College Preseason Top 25: No. 9, Washington
The Huskies look primed for another conference title.
The Huskies were one of the biggest surprises and one of the best stories in college basketball last season, winning the Pac-10 regular season and advancing to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. While most years the loss of seniors like Jon Brockman and Justin Dentmon would set a program back for the upcoming season, Washington brings back enough talent that along with their very strong incoming freshman class should have the team challenging for another conference title in 2010.
While Cal may feature the top returning scoring backcourt duo in the conference, when all is said and done, Washington may feature the best. Conference freshman of the year Isaiah Thomas is back after a stellar ’08-09 campaign and will team with incoming McDonald’s All-American Abdul Gaddy to form a young, dynamic guard pairing that will more than likely cause headaches for opposing defenses. Thomas showed a rare feature in his game as a freshman in that he was able to consistently score in a variety of ways, getting an even number of shots in spot up, isolation and transition situations. The pint-sized dynamo was at his best in isolation set ups thank to his fantastic handles and quickness, almost always choosing to put the ball on the floor. The biggest key for the sophomore this season is going to be improving his perimeter shooting to prevent defenders from sagging back on him to stop the drive.
While it would seem like a less than ideal situation to bring an All-American freshman into the backcourt to run alongside a player who dominates the basketball as much as Thomas does, Washington head coach Lorenzo Romar landed the top pass-first guard in the country in Gaddy. The Tacoma product is the complete package for a floor general, possessing great size for the position at 6-3 and a well above average basketball IQ. Gaddy has the smarts and skills to break defenders down off the dribble and create for his teammates. It’s likely that he will find himself guarding the shooting guard position when him and Thomas are on the floor, but those two will be perfect complements for each other offensively.
Joining that pair will be small forward Quincy Pondexter who continues to provide both frustration and intrigue from a scouting perspective. The 6-7 California native has outstanding length and athleticism, really the complete package physically, but his skill level is lacking. His handles aren’t great and his perimeter shooting comes and goes; this is the kind of player who excels when attacking the basket and powering up around the rim. Pondexter certainly excels in an up-tempo style of play where he can get out and run, so playing with such a talented group of guards this season with the addition of Gaddy only stands to ensure that the tantalizing prospect will play up to his abilities during his final season.
Junior guard Venoy Overton produced modest results with modest minutes last season, but with a young backcourt will likely see some additional playing time and touches as a veteran. The Seattle native struggled with finding consistency in his jumper last season while also proving to be somewhat wild with his control, though he certainly possesses the physical skills to be a big time playmaker, getting into the lane and creating for teammates.
A real wild card for the Huskies could be sophomore shooting guard Elston Turner, a Texas product who saw only 13 minutes per game last season. Blessed with a solid build at 6-4, 205 pounds is strong enough to handle some contact, but has the potential to be a major deep threat as a spot up shooter in the UW rotation. Summer reports have said that Turner’s stroke is looking much improved which is good news considering he already has a couple of double-digit scoring performances under his belt against the likes of Kansas and Arizona. Another perimeter gunner who might not see a lot of time right away, but will be valuable down the road is incoming freshman C.J. Wilcox out of Pleasant Grove, UT. The two-guard is a solid athlete with a great looking stroke who likes to spot up behind plays so he can launch from beyond the defenders reach, but on occasion will look to shoot off the dribble.
Clearly this is a team whose strength is going to be in the backcourt, particularly with the loss of Brockman, however there will be enough talent and toughness with the bigs inside to provide enough support to the perimeter game. English import Matthew Bryan-Amaning presents loads of intrigue due to his solid 6-9, 235-pound frame and his above average athleticism; he has seen limited time in his two seasons in the Pac-10 though due to being stuck behind Brockman and for a year Spencer Hawes. He posted three games of 17-plus points last season (OK, so two of them were against Texas Southern and Portland State) and looks like he could be a solid producer with increased playing time. He finished well in the post, particularly when he turns to his left shoulder and can finish with his soft touch, but he still tries to go beyond his capabilities when it comes to facing up on defenders.
Power forward Darnell Gant is a player who will absolutely need to produce more this season in order for Washington to have any chance of matching up with other teams inside. The 6-8 sophomore jumping-jack has an excellent motor, good length and is a great overall athlete. His agility and tenacity made him a force on the offensive glass in his first season, hauling in over one rebound per game at the end of the floor in less than solid minutes. His game is still very raw, but he won’t have to be polished this year, just productive and active.
Another newcomer will be arriving to help the Huskies down low in freshman Clarence Trent Trent, a power forward from national champ Findlay Prep, is going to be an undersized frontcourt player at the college level. He is listed at 6-7 but some reports have said he’s closer to 6-5, but no one will argue his freakish leaping ability. He is particularly well adapted in his skill set when it comes to scoring in the post or facing up, but has enough raw strength and ability that he should be able to get by enough to make an impact. If Trent ever starts to polish his offensive game though, Washington fans will have another undersized big man they can get behind.
Washington is going to be a very guard heavy team, possessing a bevy of talented perimeter playmakers and scorers. Lorenzo Romar’s squad is going to be able to handle itself against nearly any backcourt in the country when it is really clicking. The Achilles heel of this team will be its interior play. The Huskies don’t have a frontcourt player who saw more than 19 minutes of playing time per game last season and only two that saw double-digits. Still, the college game has proven time and time again, that it is possible to run through the regular season without a proven big man; the postseason might be a different story however. UW fans have every reason to be excited for the upcoming year though, an influx of new talent coupled with a young, returning core of budding stars will give Washington more than enough firepower to challenge for a repeat Pac-10 title.