SEATTLE – Less than a month before the start of the men’s college basketball season, there’s still much uncertainty surrounding the Washington Huskies.
For starters, senior guard Nahziah Carter remains suspended from team activities, and UW is preparing as if its leading returning scorer will not be available this season.
“You’re talking about a guy who is an all-league-caliber player, fourth-year player and started to really thrive last year,” coach Mike Hopkins said during a teleconference call Monday. “So hopefully, he can come back, and if not it will be a huge loss for us.”
Carter, who started 31 of 32 games while averaging 12.2 points and 4.9 rebounds, was poised to take on more responsibilities due to freshman standouts Isaiah Stewart and Jaden McDaniels bolting for the NBA draft.
Hopkins declined to specify whether Carter’s suspension originated from the school, Pac-12 or NCAA.
On Oct. 15, Washington announced Carter had violated the Intercollegiate Athletics student code of conduct and when asked for an update, Hopkins said: “We’re sticking to the statement and going through the process.”
In addition to Carter’s availability, there are plenty of questions surrounding Washington’s nonconference schedule, which is still being finalized.
The Huskies were scheduled to play host to Auburn, face Oklahoma in Las Vegas and travel to Gonzaga, but all three marquee games will not be played this season because of the coronavirus pandemic, and UW is scrambling to find opponents.
Hopkins said Washington declined opportunities to play nonconference games on the East Coast and has adopted a regional approach to scheduling. The Huskies will play just once out of the state and will be the host for a multiteam event.
The Pac-12 announced it’s adding two games to the conference schedule and will play 20 this season.
Hopkins didn’t have a definitive update on transfers Erik Stevenson and Cole Bajema, who are seeking NCAA waivers that would make them immediately eligible this season, but the UW coach is relatively optimistic.
“I think it’s going to be great news for both of them,” Hopkins said.
The additions of Stevenson, Bajema, junior-college transfer Nate Pryor and USC transfer J’Raan Brooks, who sat out last season, are expected to elevate a team that woefully underperformed last season.
Washington, which finished first in the Pac-12 in 2018-19, was tabbed as an NCAA Tournament Final Four candidate and started 10-2 before the season spiraled out of control. The Huskies lost 13 of their next 15 games before finishing 15-17 and last in the conference at 5-13.
“Last year we had so many new guys at new positions, and we had these young superstars,” Hopkins said.
“This year we got some proven players with a lot of mileage under their belt, and that experience, especially at the guard position, will hopefully pay dividends.”
Hopkins prioritized Washington’s need to improve its ball-handling and 3-point accuracy.
The Huskies ranked last in the Pac-12 in turnovers (15.1 per game) and eighth in 3-point percentage (32.5).
Seemingly, the return of Quade Green helps both categories.
The junior point guard led UW with a 44.7 3-point percentage and 79 assists despite playing just 15 games and missing the second half of the season after becoming academically ineligible.
Hopkins also is tinkering with the offense and opting for a fast-paced and perimeter-oriented attack rather than the methodical, half-court sets that featured Stewart and Noah Dickerson.
“We got a pretty good offense,” Green said. “Five guards out. Dribble drives. Getting open shots. Create in transition and on fast breaks.”
Hopkins wants Green pushing the tempo and darting to the basket for layups or dishing outside to shooters.
If Carter is suspended, however, it remains to be seen who develops into a consistent scorer from an unproven cast that’s devoid of recognizable star talent.
“The identity of this team is being relentless,” junior guard Jamal Bey said. “We’re going to go at everybody. We have that chip on our shoulder this year that I feel like we didn’t have as much last year.”
Bey insinuated the Huskies had more talent last season, but said this season they’re a closer-knit group that’s gritty and mentally tough.
While drawing a comparison, he noted: “Being more as a team out there and not relying so much on our talent that we had last year. I think that’s what hurt.”
“We relied a lot on our talent and not just (playing) as hard we could and (running) what we need to run to win games.”
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