Looking ahead to 2009-2010, Pt 1

For the second time in the last four years, Husky basketball fans waved goodbye to a legend. In 2006, it was senior Brandon Roy, after being bounced from the NCAA tournament by Connecticut in the Sweet Sixteen. This year it was Jon Brockman, kneeling in disappointment on the verge of tears after a season ending loss to Purdue in the second round of the Big Dance.

But unlike Roy's departure, which necessitated a complete overhaul of the program when he and seniors Bobby Jones, Jamaal Williams and Mike Jensen left, Brockman leaves the program with stocked shelves.

The post-BRoy era began with just two returning contributors in then-sophomores Brockman and Justin Dentmon, along with Florida transfer Ryan Appleby. A couple of walk-ons and a highly-touted recruiting class that included Spencer Hawes and Quincy Pondexter filled out the line-up card. In retrospect, it's not surprising the 2006-2007 Huskies endured a difficult season.

That won't be the case now that the post-Brockman era begins. The Huskies will enter next season as one of the most experienced teams in the conference, and most likely a frontrunner to repeat as regular-season champions.

Here's why: Despite the presence of Brockman, Dentmon and fellow senior Artem Wallace, Washington fielded one the youngest teams in the Pac-10 this past year. Six of the nine players in the regular rotation were underclassmen – three sophomores and three freshmen. Next year, Pondexter becomes the lone senior as the reinvigorated forward takes the helm and leads the team into its next chapter.

The Huskies' drastically improved guard play became a key ingredient to the team's success and Washington Head Coach Lorenzo Romar will look for a similar jump between now and next fall. They'll have to account for Dentmon's increased role as he earned Comeback Player of the Year honors, but Pac-10 Freshman of the Year Isaiah Thomas was a huge reason for their jump in productivity.

Despite hitting a wall mid-way through Pac-10 play, Thomas carried the Huskies during the ups and downs of the first half of the season, allowing his teammates time to find their footing. Early on, the lightning-quick showman was nearly unstoppable, imposing his will on opponents who were at a loss as to how to stop his dribble penetration. Inevitably, Thomas' productivity dipped during the latter half of conference play. By then word was out about the diminutive scoring machine, and opposing coaches devised ways to counter him. Thomas will have the opportunity to rewrite the scouting book this offseason should he choose to. First and foremost, he must improve his 3-point shooting, where he shot just 29 percent on the season (For comparison, Will Conroy's worst season behind the 3-point arc was 31 percent).

If he can become a more efficient shooter and focus on involving his teammates, Thomas has the potential to become one of the elite players in the country.

While Thomas got most of the publicity, Venoy Overton may have been the biggest revelation, refining his game en route to becoming one of the most disruptive on-ball defenders in the country. After relinquishing his spot in the starting lineup, the sophomore from Franklin High ultimately embraced his new role toward the end of the non-conference slate, becoming a game-changing defensive force. Now known as the player opposing teams love to hate, Overton's outrageous on-court antics can be downright 'venoying' at times, but there's no denying the effect he has on the game. Using Dentmon as a example, Overton has a chance to evolve from defensive stopper to star if he dedicates himself to improving his shot during the offseason.

One of the most exciting turns this season was the readiness of freshman Elston Turner, Jr. Turner performed like an upperclassmen out of the gate until a mid-season ankle injury temporarily stilted his development. Standing 6-foot-4, the California native gave coach Romar a badly needed bigger guard that could complement a backcourt full of shorter players. Armed with one of the prettiest jumpers on the west coast, Turner is expected to significantly increase his role with the team next season and will be a dark-horse candidate to earn a starting spot. Before his arrival, I cautiously compared him to former UCLA great Arron Afflalo, and that comparison is looking better every day.

Armed with several recently-coined nicknames, fan favorite Justin Holiday made his mark for Washington this season. Holiday became the Huskies' defensive stopper against the Pac-10's wealth of elite wings. His offensive skills, however, never materialized, and he was often a fish out of water at that end of the floor. Holiday is a bit of a one-trick pony. His defensive skills rarely translate into steals or blocks but he does such a good job of containing his man that he remains relevant in spite of a lack of offensive development. It will be interesting to see how coach Romar uses Holiday next season. Most of the elite wings in the Pac-10 will be gone, which diminishes the need for a player of his specific skillset.

Scott Suggs was the highest-rated incoming freshman last season, but ended up the odd man out in the guard rotation due to Elston Turner's emergence as the freshman guard off the bench. In the brief glimpses we saw of the former Missouri Mr. Basketball, the lanky wing never looked that comfortable on the floor. Suggs still has a wealth of potential. His offensive skills are top-notch and he's got an exceptional outside stroke to accompany his polished mid-range game. He could eventually provide Romar with a deadly weapon off the bench. Suggs needs to commit himself this offseason to improving on the defensive end, and has to hit the weight room with a vengeance if he wants to crack the rotation next season.

With the abundance of talent at guard, Romar will likely run out three and four guard lineups regularly, meaning the minutes are there to be had. Suggs will either rise to the challenge, find himself relegated to the bench again or transfer, which would be a shame for a player with so much promise.

Brockman's graduation means a shake-up is coming for the Husky front court, and several players will vie for the unenviable task of replacing him.

The only certainty is that Quincy Pondexter will move front and center as the Huskies' primary post scorer. Pondexter's emergence as a marquee player during conference play was one of the biggest highlights of the season, and he was finally fully embraced by Husky nation as a result. His exceptional performances in UW's two NCAA tournament games served as a reminder of why coach Romar stayed so committed to his development, despite numerous struggles.

A junior co-captain this season, Pondexter is set to become the Huskies biggest weapon. There's little doubt he's ready to assume the role of team leader; a role he's spent the last three seasons preparing for. Washington will go as far as he takes them.

After Pondexter, things get muddier and at present there are more questions than answers.

Matthew Bryan-Amaning is the odds-on favorite to assume the mantle vacated by Brockman, especially after what appeared to be breakout games earlier this year against Portland State and Texas Southern. Unfortunately, he discarded a more simplified approach to the offensive end, having regressed to the point where his touch abandoned him the latter half of the season. Bryan-Amaning oozes potential. His skills and physical tools are unmatched by any other player on the roster.

When he's playing within himself he can be devastating, especially with his interior passing ability. But all too often he became a black hole with the basketball, forcing shots despite being double-teamed, traveling or having the ball stripped when he should have made an extra pass. With more consistent playing time, he may emerge as every bit the player he is capable of being, but only time will tell.

Bryan-Amaning's nasty spill in the pre-season opened the door for Darnell Gant to start, and the lanky redshirt freshman forward made the most of it. Gant's defensive versatility was a major reason the Los Angeles native averaged over 18 minutes a game, and for that reason Gant's season can't be measured by statistics alone. Offensively, Gant is more of a wing than a back to the basket scorer, and his length and defensive instincts made him an excellent fit to start alongside Brockman. The attention paid to Brockman inside freed Gant up for open mid-range jumpers, while Brockman shouldered the post scoring load despite often drawing double teams. \

That's all likely to change next year, and Gant is going to have to expand his offensive presence down low if he wants to retain his starting position. With continued strength training and a focus on developing more reliable post moves, Gant will be among the frontrunners to start for coach Romar next season.

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