SEATTLE – It’s an odd coincidence that Lorenzo Romar, one year removed from losing his team’s three leading scorers, actually has something on this year’s squad that he’s never seen before - as a coach or a player.
“This team is unique in that there’s zero resistance to what we’re trying to do,” the Washington Huskies basketball coach said. “We usually have one, two, three guys that are just going to do it their way until you make it clear that they’re not going to do it their way and still play. So far, this group is trying to do it the team way.”
They don’t have any other choice. Because it’s what the Huskies don’t have that could be their biggest obstacle.
Isaiah Thomas, Matthew Bryan-Amaning and Justin Holiday, all starters last season and key cogs during Washington’s consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances the past three years, are gone. In their place the Huskies welcome seven newcomers to a team as young as any Romar has had in his 10 years as the Huskies coach.
The Huskies roster lists just two scholarship seniors – forward Darnell Gant and guard Scott Suggs – though they do return six players who played significant minutes last season.
They’ll miss Thomas’ big-play capability, Bryan-Amaning’s interior presence and Holiday’s defense. Still, the guard-heavy Huskies have enough firepower to inspire notions of another NCAA trip.
Junior point guard Abdul Gaddy is fully recovered from an ACL injury that ended his sophomore season early. Sophomore
C.J. Wilcox was one of the more dangerous 3-point shooters in the conference last season. Suggs, expected to return from a foot injury by mid-December, led the team in 3-point shooting last season (45 percent).
Then there’s sophomore Terrence Ross, whom Romar said last year might be the most talented player he’s ever recruited to Washington. Ross lent credence to that thought when he averaged 15.3 points per game in the Pac-10 tournament.
First, though, the Huskies need the 6-foot-6 guard to play some defense, an area in which Ross was so deficient last season that it affected his playing time – he lists “not getting blown by” as a goal.
“If he scores the way he’s capable of, people will say he’s a pretty good offensive player,” Romar said. “But if he can turn it up on the defensive end and rebound and do those little things, people will see him as a great player.”
Freshman Tony Wroten, a much- heralded point guard from Garfield High School in Seattle, is also seen as a youngster whose impact can be both sizeable and immediate.
The frontcourt is a bigger concern, though what it lacks in experience it makes up for in size. Seven-foot junior Aziz N’Diaye returns, and figures to start alongside Gant. Behind them are a bunch of kids – freshmen Martin Breunig (6-9), Jernard Jarreau (6-10) and Shawn Kemp Jr. (6-9) will compete for time, and redshirt freshman Desmond Simmons (6-7) will earn minutes as a hustle specialist.
Romar has consistently downplayed the Huskies’ lack of a true inside scoring threat – they’ll miss Bryan-Amaning in that regard, though bigger guards like Ross and Wilcox can post-up smaller defenders – and could point out that from a size perspective, across the roster, this is likely the biggest team he’s had at Washington.
And, so far at least, the most cohesive. Without a proven star, they’ll have to be.
“Everyone’s willing to lay out everything on the line in terms of what the coaches are asking us to do,” Gant said. “When you’ve got a team full of guys willing to do that, I feel like things can’t really go wrong.”
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