Dentmon is a new player – or at least he looks like one.
"I've only dropped 3 pounds," he told Dawgman.com recently. "But I'm a lot more cut up. It looks like I lost more, but it's because I've lost a lot of body fat and added muscle."
After slogging through a frustrating season in 2006-07, the Carbondale, Ill. native admitted he was probably a little bigger than he should have been.
"Last year I was more buff," he said. "Now I'm more toned."
As the primary ball handler, Dentmon visibly struggled at times under the slower pace of last years team. As a result he became the fall guy for many fans and media members who needed somebody to blame for a disappointing season.
Finally he stopped listening.
"I didn't listen to it much because I knew it would make me mad," he explained, with a forgiving smile. "Once I heard a little of it I pretty much tuned it out."
Dentmon is a big enough man to shoulder the blame, even if much of it was undeserved. In reality, a fact lost on most people is that Washington's perimeter defense - which bordered for much of the season on lousy - was more to blame than Dentmon's turnovers. Coach Lorenzo Romar's system isn't overly complex, but it requires a fanatical focus on perimeter defense to create fast-break opportunities, with superbly athletic wings like Joel Smith, Tim Morris and Quincy Pondexter - for example - to finish them. Last season there was little pressure on the perimeter and the wings were nowhere to be found. Smith was injured for the entire season, Morris had to sit out a year due to his transfer from Stanford, and Pondexter - only in his first year - was still trying to find his rhthym.
The coming season will be different.
"I've been training a lot on pushing the ball to get my conditioning up," Dentmon shared. "I'm pushing the ball every time I get it."
He is not alone. Adding Morris and Smith into the available lineup should take care of many of the team's deficiencies on the wing.
"Everyone is feeling it," Justin explained. "We're working out on our own, running and trying to get in shape. I think everybody is just trying too move forward."
After freshman Spencer Hawes made his decision to enter the NBA draft, Dentmon immediately knew that the team would return to the blistering tempo that characterized Husky teams of year's past. "We've never had a post player like Spencer before," he said. "So we changed up our game a little bit, but now we're back on our grind and we're going to be doing a lot more running this year."
Conditioning hasn't been the only part of Dentmon's game that he's focused on this off-season. Renewing his commitment to the team and himself has taken several forms. "I've been working hard on my jump shot," he said. "I've been coming in late at night all by myself or with a friend and just practice my jumper."
He's also ready to make believers out of Husky fans again.
"I think the way Aaron Brooks turned it up last year is a good example of what I'm going to do," he explained. "He struggled pretty bad for a couple of years ago but came back and really surprised a lot of people. It just shows that anything can happen if you're committed to working hard."
Now that the incoming freshmen (Matthew Bryan-Amaning, Darnell Gant and Justin Holiday) have arrived on campus, Dentmon is doing his best to help them adjust. "I smile because the years pass by so quickly," he said, with a wizened grin. "It seems like just yesterday I was a freshman and now these guys are doing the same freshman things that I did." And he laughed at what he knows is in store for them.
"I keep telling them that they have a whole new world in store once practice starts," he added. "They say they like being in the gym now, but they're going to be sore, icing constantly, and saying, ‘Man, give me a break.'
"I tell them rebounding and defense are the things that the coaches really want us to focus on and if you do that, the rest will take care of itself. I've been trying really hard to set an example, but you can only do so much and they are only going to take in what they want to take in."
As for the coming season, there are a couple of dates in particular that Dentmon is looking forward to. "I'm circling Washington State, cause I've never beaten them and I want to kick that," he said, without hesitation. "I'm really pretty much circling every game though because the whole team has something to prove and we're ready to move forward from last year."
But for now, the re-energized junior is content enjoying the off-season and taking advantage of going against some of the finest ball players on the planet every day in open gym, while reconnecting with old friends. "There aren't many people that ever get to play with an NBA guy so you really try to go at them and get better and play D (efense)," Dentmon said.
"Bobby (Jones) stays with me from time to time. Any time he comes into town he pays for dinner, so he's welcome to come stay with me anytime he wants."
Not only is Dentmon getting older, but he's getting wiser as well.
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