Oct. 15, 2009
Friday Schedule: UW Volleyball vs. UCLA, 6pm | Midnight Madness, 7:45pm (free admission begins at 7:15pm)
Huskies kick off season with Midnight Madness
By GREGG BELL
AP SPORTS WRITER
SEATTLE -- Lorenzo Romar has already warned his Washington Huskies: Don't believe the hype.
Washington is getting props from Maine to Maui as it gets ready to defend its Pac-10 conference championship. Despite losing rugged team leader and immovable inside force Jon Brockman to the NBA, national experts are pegging the Huskies as perhaps a top 10 team. They see that high school All-American Abdul Gaddy is joining conference freshman of the year Isaiah Thomas in a reloaded backcourt, and envision Washington going on a long NCAA tournament run in March.
But as Romar, a native of Southern California who grew up watching John Wooden's UCLA dynasty of the early 1970s, says of Washington's career rebounding leader: "You don't replace Jon Brockman. We don't have Bill Walton to replace Sidney Wicks."
Romar remembers the fall of 2006, when his Huskies had lost Pac-10 player of the year Brandon Roy and were coming off a 26-7 record. They had lost in overtime to top-seeded Connecticut in the regional semifinals of the NCAA tournament the previous spring. The Final Four seemed like a reachable next step.
"We didn't even make the NCAA tournament," Romar said of the underachieving team that finished below .500 in the conference.
"This is an entirely new year. We've got to start from scratch."
Well, not exactly scratch.
Romar usually is reluctant to name even one starter heading into preseason camp. He named two on Wednesday, two days before practice starts.
Emerging star Quincy Pondexter, the team's only senior, will attempt to fill departed star Brockman's leadership and frontcourt presence at forward. He is more versatile and explosive outside than Brockman.
The 6-foot-6 Pondexter changed his shot over the summer, releasing the ball more over and in front of his head rather than behind it. That was under the guidance of his self-described "trainer," former Huskies 3-point sharpshooter Ryan Appleby.
Thomas will start at shooting guard to follow a wondrous debut season in which he averaged 15.5 points per game. Romar said Thomas could have averaged 30 if he'd asked his dynamo to.
According to the coach, Gaddy isn't necessarily the starting point guard. Not yet, anyway.
The 6-foot-3 teen was the Washington Class 4A player of the year last spring from Bellarmine Prep in Tacoma. He was rated by most scouts as the second-best point guard in the country.
Romar said Gaddy, Thomas and tenacious defender Venoy Overton will all play a lot and are all starters in his mind, "just not in the introductions" before games. A read between the lines suggests Gaddy will be starting soon, perhaps before the Nov. 13 opener against Wright State.
"He's a very quick learner. At times, you may hear the Brandon Roy comparison," Romar said.
Then the coach explained how Roy, now a superstar with the Portland Trail Blazers, is 3 inches taller than Gaddy. That Roy is quicker and stronger.
But Romar still remembers how Roy learned the Huskies' offensive system in 45 minutes after joining the team in January of his freshman year, after NCAA issues over test scores delayed his debut. Romar says Gaddy has the same sharp basketball mind.
"He's only 17 years old," Romar said. "But right now, in his own right, he's already being a leader. He's a fun one to coach."
The Huskies are healthier than they've been entering recent seasons. Tyreese Breshers, a powerful forward who Romar said could become as physical as Brockman, is now game-ready. He had to redshirt in his freshman year last season due to knee and shin injuries.
Junior forward Justin Holiday, another defensive stopper, is recovering from hernia surgery. Romar said he should be ready in the next few weeks.