Beach's Bits - AIA Basketball Classic

SEATTLE - The Huskies are 3-0 after an impressive weekend of basketball. They won the Athletes in Action Basketball Classic, defeating Wright State, Belmont and Portland State. Even though it's early, several characteristics of this years' team have already become crystal clear.

This team has limitless potential.

Three games into the season, it's become readily apparent that this squad is worthy of all the preseason buzz. That isn't to say that they are close to a finished product yet, and they may stumble at some point down the road, but this team is good. How good? Hard to say, but as long as their effort level doesn't diminish, the early indications are that this could be a very special season. Typically early on, players are still fumbling the ball off their shoe-tops and throwing the ball into the stands. Even the best teams typically take a couple of weeks to ramp up and click, but it seemingly took Washington just one game. Why? Again, hard to say, but their defensive effort has been phenomenal so far and has obviously played a huge part in their early success. Last year's Pac-10 championship squad didn't start to gel until their win at home versus Oklahoma State, and that was seven games in. Improved guard play probably has much to do with it as well.

This is the best defensive Husky team since 2006.

It's early of course, but the sheer ferocity that the Huskies have approached their defensive responsibilities has been impressive to say the least. They're still learning, they'll make mistakes, but UW Head Coach Lorenzo Romar has more defenders than he knows what to do with. Better still, with playing time being at an absolute premium, defensive intensity has spread throughout the team with more fury than the flu did the first week of practice. So far they are averaging 8.5 steals a game. To put that into context they averaged 8.2 steals a game in 2005, Nate Robinson's senior season. A year later, Brandon Roy's squad averaged 8.3 a game. If they can sustain that level of defensive pressure, it's hard to see their level of overall play dropping off much.

They do a great job of taking care of the ball.

Three games into the 2009-2010 season, Washington is turning over the ball a downright miserly 11 times a game. As a point of reference, it took the Huskies 10 games for them to turn the ball over fewer than 13 times last season when they surrendered just eight against Eastern Washington. What's more impressive about the way they are taking care of the ball is that coach Romar continues to use his bench liberally, which normally creates a steady diet of turnovers. Again, if you look back at the Sweet Sixteen Husky teams, they averaged 14.3 and 14.7 turnovers per game respectively, and were considerably worse at the start of their respective seasons.

Starting Venoy Overton was the right decision.

While fans initially questioned coach Romar's decision to start junior Venoy Overton over the McDonald's All American Abdul Gaddy, it's become fairly obvious that it was the right move. Overton sets the tone for the defense. In the first two games, he proved to be a devastatingly disruptive force during the opening minutes, creating several early turnovers. While limited in the half-court offense, Overton's ability to establish the tempo early has been invaluable, and his offense is showing signs of improvement. Gaddy will make his mark though, especially when teams move to the zone against Washington.

Is Quincy Pondexter the best player in the Pac-10? Is it even close?

Pondexter's averaging 22 points and 11.5 rebounds over the first three games. Mind you, we've yet to see Pondexter consistently employ his rebuilt jumper because there really hasn't been a need, but trust me when I say it's improved as well. His unique skills also allow Romar to utilize a smaller lineup without losing effectiveness. Could a guard lead the Pac-10 in rebounding this season? Scoring, rebounding, defense, leadership, free throw shooting … he's got the whole package.

The team goes a legitimate eleven players deep.

Now the question becomes, what are they going to do with all of that talent? Judging by the top-to-bottom effort displayed on the court this weekend, coach Romar has some tough decisions ahead of him. How does a coach tell a player who's giving everything he's got - while demonstrating he belongs on the floor - that his best isn't quite good enough? More than likely, Romar will continue to run with a deep bench, and take advantage of specific match-up situations. In the game against Belmont, during a momentary sag in energy, Romar substituted Clarence Trent into the game, and the team surged ahead on an 11-0 run. Scott Suggs and Elston Turner are excellent shooters, make few mistakes and play competent defense. Justin Holiday is a lock-down defender with a burgeoning offensive game. Trent's energy level is off the charts. They all bring something unique, and Romar will find ways to use them.

Is there anything Isaiah Thomas can't do?

All the 5-foot-9 sophomore has done is absolutely everything that's been asked of him. They said he couldn't play defense. They were wrong. They say he's just a volume shooter who can't hit the long ball, but he's shooting an efficient 55 percent from the floor and 9-of-18 from three. As a playmaker, he's been unselfish and is constantly looking for his teammates. Detractors have questioned whether he's a leader, yet watch him direct his teammates from the sidelines, and there's no denying his heart. It's about time people stop telling him what he can't do, and instead start wondering what he'll do next.

The colors are the same, but the complexion of this years' team is much different than last year.

Jon Brockman is a Husky legend, and his contributions to the program will be forever remembered and honored. But this is a new team, and this group is built totally different than the last team. The athletes are bigger and longer, better defensively and the guard play has been taken to a new level. The posts are more mobile and more versatile on defense. Forget what you thought you knew about Husky basketball the last three years. Four years ago, it started to become evident what direction the program was headed in the players Romar was recruiting. This season appears to be the culmination of those efforts.

There are still questions.

The front court concerns are still there, but those concerns have been lessened a bit after Pondexter and Amaning's play over the weekend. They still don't shoot the ball consistently well from outside, and despite a distinct rebounding advantage this weekend they are far from a finished product in that regard. If we can stand back and declare that those challenges have been dealt with effectively a month from now, the Huskies are going to be a factor in the NCAA tournament.

And the best news for Husky fans…

Abdul Gaddy is just getting warmed up.


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