These kids are alright

When talking about first-year players for the University of Washington's men's basketball team, it's not a surprise that Jon Brockman has been a difference-maker. He was a heralded five-star recruit out of Snohomish, Wash., who had played in games like the McDonald's All-American game and was considered the No. 1 prep prospect in the prestigious Long Beach Telegram's 'Best of the West' poll. Justin Dentmon came in with less fanfare, but his impact has been downright Brockman-esque.

There might be better frosh players in the Pac-10. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute from UCLA and Marcus Williams of Arizona are two that have had monster years for their respective teams. If I had to vote, I'd vote for Luc and Marcus," said Jon Brockman modestly this week, having admitted that he hasn't put that much thought into it.

Washington Head Coach Lorenzo Romar echoes Brockman's thoughts, but adds an important caveat, a disclaimer that proves just how invaluable Brockman and Dentmon have been to the success of the Huskies (22-5, 11-5) this season.

"Marcus Williams has done a great job for Arizona, (Luc Richard) Mbah a Moute at UCLA has done a great job," Romar said. "Jeff Pendergraph has done a great job for Arizona State of late.

"But I don't know if there are any other freshmen in this league that have had to come in and provide for them something that no one else could provide. There are some freshmen that are playing well, but there are others - like these two (Brockman and Justin Dentmon) - that are giving us something that we may not have had and may not have been able to get elsewhere."

Brandon Roy has been able to pick up the scoring slack and has proven to be an ample provider when the Huskies needed someone to get the rest of the team involved in games. There is no question that this is Roy's team now. But Romar persuasive proof as to why Dentmon has more than carried his share of the load, especially when it's counted the most.

"He has been able to come in and replace Will Conroy and Nate Robinson," Romar said. "Brandon Roy has helped out a lot in that area, but Justin has helped us in an area that was really lacking for us before this season started. That was a big void for us when those two guys left. And for him to do the job he's done, he's going to have more assists than any other freshman in the history of this program. That's saying something."

The numbers back him up. Right now the frosh from Carbondale, Ill. is tied with Eldridge Recasner's mark of 103 assists, set back in 1987. And when the Huskies have needed a key free throw down the stretch, there has been no other freshman player in the Pac-10 more deadly than Dentmon from the line. Right now he's putting them down at an 83 percent clip. He also leads the Pac-10 frosh in assists.

"He was able to benefit in the pre-season by playing a lot of minutes," Romar said of Dentmon's slow, but steady improvement over the course of the year. "He's been our starting guard the entire year. He's been able to get valuable 'on the job training', so to speak. He has made big plays for us to win ball games. He has done a tremendous job for us."

Romar isn't surprised at what he's seen from Justin, and offers up an anecdote to explain why. When Dentmon made it to Seattle in the summer, he immediately immersed himself in the team's rigorous off-season regimen, one that included lifting. One day the team had the day off from lifting, so Dentmon went to the IMA and started shooting. UW Assistant Coach Jim Shaw happened to be in the IMA at the same time and saw Justin working out. "Coach Shaw went over to Justin and asked him how he was doing," Romar recalled. "Justin told him that he would be lifting but that they had the day off. Coach Shaw asked Justin why he was shooting if he had the day off. 'I didn't come this far to take days off,' was what he said," added Romar.

"He's passionate about what he does. He's on a mission. He's not going to let anything stand in his way."

And speaking of not getting out of the way, Brockman has made a habit of getting into everyone's way on the basketball court, and at all levels. He went back to Snohomish this past Saturday night to watch a game and what he saw blew him away.

"It's like two totally different ball games," Brockman said. "It (college) is so much faster and played at such a higher level - above the rim. It was amazing to think that I was playing there just last year. And defense too - I think that's probably the biggest thing. The defense is at a much higher level."

And that's been the biggest part of the learning curve for Jon - making sure he understood where to be on the defensive end at all times. And he is his own harshest critic. "I'm still learning things every single game," he said. "I lost sight of Leon Powe a couple of times last game. Just little stuff like that, but I'm feeling more comfortable and don't have to think as much."

Romar is quick to encapsulate Brockman's impact on the 2005-2006 UW program. It's based on feedback he's received, as well as his own insight. "We have had the best year we've had since we've been here in the area of rebounding," he said. It's true; rebounding has gone up from 34.4 to 35.6 to 37.3 boards per game in Romar's first three years. But so far in 2005-2006, the Huskies are averaging 37.8 rebounds per game.

"Coach always is reminding us that we're 19-2 when we out-rebound teams," said senior forward Bobby Jones.

"We aren't bigger as far as players with size, but we're bigger on the wings and Jon Brockman has given us an identity," Romar continued. "He given us a physical presence. I hear all the time from people in the league saying that we're as physical as any team in this league. We haven't heard that before. We've heard that we are scrappy. But Jon Brockman has given us that type of presence."

"He's just a beast down there," added sophomore guard Ryan Appleby. "Coach preaches defense and defensive rebounding, and with that kind of bulk down low it just creates bigger problems for the other teams, especially with the pressure we're trying to bring on the perimeter."

What's even more amazing is that he's still been able to score when he's needed to, despite putting almost all of his focus on defense and rebounding. He currently leads the team in double-doubles with four, more than any other player had from the acclaimed 2004-2005 team.

"I just wanted to come in and help the team, whatever it was," he said. "I didn't necessarily know where I was going to fit in. If it was rebounding, I'd rebound. If it was scoring, I'd score. Whatever I could offer to get some more wins, that's what I was going to do."

Getting wins is the name of the game, but it just might be the three-game slide the hoop dawgs suffered in the middle of their Pac-10 draw that provided the fuel for the Huskies to embark on their current six-game winning streak. Winning the first ten games wasn't a walk in the park, but with an average RPI of 173, it wasn't a struggle night-in and night-out either. Conference play has proven to be a true test of the newbies' mettle, and how they have responded to it could very well be considered a microcosm for how the rest of the team has bounced back from adversity.

"It was big, not just for them, but for the whole team," Appleby said of the mini-slide. "We hadn't really had any adversity the whole year. It opened everybody's eyes."

"It emphasized the fact that anything is possible in this league," added Brockman. "We can't just expect to win. It's going to be a dogfight every single time you play, and we have to be on top of our mental and physical game every single time we go out on the court."

Romar's response said it all. "Adversity usually tells your character," he said. "Adversity will bring out those with poor character, those that are quitters, and it will also bring out those that are tough and resilient. We found out what our team was made of through that adversity. It forces you to evaluate what you're doing. If you're worth anything, you'll come back stronger from it, and that's what our team did."

And now they are on the cusp of putting together a championship run, something they would have been accustomed to in high school, but only dreamed about in college. "They haven't played like freshmen, they've played like they've been here for a while," said senior forward Jamaal Williams. "They've been through some big games and have done a great job. This is going to be a big test. Here are two big games (Arizona and Arizona State) where we are possibly playing for a Pac-10 championship. We are going to need them to step up and play well.

"If they take care of their jobs, we'll be fine." Top Stories