Feb. 20, 2009
By Michael Jeremiah
The form of Joe Wolfinger's shot never changes. While recently warming up for practice, the Husky seven-footer paced back and forth along the free throw line, knocking down shot after shot from different spots without ever changing his form. It's the mark of a good shooter, and it's one that Wolfinger has mastered. According to Jon Brockman, his shooting form is one of the only things about Wolfinger that hasn't changed.
"He's grown a lot on and off the court," said Brockman. "He's a banger now. He can get down low and throw his body around. He's worked really hard in the weight room to get his body to where he can bang against people and hit them hard. He's shown that he can really do some damage down low."
Roommates since their freshman year, Brockman's style of play has literally rubbed off on Wolfinger through four years of facing each other in practice.
"I guard him every day," said Wolfinger, a redshirt junior. "It definitely makes my defensive toughness better because as everyone knows he is one of toughest players in the nation. It's definitely getting me better and tougher."
His new-found toughness wasn't part of Wolfinger's game in high school. At that point, he was an intriguing but thin seven-foot prospect. Although he had promising talent and height, it was hard to develop his inside skills at only 210 pounds. To compete at the next level, he had to add weight to a lanky frame and work on becoming a college big man.
After his senior year at Aloha High in Beaverton, Ore., Wolfinger went to Mount Hermon School in Northfield, Mass. During his time at Mount Hermon he not only worked on adding weight, he added another deadly weapon to his repertoire by working on his outside shooting skills. A seven-footer is hard enough for a college coach to find, but a seven-footer with range beyond the three-point line is a potential game-changer. That package of talent caught the attention of Coach Lorenzo Romar.
"You've got to guard him," said Romar. "You've got to know where he's at all times because he has the ability to shoot and he's seven feet. It's hard to get to his shot. Around the rim, you have to know what you're doing because he's seven feet, and he can bother your shot."
Romar was able to lure Wolfinger back to the Pacific Northwest despite recruiting advances from the likes of Florida State, Georgia Tech, and Boston College. Arriving to a team just off a number-one seed in the NCAA tournament, Wolfinger was not expected to contribute immediately. The decision was made for him to redshirt during his first year.
Wolfinger didn't waste the year away from competition. He added the bulk necessary to be a contributor as a redshirt freshman. Unfortunately, a stress fracture in his foot delayed his return to action.
By the beginning of his sophomore year, Wolfinger had been waiting two years to see game-type action on the court. He put two years of hard work in the weight room to get to 255 pounds, and practiced every day against Brockman to improve his toughness. With anticipation mounting, Wolfinger made sure that it was worth the wait.
An off-season trip to Greece with the team was a great start. In one of his first competitive games, he scored 17 points and collected six rebounds. Throughout the season, Wolfinger was lethal from behind the three-point line, connecting for over 40 percent from long range. The peak of that campaign was a perfect night against California in Berkeley. Wolfinger connected on every shot from the field and free throw line, scoring 17 points, including four three-pointers, to lead the Huskies to an 87-84 victory. The dream of a versatile seven-footer roaming the court in Husky purple was realized for Washington.
Another strong performance against Stanford that weekend increased the buzz about Wolfinger's NBA potential, especially from Romar. Deadly long-range accuracy mixed with the height to protect his shot was hard to come by, and with the sudden production, the professional ranks seemed to be in reach.
Instead of focusing on life after Washington, Wolfinger has instead kept his eyes towards the goal of making his first appearance in the NCAA Tournament. He was a redshirt freshman when the Huskies last went to the Big Dance, and watched from the bench as the Huskies advanced to the Sweet 16.
"It was a really new experience," said Wolfinger. "I had never been around anything like that. We had police escorting us and packed crowds. That was a sweet experience. We got to go in the White House and see Washington D.C., it was a great experience...[Our goal is] to definitely get back to the tournament." The Huskies seem to be on their way to another tournament after bouncing back from early-season woes. With newcomer Isaiah Thomas providing plenty of scoring and steady production from seniors Brockman and Justin Dentmon, Wolfinger has not yet been called upon this year for another dominant performance like last year's trip to the Bay Area. But he is patient, waiting for another chance to create a match-up nightmare for Husky opponents.
"He definitely could be [a game-changer]," said Romar. "Sometimes the way the game plays out, he can come in and help us. There were a number of games where Wolf stepped in and helped us last year. "
The tag of game-changer has been part of his identity for a long time. Along with his shot, that is one thing about Wolfinger that will never change.