Husky Hoops - A Look Ahead

An unceremonious bouncing from the NCAA tournament at the hands of West Virginia has left the Washington Huskies with some unfinished business. The program's third visit to the Sweet 16 in six years was cause for celebration, and the city responded accordingly.

"It was a lot of fun for our guys," UW Head Coach Lorenzo Romar said Monday. "The last two months…winning always beats the alternative. I thought our group was really efficient and played with a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of energy. They came together as a team, and when you're playing like that you hope your season never ends."

But unlike the Sweet 16's of the past, this one felt incomplete – at every level. The players and coaches in their post-game remarks, the fans in their message board puzzlement: Everyone knew the Dawgs had more left in the tank, but they were probably due for an off-night after a month of brilliant basketball, and it finally caught up with them.

"There's only one team that's not going to be disappointed at the end of the season," Romar said.

If the unpredictable 2010 NCAA Tournament has demonstrated anything, it's demonstrated how important experience is to being successful on the national stage. And next season, for the first time in a half-decade, the Huskies will field a team loaded with experienced, quality veteran talent.

"Finally," Romar said. "Hopefully it'll help us earlier on the road, having a more mature group. And hopefully it doesn't take as long to settle in on what our rotation is going to be. With an older team, even with some new faces, we have a nucleus that's back. And hopefully we can become a team quicker as a result of our experience."

Make no mistake. As of this moment, Washington's 2010-11 roster will be a collection of the most talented players to ever set foot on Montlake, as long as they put the work in during the off-season to realize their full potential.

"When I played, that was a big-time of the year - the off-season," Romar said. "That's when you pass guys up. And the ones that are content, they get passed up. It's about putting that work in."

And he's not just talking about the players; Romar is also talking about the staff, as well as everyone else associated with UW Basketball. "Where can we be better?" he asked. "How can we be better next year. What can we do in the off-season to get better? Throughout the spring and summer, I go back and look at every game we played this year. It encompasses everything."

The strength of the program lies in the backcourt, which is bursting with possibilities. Isaiah Thomas and Venoy Overton make up the foundation of Romar's backcourt strategy, and their return alone is enough to give Washington the top backcourt in the Pac-10 heading into next season. Both players made significant strides the second half of Pac-10 play, and look for them to be the team's emotional leaders.

Where things get potentially more exiting is the sheer amount of quality depth supporting Overton and Thomas. Romar called Elston Turner 'Tournament Turner' for a reason, and his role expanded late in the season as the Huskies moved through the Pac-10 Tournament and the Big Dance. With Quincy Pondexter gone, Turner's role should increase as he transitions into more of a primary scoring threat for the entire season, not just post-season play.

With a year of seasoning and D-1 weight training under his belt, you can expect bigger things from Abdul Gaddy as well. Expect less tentativeness and a more reliable jumper from the gifted young point guard as he matures physically.

"I thought it was a learning experience for Abdul," Romar said. "There's no question that he'll have much better seasons individually than he had this year. But I think he learned quite a bit with the minutes that he played. He learned a lot about himself. There's no doubt that he's got to become a better shooter, and he will do that. He will work a lot in the off-season. But the innate abilities that he has, in terms of running a team, passing the basketball, understanding tempo…those aren't things he needs to work on. Those things are at a high, high level. If he can compliment that with his shooting and continues to work on his quickness, he'll continue to develop.

"The experience he'll have with USA Basketball will have a tremendous effect on him. I think he'll be a lot more confident basketball player when he comes in next year."

Former Missouri prep star Scott Suggs renewed his dedication to improving over last summer and he was given an increased role by Romar. Though inconsistent at times, Suggs' 99 3-point attempts were third-most on the team, and he proved particularly deadly from the corners. Suggs had a couple of quality moments showcasing a mid-range pull-up jumper. His challenge will be to continue to improve defensively while proving he's more than just a 3-point specialist on the other end of the court.

The wildcard on next season's roster could be the returning player fans know the least about. Redshirt freshman CJ Wilcox could prove to be next season's biggest roster revelation. Standing 6-foot-5 and possessing a jump-shot that looks like it was crafted by Ray Allen, Wilcox has a chance to immediately put his stamp on the rotation. Already regarded as the team's best pure shooter, Wilcox is also an excellent athlete capable of playing above the rim and is expected to be one of the better defenders on the team as well.

The biggest question surrounding the backcourt is how Coach Romar will utilize all of that talent, but if last season was any indication, they'll all get opportunities.

Up front, the Huskies face many of the same questions they did heading into last season. Mathew Bryan-Amaning started to realize his vast potential, and one can reasonably his role to expand further as he becomes one of the Huskies top scoring options on offense. Less certain is the front court rotation surrounding him.

Quincy Pondexter's graduation leaves a gaping hole in the front-court. He was the teams' best rebounder, athlete and go-to player. He was the Huskies best high post option, an excellent shooter, especially at mid-range and the only player Romar could consistently isolate and feed the ball to for key buckets. How Romar replaces his production will be the biggest question mark surrounding the team heading into next fall.

"At this time of year, everyone thinks they are going to be the guy that's going to score for you next year," Romar said. "And if you ask all of them now and you add it all up, it's like 300 points a game. Because everybody thinks they should be averaging 20."

Once the unlikeliest of candidates would have been Justin Holiday, but his immense improvement after a breakout performance against Seattle University demonstrated he's more than just a standout defender. Holiday averaged nine points and six rebounds over the last five post-season games, while shooting 50 percent from the floor and knocking down five of his ten attempts from beyond the 3-point arc.

"I don't know if he can be a go-to guy, but I think he could be one of those guys that averages solid double figures because he just understands how to play basketball," Romar said of Holiday. "I think he's a guy could be a guy you have to guard next year. To me, that's the test - do you have to guard him? Every team that we play, who is the guy we won't pay as much attention to so we can stop these other guys? And I think Justin can be a guy where, no…we have to guard Justin Holiday. Or he's going to burn you."

While Holiday will play a large role for the Huskies next season, the Huskies still need considerably more from their front court to become a legitimate post season contender.

Darnell Gant played solid minutes in the tournament while backing up Bryan-Amaning. The 6-8 redshirt sophomore is a versatile defender with a solid shooting touch, but he has yet to demonstrate that he's a scoring threat in the post.

Tyreese Breshers ran out of gas late in the season as he continued to work his way back into shape after a two year absence from basketball. He's bull-strong and has the moves to match, but he's still a ways from being in peak physical condition.

Former Gig Harbor standout Clarence Trent displayed an uncanny ability to make things happen on the court - sometimes good, other times not so much. His raw athletic potential is off the charts, and so far he's shown a willingness to step back and learn the game. He may still be a year away from playing a significant role given how much he has to learn, but don't be surprised to see him make a run at cracking the rotation next year.

And than there's the newcomer we know about. The Huskies have two scholarships to give for this incoming class, but have only signed one player to date. Currently the Huskies lone 2010 signee is Desmond Simmons, a state title winner out of Salesian High School in Richmond, Calif.

Simmons was described by Salesian Head Coach Bill Mellis as 'Dennis Rodman with a jump-shot'. Standing 6-foot-8 and 220 pounds, Simmons - who sports shoulder length dreadlocks - is a high energy player renowned for his effort, and potentially the heir apparent to Justin Holiday's role, though he'll arrive on campus a bit more polished offensively.

Beyond that, the Huskies 2010 recruiting appears down to a couple of key targets. Romar said Monday that they'd like to sign one more player with the open scholarship available, but probably no more than that since he's expecting all his available returners back.

It's no secret the Washington coaching staff covets Portland-area phenom Terrence Jones. The versatile 6-foot-9 forward who draws favorable comparisons to former Georgetown star Jeff Green could potentially replace Pondexter's production while playing a similar role. Reports suggest he'll ultimately pick between Washington and Kentucky.

Little is known about 7-foot junior college standout Aziz N'daiye. The Senegal native is reportedly a mobile, defensive standout currently recovering from a torn ACL. Washington and Oklahoma are thought to be his favorites.

The Huskies are also looking closely at another Portland standout swingman, Terrence Ross. The former Maryland commit returned home to Portland after two seasons back East and the Huskies are thought to be at the top of his list of potential suitors.


Dawgman.com Top Stories