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Sports >  UW basketball

Commentary: What it means for UW men’s basketball that Seattle’s three NBA first-rounders played elsewhere

June 25, 2022 Updated Sat., June 25, 2022 at 6:32 p.m.

Flanked by Magic president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman (left) and coach Jamahl Mosley, draft picks Paolo Banchero and Caleb Houstan were introduced locally during a media conference at Amway Center on Friday,  (Stephen M. Dowell/Tribune News Service)
Flanked by Magic president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman (left) and coach Jamahl Mosley, draft picks Paolo Banchero and Caleb Houstan were introduced locally during a media conference at Amway Center on Friday, (Stephen M. Dowell/Tribune News Service)
By Matt Calkins Seattle Times

SEATTLE – Twitter isn’t real life. I take any chance I can to emphasize that. It represents a fraction of the population, typically rewards extreme opinions and distorts reality to the point that folks erroneously think a vocal minority is speaking for the vast majority.

But every now and then, the site offers a telling glimpse into people’s minds that we wouldn’t otherwise uncover. I think it happened earlier in the week.

After Thursday night’s NBA draft, when Seattleites Paolo Banchero, Tari Eason, and MarJon Beauchamp were each selected in the first round, local sports-radio host Dave “Softy” Mahler tweeted his frustration about the Huskies’ inability to land any of them.

“Great that all these dudes from Seattle are getting drafted,” Mahler said. “But blows that UW can’t take advantage of the talent here.”

There is little doubt those 21 words encapsulated what thousands of Washington basketball fans were thinking at the time. Great as it was to see NBA Commissioner Adam Silver call the names of the Emerald City’s finest young hoopers, there had to be disappointment about them never wearing purple and gold.

Enter Washington assistant coaches Will Conroy and Quincy Pondexter, two of the men tasked with recruiting local talent into UW’s program. Each felt inclined to respond to Softy.

“When the most popular radio voice tweets things like this it doesn’t help kids want to stay…but it will get you liked tho,” Conroy tweeted.

“Haha knew the hate would come again…” Pondexter followed on the social-media platform. “It’s either you with us or against us. Pick a side buddy.”

This is my experience: If somebody says something ridiculous, people ignore it knowing it doesn’t reflect reality. But if somebody says trenchantly truthful – something that strikes an emotional chord – people are quick to go on the defensive.

The fact is, Washington men’s hoops hasn’t made the postseason in three years, finished 11th and 12th in the Pac-12 in two of those seasons and has watched local NBA-caliber talent sign elsewhere. So is this a serious problem? Have the Huskies lost their hometown recruiting touch?

Their defenders would point to last year’s roster and ask: What are you talking about? Terrell Brown Jr., Daejon Davis, Emmitt Matthews Jr., and P.J. Fuller were all locals who transferred to UW last season to help the Huskies to a 17-15 record. Brown led the conference in scoring with 21.7 points per game. But it’s doubtful that any of those four will make a dent in the NBA. Could the Huskies have not been an NCAA Tournament team with at least one of Thursday’s draftees?

Take Banchero, the O’Dea High grad who went No. 1 overall. Logic says that there is no way Washington could have competed recruiting against Duke, where Paolo ended up going. Except … they did sign former No. 1 overall pick Markelle Fultz six years ago. They had the nation’s No. 1 recruit in Michael Porter Jr. for the next season before Lorenzo Romar got fired. In 2019, they landed the country’s No. 3 recruit in Isaiah Stewart and the No. 8 recruit in Jaden McDaniels, a Federal Way High product.

It’s kind of wild how consistently UW was able to lure five-star recruits and future first-round draft picks given their lackluster NCAA tourney résumé over the past decade, but those kids kept coming to Montlake. Not so much now.

Eason, who was selected 17th Thursday, would have been a game-changer had he been inserted into the Huskies’ lineup last season. The 6-foot-8 power forward’s 16.9 points and 6.6 rebounds could have catapulted Washington toward the top of the Pac-12. But the Garfield grad posted those numbers for LSU, which beat out the Huskies for his services after he transferred from Cincinnati. Eason was a potential golden goose, but UW laid a recruiting egg.

As for Beauchamp, who went 24th – it’s hard to know that any four-year school could have landed him. The former Rainier Beach star played at Yakima Valley College after graduating high school, but forewent a Division I career due to eligibility concerns and eventually joined the G League.

Can’t fault the Huskies there. But what about Shane Nowell, brother of former Husky standout Jaylen Nowell? He signed with Arizona after graduating from Eastside Catholic. Or Nolan Hickman, the Sammamish-born point guard who also played at Eastside Catholic before moving to Utah for his senior season? He’s at Gonzaga.

It’s more than fair to wonder whether the Huskies have an issue reeling in homegrown hoopers, though this might not have much to do with the coaching staff’s pitches. This likely has much more to do with the Huskies’ record. Going 5-13 in conference one season and 4-16 the next serves as a rather potent repellant.

Still, Seattle is and has long been one of the nation’s great recruiting hubs. But it seems that the Huskies keep making great recruiting flubs.

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