerling, Watts, Luton, was good enough to get the team into the (much discussed) top 5 teams in the conference. Had they had Jason Terry (instead of Jan Wooten, Chris Thompson, or freshman Dan Dickau, who was huge in their sweet sixteen run), Mark Sanford, Hartman, Bergerson, and Lopez, I feel that they would have been one of the top three teams in the conference. Arizona and UCLA were already there, but Stanford really wasn't, nor was Cal, USC, or certainly not Oregon.

Not keeping the players here and losing important pieces set this program back much more than Bob Bender's teachings. Players win ball games. Players improve on things they need to work on. Coaches teach.

2. Many say that Bender has never put any one except Todd into the NBA.

For the most part, college coaches don't put players into the NBA. It's not that simple. If it were, you wouldn't see so many high school kids going straight into the NBA draft. You also wouldn't see guys like Scotty Pippen (Arkansas State) and the hordes of others from small colleges who make it to the league. Those schools pay their coaches next to nothing.

They make it because they have the physical tools. Todd MacCulloch is the only Husky who had the physical tools, did the hard work, and was lucky enough to make the NBA. Many things happen along the way.

3. If Bob, and his staff's hard work and intuition in recruiting righted the wrecked ship that was inherited from Lynn Nance, then it was also brought back to earth by it as well.

My point here is that Bob Bender has addressed this problem far beyond my hopes by the talent he has brought in the last three years with only one exception (Demarcus Williams, who could have probably been used this year come to think of it). This team is poised for a major breakthrough next year, if the pieces stay in place. That includes the coaching staff. They have proven to me that when they had adequate talent they could put a real good product on the floor.

The flip side of this is to overachieve. I believe the quick start the Huskies jumped out to was an example of this. The coaching staff got this young squad to play above their talent level and believe in themselves, only to come crashing back to earth once the Pac-10 began.

The team was definitely fighting an uphill battle this and the last couple years. Recruiting is now back strong, so why not give the staff credit that they may have figured it out?

4. Bender has for the most part shown himself to overcome the bad stigma of recruiting in the Seattle/Tacoma area.

Comments by high school coaches on and off the record have convinced me of that. This is the single most overwhelming reason to applaud Bob Bender. He's come a long way in that department and it will soon pay dividends. There is reason for optimism.

Believe it or not, Washington does have a strong shot at the Stewart twins from Rainier Beach, and other strong local talent. There are more great point guards next year in Ryan Appleby (Stanwood) and Aaron Brooks (Franklin). It is way too early to tell, but it's not unfathomable that they could be on par with the likes of Dickau, Ridnour and Terry.

And how 'bout Brandon Roy? He was the best senior player in the state this year and if he qualifies, he will contribute very early and often at Washington.

What a lot of the critics of the team don't seem to be aware of was that for years there was no consistent talent out of the Puget Sound area at any position, but especially guards and wings. That is no longer true and Bob Bender is right in the hunt for the local talent. The players and their coaches like him.

Washington still needs to bring in another big guy, probably from out of state (perhaps Julius Lamptey). A big man covers up for a lot, and makes "good" a whole lot better. Marlon Shelton, Anthony Washington (will come next year) and Dan Devoe would be a pretty good set of puzzle pieces, let alone Lamptey.

5. Overlooking the need at center, depth is solid everywhere else.

Washington has four talented point guards (Allen, Conroy, Frederick and Nate Robinson), and three shooting guards with strong resumes. Erroll Knight showed much improvement over the course of the year, and he put the fear of God into Oregon at the Pac-10 tournament. Though he and the team sorely fell short, he seems poised for a quantum leap this year. CJ Massingale, who like Curtis Allen suffered from what I see as the sophomore jinx, also established himself by the end of the year. He brings a different set of tools to the table than Knight. Josh Bernard needs to find his jumper again. He probably will do that. Curtis could also play two, though I think his best work would be spent refining his "point guard" chops. If he does that, look out.

At wing there's all-Pac-10 performer Doug Wrenn. I defy anyone to find me a more amazing wing in the last 30 years than Doug. Detlef was the only guy I can think of, and he is way ahead of Doug all around, but not in some areas. If Wrenn improves his perimeter shooting and free throws (ouch), there's reason to believe that he could be the basketball equivalent of Cory Dillon in the pros – a guy with bad pub who proved them all wrong. He made a believer out of me this past year, and when the Stewart twins refer to him as their "big brother", it makes me wonder if this guy is the catalyst to turn this program to unprecedented heights.

Mike Jensen, Jeffrey Day and Anthony Washington are all capable "fours." Jensen is a legit Pac-10 power forward prospect, as I've said before, and that is something you have to go pretty far back to find at Washington, not since Mark Pope. Mark Sanford was more of a big wing like Wrenn (but as Doug so eloquently stated, "not as good").

Jensen has a lot to prove this year. If you're any kind of Dawg, you've got to be pulling for the guy. He could be something special. I believe he would have been a significant help last year. Day should have been a 3-4 reserve last year, not the only 5 available after Dixon. I believe that the experience did him well, though. I'm amazed by his physical skills. I see him clearly as a 4 but he and Jensen remind me, in my wildest dreams, of Det and Paul Fortier from the early to mid 1980's. We'll see in a couple years.

6. The Pac-10 is no place to be when you're re-building.

Oregon won the league this year and they've never been a Pac-10 power, at least since the Dick Harter years. They could do well for a couple years, but I believe Washington can surpass them with this group against theirs next year. Arizona (who we should have beat once), UCLA (who we could have beat once with one more big guy, and stayed with twice), USC (major attrition), and Cal and Oregon (who we beat once, and stayed with twice) all are within reach. It's true that Washington struggled with some of the sorriest teams in the conference last year, but when you really look at it, there is pretty good talent and parity from top to bottom in the conference. As of this evening there are three teams in the sweet sixteen.

Based on these clear facts, judging the last three years conference records, it's fair to say that statistically this is one of the worst runs of all-time at UW, but the numbers don't tell the big-picture story. The quality of this team is in no way the program's low moment.

That's my reasoning. I truly believe that a new coach, high profile, highly rated, pro-experience, whatever is not the answer. Get behind Bender, his staff and this team. If they get a Julius Lamptey, or another real center, and/or the Stewart twins, it will certainly lead to more in-state and regional recruiting success. If that were to happen, there is no reason to think that Washington could not become a fixture at the top of the tournament and the conference with (one more time) Bob Bender as coach.

I also applaud the announcement of KJR, as the flagship station of Husky football and basketball. I do believe that they need some personality that represents Husky hoops in their lineup. Someone on par with current personalities Jeff Nelson, John Clayton, Kevin Calabro, Hugh Millen, and Dick Baird.

We need something more than just more debate about Bender leaving or staying on KJR. How about some discussion about the players, the future, the past, or the rich tradition of high school and college basketball in the region? To dismiss it as something that nobody cares about is something that needs to change now.

It could be worse. We could have Dan Fouts commenting on Husky Football, like he did so well for ABC. But I could live with worse, if we just keep this team together, and moving forward.
Author Jim Basnight has followed Husky basketball for three decades. Top Stories