Feb. 4, 2009
SEATTLE (AP) - Washington is off to its best road start in the Pac-10 since Gerald Ford was president.
The reasons are similarly old school: The 22nd-ranked Huskies have senior leadership that has hardened them mentally and brought them closer emotionally.
Then there's Justin Dentmon, who has literally squatted his way into unlikely consideration for conference player of year.
"I'm feeling confident," Dentmon said Tuesday with a grin that was upside down during the previous two seasons when Washington missed the NCAA tournament.
Now Dentmon is the Pac-10's leading scorer in conference play at 19.6 points per game, including a 30-point effort against then-No. 14 Arizona State last weekend.
The Huskies (16-5, 7-2) are tied with No. 15 UCLA for the Pac-10 lead entering their trips to California on Thursday and Stanford on Saturday.
Dentmon is the reason the Huskies aren't dreading this trip to the Bay Area, even though they have lost six of their last eight games against Cal in Berkeley and have lost 15 in a row at Stanford dating to Jan. 30, 1993. He has scored 53 points on 15-for-26 (58 percent) shooting as Washington split games at Arizona and ASU.
"Being able to have that balanced attack and having multiple guys on our roster who can put up big numbers makes us a really tough team to deal with," said forward Jon Brockman.
Brockman was the sole focus of opponents until Dentmon and freshman guard Isaiah Thomas began their recent scoring sprees.
Washington is 4-1 on the road midway through the league schedule for the first time since coach Marv Harshman and post scorer James Edwards led the UW to a 23-5 overall record and 10-4 in the conference in 1976.
He and Romar credit the work the senior guard did last summer on his outside shot, both on the court and in the weight room. He relentlessly did squats -- deep leg bends with a bar and weights resting across the back of his shoulders. He had vowed never to do those again after he hurt his back while at Carbondale High School.
"I got more into squatting, something I never thought I'd be able to do," said Dentmon, who at 5-feet-11 and 185 pounds doesn't exactly look like Tony Atlas.
Dentmon is sleeker, though he has actually gained some weight through the lifting. His bolstered legs are propelling his jump shot and allowing him to shoot more quickly.
Before, he lunged so awkwardly toward the basket on his shot, Romar said Dentmon "was almost broad-jumping to the rim."
He's high-jumping now, after squatting three times a week from April into October under the direction of new strength coach Matt Ludwig, whom Brockman similarly credits with remaking his body.
Ludwig said Dentmon was hesitant, initially worried the intense strength coach was going to make him look like a football player.
"A lot of guys don't like eating right. A lot of guys don't want to be out on the court for 3 1/2 hours at practice, either," Ludwig said. "But if it's something that's going to help him, that's something we have to do to get better."
Romar says Dentmon's mind is clear now that Thomas is taking most of his old point guard duties. Dentmon also credits the role he, Brockman and senior Artem Wallace, a seldom-used reserve, have played in bringing the Huskies closer off the court. They often eat together off campus -- a local Italian place is their favorite -- after years in which the Huskies scattered to separate agendas after workouts.
Dentmon believes the improved camaraderie has allowed them to better weather the storms that inevitably come on conference road trips. Of course, the dagger-like shots he kept making each time Arizona State tried to rally last weekend help, too.
"The thing I've got on my mind is winning the Pac-10. I've been thinking about that since my freshman year when it slipped away," Dentmon said. "I won't be satisfied until we win the Pac-10 championship."