Oct. 12, 2012
By Gregg Bell - UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - Jon Brockman is going on four seasons in the NBA. Quincy Pondexter, three. Isaiah Thomas is entering his second season in "The League." Terrence Ross and Tony Wroten left early to join them there this fall.
Those are five huge reasons why nobody is talking about Washington anymore.
In fact, could anybody have been talking less about a four-time defending conference regular-season or tournament champion on Friday, the first day of preseason practices across the country?
"We're kind of under the radar. And this is the first time since I've been here that we've been like that," senior point guard and co-captain Abdul Gaddy said on Marv Harshman Court just before the season's first practice Friday afternoon. "Every year I've been here we've been (picked) first or second to win the Pac-12. This year (some) are picking us to finish fifth or sixth or seventh."
And that suits Gaddy - who admits he never thought he'd be at UW for four years -- just fine.
"We've got the underdog mentality. ... It drives me. And I know it drives every one of my teammates," he said. "We are trying to be the best. We've built a trend here. Every year I've been here we've won a Pac-10 or a Pac-12 championship, whether it was the tournament or outright."
That legacy, plus the bitterness eight returning Huskies players still have over being snubbed from the NCAA tournament in March despite winning the Pac-12 regular-season title outright, have given these Dawgs a motivating mission.
"I sense our team has a quiet chip on its shoulder," coach Lorenzo Romar said minutes before his team picture and first practice of his 11th Huskies season Friday afternoon.
Maybe it's not so quiet.
"It left a big chip," Gaddy said.
"That is one of the big reasons you come to college and play college basketball. You know, you want to play in the NCAA tournament. That's one of the perks of playing basketball ... where you get all those people come watching you and you have people all over the world watching you play basketball. It's just a great moment.
"Us not being able to live that moment made us upset -- like, `Man, this year we have to get back there.'"
Gaddy said the players "made a pact" to each other during the summer to give even more than they already had been putting out for Romar's notoriously grueling practices -- and to remind each other in huddles of the snub when games get particularly treacherous, especially on the road.
Sure, Gaddy is no longer playing with Pondexter, as he did in 2010 months after he chose UW over Arizona as a heralded recruit from Bellarmine Prep in Tacoma, Wash. Gaddy is not playing alongside Thomas, like he did in 2011, or Ross and Wroten from last spring.
Now, co-captain Scott Suggs is returning as a fifth-year senior after redshirting last season because of a broken foot. Sharpshooter C.J. Wilcox is back to get new shooting looks in Romar's new, high-post offense. Seven-footer Aziz N'Diaye is back to rule the middle with his surgically repaired wrist no longer bothering him.
Gaddy thinks these Dawgs may prove to be just as talented as those previous conference champions.
"I think we are as talented," Gaddy said. "It's different. I think of people not knowing all the ability Scott has or that Scott has improved so much since his foot. I've improved a lot since last year. C.J. has improved - he's not just a 3-point shooter. Aziz has improved. Aziz is going to give us more points.
"We have two new guys who have come off redshirts, Andrew (Andrews) and Jernard (Jarreau) that people don't really know about, but they are really good players. I think we have the talent. I think we are just as talented as we were last year. It's just a different type of team that people don't know about.
"As we go through our non-conference schedule (that begins Nov. 11 against Loyola, Md.) I think people are going to see, `Oh ... OK!`"
Romar thought the 16-day, six-game exhibition tour of Europe and Africa in late August into September brought his already tight team even closer together. Add to that the fact this will be the third season together for Gaddy, Suggs, Wilcox and N'Diaye.
That's rare in this era of early defections to the NBA becoming more common. And the Huskies are planning on capitalizing on that experience and familiarity this season.
"That brings a unique quality to this team," Romar said. "This is a special team in that regard.
"We've been here 11 years. You take any of those other teams, and there haven't been any that is as closely-knit as this one. ... Not comparing to last year but to all the other 10, this team is set apart a little more because it really is a team."
INSIDE THE DAWGS: Romar isn't taking the Huskies south to Saint Martin's University in Lacey for the opening weekend of practice as he has in the past Octobers for team bonding. The coach thinks the summer trip to Spain, France, Monaco, and N'Diaye's home country of Senegal fulfilled that goal this preseason. ... Austin Seferian-Jenkins is back on the roster for this season. Romar said the sophomore football tight end "says he wants to play" basketball but the choice will ultimately be his and Huskies football coach Steve Sarkisian once that team's season ends in December or January. The rugged, 6-6 Seferian-Jenkins joined the hoops team in early January. UW went 13-4 last season after his first appearance Jan. 21 against Stanford. He averaged 1.1 points and 2.1 rebounds per game. Seferian-Jenkins, second in the nation among tight ends with 24 receptions this season, is the 19th Husky known to play both football and basketball at Washington, the first since Nate Robinson played football in 2002 and basketball in 2003-05.