Jan. 23, 2010
By Matt Winter
The college hoops scene had better get ready for Tacoma.
Tacoma natives Isaiah Thomas, Abdul Gaddy, and Clarence Trent are putting their stamp on college basketball - bringing their unique, scrappy style to Lorenzo Romar's fast paced system. Always proud of their roots, their message to the country is simple:
The 253 is here, and it is here to stay.
"Where we come from you gotta be tough," says 5'8" sophomore Thomas, "You gotta have heart, and if you have that you can hang with anybody, even if you don't have the best talent."
It's amazing what hometown camaraderie can do in a sport like basketball. In a game that relies so much on an intangible sense of knowing your teammates -- what they're thinking, where they're cutting, when they're passing--the experience of playing with the same group of guys over a long period of time can give you a huge advantage.
A few years ago, we saw that familiarity-effect when the Huskies had four players from the city of Seattle. Will Conroy, Tre Simmons, Brandon Roy (Garfield High), and Nate Robinson (Rainier Beach High) had chemistry arguably unmatched in the country. Between AAU teams, high school ball, and other general playing around in the area, those guys knew each others' games long before they reached college. As of recent, we've seen that trend move a little bit south.
Although Thomas (Curtis High), Gaddy (Bellarmine Prep), and Trent (Gig Harbor) never played organized ball together, their bond is evident.
"We made our relationship through basketball," says the freshman Gaddy. "There are a lot of us that would run in to each other--neighborhood kids that end up playing with each other on the court. We just kind of built our bond from there."
"It's a good thing because we know what each other does and we know what each other like to do," fellow-freshman Trent explains. "Abdul is more of a point guard; he likes to push the floor. Isaiah's more of a scorer, when he's in he's gonna be able to find the ball and score for us."
I.T. is the eldest of the group and admittedly plays the big-brother role to Gaddy and Trent. Thomas and Trent's connection goes back to their pre-teens, when they played for the same AAU Team in Tacoma.
"Clarence is like the same player. He was like the same height, dunking," Thomas says of his first impressions of Trent. "It was crazy. He was one of the few guys at that age dunking a basketball," admitting he was a little jealous. "Once I started dunking I didn't care, though."
Thomas and Gaddy's friendship also goes back a ways.
"Since we were younger, we've been good friends, he's looked out for me," the McDonald's All-American Gaddy says of Thomas, who were both highly touted recruits that came to UW with big expectations. "He made sure I was going in the right direction."
Gaddy initially committed to play at Arizona, but later de-committed and opted for Washington, admitting that Thomas was a big reason why he came.
"When he de-committed from Arizona, I got in his ear and it worked out," Thomas says with a smile.
The enthusiasm and pride for each others' careers shines through when these guys look back. Being the eldest of the three, Thomas was the first to make it big, making his name as a prolific scorer at Curtis High School.
"In high school, I knew [Isaiah] was going to blow up because he score so well and he's so crafty," Gaddy remembers, "He plays with a lot of heart." After Curtis, Thomas played at South Kent Prep School in Connecticut, and then became the first Tacoma-native to play for UW since the days of C.J. Massingale (2001-04) and Curtis Allen (2001-05).
However, the sudden influx of Tacoma products (which also includes Texas freshman Avery Bradley, Gaddy's teammate at Bellarmine) should not be inferred as previous lack of talent. They attribute the support student athletes in Tacoma have access to now with getting athletes on-track to college.
"I think we've always had the talent, it's just that there is support that guys didn't have back then that we have now. I feel like there are a lot of guys that are better than me, better than Abdul, better than Avery, and better than Clarence," I.T. explains. "There were a lot of dudes that were good, but didn't have the grades or somehow didn't make it, but they had better talent. Everybody that supported us and got us through it helped get us to here now."
"More players from that area are starting to succeed more--off the court and on the court," Gaddy elaborates. "Especially in the classroom they're qualifying. I know a lot of players from back in the day that didn't qualify and that's why they couldn't go any farther."
I think all Husky fans are thankful for that. Thomas, who won Pac-10 Freshman of the Year last season, has paved the way for Gaddy and Trent to further bring that Tacoma style to Montlake.
"Everybody's hungry down there," says the athletic, versatile Trent. "In Tacoma, we just get after it. We hustle for everything...It's a different style, so we just get out there and get hungry and let everybody know that Tacoma's on the map now."
Hec Ed better get ready for more and more of that style and swagger in the next few years.
"You have to rep where you're from, and we take that to heart wherever we go," Gaddy says with confidence. "We always wear Tacoma on our chest wherever we go."