Oct. 13, 2010
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - Practice doesn't start until Friday for Washington's men's basketball team. Yet these experienced, excited Huskies are already riding waves.
One is the wave they created last spring, rising from a middling start to the Pac-10 season to win the conference tournament and roll all the way to the NCAA tournament's Sweet 16. Four starters - including star guard Isaiah Thomas and seniors Justin Holiday and Matthew Bryan-Amaning -- plus senior defensive pest Venoy Overton are returning from that 26-10 team.
So, yes, the carryover wave is real.
"It got our guys excited," coach Lorenzo Romar said Wednesday of the deep run in last spring's NCAAs, which ended with a loss in the regional semifinals to West Virginia. "With as many familiar faces back, I think our guys looked at each other after that game and said, `We're going to get it right this time.'"
UW's second wave is the one of improvement from an active summer. Bryan-Amaning, the versatile, 6-foot-9 forward from London, went back home and elevated his level of play for Great Britain's senior national team against NBA players in FIBA World Championship qualifiers. He says he is now more confident.
Thomas is healed from a hand injury from last year and from bone spurs in his foot that offseason surgery fixed. And the 5-foot-9 dynamo - who has 1,134 career points, the most in the first two years of any player in program history -- says he took "thousands" of jump shots to improve his 3-point and mid-range game.
The other wave? It was a fictitious one Romar, Thomas and the rest of the Huskies were pretending to ride in Wednesday's sun as they posed for pictures with a long, real-sized, souvenir surfboard.
The white long board with a UW logo on it in front of Hec Edmundson Pavilion was provided by sponsors of the EA Sports Maui Invitational. Washington will be participating in that ultracompetitive, defining tournament beginning on Nov. 22, along with Connecticut, Kentucky, Michigan State and Oklahoma, among others.
"That's the granddaddy of all preseason tournaments," Romar said. "Whenever we've been in situations like this (national, high-profile matchups), we've done well."
The Maui challenge, which comes after the Nov. 13 season opener at home against McNeese State and a home game Nov. 16 against Eastern Washington, will provide an early season barometer of how different these Huskies are from the team led last season by the departed Quincy Pondexter.
Or how much they are the same.
"(Entering) 2006 was the last time we had this many returners who are contributors," Romar said of his nine returning lettermen.
Sophomore guard Abdul Gaddy is another starter from last season who is back, but whether he starts again to begin this season will be determined in preseason practice that starts Friday with a weekend at Saint Martin's University in Lacey, Wash., outside Olympia.
Overton, junior swingman Darnell Gant, junior guard Scott Suggs, incoming freshman Terrence Ross or even 7-foot center Aziz N'Diaye - a transfer from Senegal by way of the College of Southern Idaho - are also candidates to start.
N'Diaye's arrival gives Washington the tallest intimidator and shot blocker down low in Romar's nine season leading the Huskies. Former 7-footer Spencer Hawes liked to venture more outside to shoot jumpers in his one, recent season at Washington.
"He's already made my job easier," Thomas said of N'Diaye. "Don't tell Romar, but you can take more chances on defense now that we've got Matthew and Aziz back there."
Too late. Coach already knows. He's planning to have Bryan-Amaning and N'Diaye on the floor together plenty this season, to give opponents a combined 13 feet, nine inches of headaches.
That -- plus the Huskies' normal plan of running, running and running some more at both ends of the court - means Washington may be making many more waves this season.
"This year, we have the most combination of size and quickness that we've had," Romar said. "We will look faster, but we will be taller."