March 27, 2013
By Gregg Bell - UW Director of Writing
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SEATTLE - Quick, name the only player in 110 years of Husky basketball to have two seasons with at least 150 assists.
Name the Pac-12's active leader in career assists this season.
Name the guy who finished his career is second all-time at UW in assists.
It's all Abdul Gaddy.
Maybe you didn't realize that. After all, to catch up on Gaddy this season you basically had to endure garbage. You had wade through a morass of vile, personal and incessant criticisms of the quiet, supposedly under-performing point guard, attacks that further showed our sports society today as crass, compulsive and shallow.
And those came after some of Washington's 18 wins.
Gaddy finished his Huskies career with a nine-assist, two-turnover game last week in a 90-79 loss at Brigham Young. But because that was in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament and not in the ongoing NCAA "Big Dance," he was criticized. His final play was a telling one: a gritty, head-first dive into a scrum for an otherwise meaningless loose ball in the last minute. Because the outcome had already been decided, no one noticed.
Well, those eyeing potential NBA talent have noticed him.
Gaddy and teammate Aziz N'Diaye have accepted invitations to play in next month's Portsmouth Invitational in Virginia, the tournament's Cliff Sayles confirmed to me Tuesday night. Gaddy and N'Diaye will join Matthew Dellavedova of Saint Mary's, Rotnei Clarke of Butler and 60 other departing seniors at the 60-year-old showcase April 10-13, playing multiple games in front of scouts from every NBA team (more here: Portsmouth Invitational).
I know there are going to be critics. It's not going to all be positive. I just take it as, you know, people really care. They want to see a kid from their alma mater or a kid from their favorite sport do well.
It's the first step in a pursuit Gaddy has targeted since he was shooting kid hoops in his home neighborhood on the east side of Tacoma, Wash.
"Yeah, it's been a dream of mine since I was a young boy," he says. "That's definitely my goal, to be able to try compete and play, to get into the draft."
Gaddy's final act in a Husky uniform was burying his head into the shoulder of coach Lorenzo Romar, the same shoulder that has supported his point guard through soaring expectations, a crushing knee injury that derailed his career, his comeback and his critics.
But because Gaddy did it inside the visiting locker room beneath BYU's Marriott Center last week, no one on the outside saw the mutual appreciation and care.
"I had fun with all my teammates. They will always be my brothers," he said through his emotions the night his time as a Husky had finally run out. "My coaching staff, I love all those guys."
"I'VE DONE MY BEST"
His last game at Washington was the 12th time this season Gaddy had at least twice as many assists than turnovers. It was the second time in three games he had at least four times as many assists than mistakes; Romar thinks 2½- or 3-to-1 ratio is darn good. Gaddy had 45 assists against 17 turnovers while averaging 32 minutes over Washington's final seven games, crunch time of his senior season.
Even though he was strapping ice packs onto his aching knees after just about every game over his final two months, he ended with the best stretch of his Huskies career - at least since his 13-game start to the 2010-11 season, the one immediately before he tore the anterior cruciate and lateral collateral ligaments in his left knee as a sophomore.
Gaddy was the Huskies guard that executed Romar's game plans of a new, high-post offense this season. He made most of the decisions with the ball off of screens at the foul line. He was the one Husky that consistently got the ball inside to N'Diaye, Shawn Kemp Jr. and Desmond Simmons, as Romar often demanded.
Through it all, Gaddy became one of only eight players in the last 60 years to win three conference regular-season or tournament titles while at Washington. The others: Isaiah Thomas, Matthew Bryan-Amaning, Justin Holiday, Darnell Gant, Venoy Overton, Scott Suggs, and Brendan Sherrer.
But because the Huskies went 18-16 this season and did not win a conference regular-season or tournament title for the first time in five years, some railed against him.
Turns out the guard who entered UW four years ago as a kid barely 17 years old yet with the accolades - and weight - of the amateur basketball world upon his still-developing shoulders has since become a 21-year-old man.
An undaunted, self-assured one, at that.
"I've done my best job that I could as a player here," said Gaddy, whose 469 assists are second only to Will Conroy's 515 from 2002-05. "Each year has been different, but I think it's been good, because each year I've been here we'd won either a Pac-10/Pac-12 championship in some kind of way (until this month). That's just been great. I've been blessed with that opportunity, to have that happen. Not a lot of people get that opportunity."
In today's instant-gratification sports world, especially the transitory one of big-time college basketball, ultimately the only team that doesn't have a goat is the one that wins the national championship. And even Kentucky is being vilified right now. Twelve months after winning it all, UK was out in one round of the NIT this month after losing to Robert Morris.
So it fit that Gaddy, with the ball in his hands the most, became the critics' target as UW lost at home to Albany and Colorado State in November then dropped seven of eight league games to ruin a 4-0 start in the conference.
People attacked him not just for his play but personally on social media, on blogs, on message boards and talk radio. Around Seattle, you would have thought his father was Clay Bennett.
They ridiculed him for turnovers late in the overtime loss to eventual champion Oregon in the second round of the Pac-12 tournament this month in Las Vegas. Never mind that without Gaddy the Huskies wouldn't even have been playing the Ducks.
The previous night he had nine points, a season-high 11 assists and just two turnovers in 31 exquisite minutes. Gaddy kept UW from blowing a 19-point lead in the second half of a two-point win over Washington State in the Pac-12 tournament's first round.
True to his character, he takes the higher road away from his detractors.
"It's all part of it," he says. "I have high expectations for myself, too. They care, and they want to see me do well, you know what I'm sayin'?
"I know there are going to be critics. It's not going to all be positive. I just take it as, you know, people really care. They want to see a kid from their alma mater or a kid from their favorite sport do well. I just take it as they really care."
We can debate the merits of ripping an amateur student-athlete who isn't getting paid millions yet is held to a professional-like standard of play.
But Gaddy won't. He accepted it long before this up-and-down season.
"That's definitely part of the deal," he said. "When you play D-I -- especially at a school like Washington, or UCLA or Cal or any school in the Pac-12, North Carolina, Duke - you are signing up for that. You are on the media platform all across the word. So people are going to be able to say this and that.
"And it wasn't all negative.
"Everyone is not the same person. Everyone is not mature in the world. So you take the good with the bad."
For all the criticisms hurled his way, know this: It's not like Gaddy expected less than you did.
"I mean, I had high expectations for myself," he says. "I'll say I did the best I could. I went out every game and gave all that I can, you know what I'm sayin'?
"I've always had high expectations of myself. And I will continue to have high expectations of myself, at every level that I play at."
"A BLESSING IN DISGUISE"
Gaddy acknowledges his career did not go as he, Romar or anyone else expected it would at UW, though he says he ultimately defines his time here by how his team did over these four years.
He admits he expected to be a Husky for a couple of seasons before entering the NBA. No wonder.
He arrived in the summer of 2009 as the nation's No. 2-rated high school point guard, a McDonald's and Parade Magazine All-American out of Bellarmine Prep in Tacoma. He was the first underclassman in Washington to be named by Gatorade as the state's high school player of the year, as a junior. When Gaddy went to a NBA Players Association Top 100 camp while a teen Sports Illustrated's Seth Davis named him the best point guard there.
He was going to take Arizona's scholarship offer until Lute Olson retired as the Wildcats' coach. That's when he decided to stay home and go up I-5 to UW. It was a recruiting coup for Romar and the Huskies.
I still say it was.
His assist-to-turnover ratio was more than 3-to-1 when he landed awkwardly on a drive to the basket during a practice January 4, 2011. He was lost for that season, yet returned early after 10 months of rehabilitation, pain and the fear of being a 19-year-old not knowing if he'd ever play again -- which I detailed here: Unleashed: The Return of Gaddy.
Gaddy doesn't waste time or energy now wondering what might have been had he not sustained the first injury of his playing career. He is using the experience to strengthen him for this push toward a chance in professional basketball that begins in two weeks in Portsmouth, Va.
"The crazy thing is those things just happen. You don't know what it happens, but it does," he said.
"I took it as it was just a blessing in disguise. I got my knee stronger; actually this knee," he said, pointing at his repaired left one, "feels stronger than the other one now.
"It's just something I had to fight through, and it was a way for me to build mental toughness, to know that I am blessed to be able to play this game and to be able to look at this game from a different perspective."
How did the injury and 10 months away from playing change him?
"The main thing is you don't look at the game selfishly. It's not about `Me, me. I've got to go out there and do this and that to score this amount of points,'" he said.
"It is about the team and the memories you make. I know Coach Romar is always telling me college is probably the most fun time that you will ever have. And I've had a great experience here at Washington. It's been so much fun.
"I think the main thing I took from the injury is to enjoy the moment and share the memories that you are making with your brothers."
FIRST IN THE MOST IMPORTANT CATEGORY OF ALL
I asked Gaddy if he had any second thoughts, such as: What if he had gone to Arizona? Or, what if he hadn't blown out his knee 13 games into his sophomore season, just when he was peaking as a college point guard on a veteran team that ended up a basket short of beating North Carolina and reaching the Sweet 16 of the 2011 NCAA tournament?
"Nah," he said, shaking his head. "This is a place where I felt God led me to here. It was great to get to come here and play for a coach like Lorenzo Romar, who has been an inspiration in my life, a good role model for me.
"And also I just learned everything from the people here around me. They helped me grow into the man I am today. You know, I came in here as a young 17-year old, and now I'm a 21-year-old man that is going to be out in the real world. I feel prepared now. I learned all those things from all the people that I met here."
On June 15 the son of a casino security guard and a customer service representative for FedEx will walk in UW's graduation ceremonies as the owner of a bachelor's degree in sociology.
That will be as big a day as any he's had on a basketball floor.
"I will be the first in my family to do graduate from college. It's a big accomplishment for me," said the oldest of three children to Abdul Sr. and Oseye.
He was wearing a huge, proud grin at the thought.
"I mean, my parents didn't go to college, or my grandparents. So," he said, "this is a big deal."
About Gregg Bell Gregg Bell is an award-winning sports writer who joined the University of Washington's staff in September 2010 as the Director of Writing. Previously, Bell served as the senior national sports writer in Seattle for The Associated Press. The native of Steubenville, Ohio, is a 1993 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. He received a master's degree in journalism from the University of California, Berkeley in 2000.
Gregg Bell Unleashed can be found on GoHuskies.com each Wednesday.