Nov. 2, 2010
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - Sure it's just an exhibition. Yet the Huskies have a bit of intrigue entering Saturday's tune-up against Division II Saint Martin's at Hec Edmundson Pavilion.
"We definitely won't see the finished product," coach Lorenzo Romar said Tuesday on the eve of his ninth season leading Washington, "but we're definitely excited about getting out to play."
Romar will be searching for a final starter. Abdul Gaddy will be showing off his summer revitalization, following the heralded guard's up-and-down freshman season. And the Huskies will be unveiling 7-foot sophomore transfer Aziz N'Diaye.
The stout, 260 pounder has wowed the Dawgs in preseason drills with his ability to run and to be more commanding in the lane than anyone Washington has had down low in at least a dozen years.
"He's unbelievable," star guard Isaiah Thomas said of N'Diaye, who arrived this summer from Senegal by way of two years at the College of Southern Idaho.
N'Diaye practiced through a broken nose sustained in preseason drills early last month like it was a 5-9 guard trying to get in his way. He scoffed at the protective mask the team's training staff offered him to wear.
"It's not like he blocks every shot - but he changes shots," Thomas said Tuesday before practice. "It's crazy how good his timing is on shots.
"Aziz is one guy people are going to love."
Thomas, senior defensive stopper Justin Holiday and inside force Matthew Bryan-Amaning - the senior who was huge late last season in UW's march to the Pac-10 tournament championship and third round of the NCAA tournament -- will join Gaddy in the Saturday's starting lineup.
The candidates to be the fifth starter appear to be N'Diaye and multidimensional 6-8 Darnell Gant. The choice will depend on how Romar and his staff want to begin the season.
"Do we go big or do we go small, to start the game? Because throughout the game we will go both," Romar said.
He wants to generally stick with the same starting lineup early in the year. The minutes those guys and the first ones off the bench play will vary as roles get set on the team, which is as veteran and versatile of any Romar has had at UW.
"This year, maybe more than any years, the starters don't matter," the coach said.
Fans attending Saturday's exhibition - tickets are $11-15 - will also see the playing debut of sharpshooter C.J. Wilcox, who redshirted his first season last year.
Gaddy is starting against Saint Martin's of Lacey, Wash., while fellow point guard Venoy Overton continues to rehabilitate his left hamstring. The dogged senior pulled that in mid-September while leaping for a routine layup in a pickup game.
Romar says Overton, one of the nation's biggest pests defensively, is expected to go "full bore" for the first time in practice on Monday.
"He could probably play Saturday, but just maybe a couple more days before we let him go full," Romar said.
Overton has been running and shooting for the last few days, and says he's about at 75 percent of full health. He set a goal of being ready for the season opener against McNeese State on Nov. 13.
He says there's no doubt he will be his usual, irritating, hounding self by the time the team leaves for the EA Sports Maui Invitational, which begins with a game against Virginia on Nov. 22.
"It's my last year. I'm going all out," Overton said. "If I hurt it (again), I hurt it."
Romar says that's not as likely as it would have been if the team hadn't taken such a conservative approach in Overton's recovery. Or if Overton hadn't reported to preseason drills in what the coach says was the best physical condition he's seen him in.
"Because he was in of the shape he was in, it won't take him long to get back," Romar said. "He plays one way: He gets after it."
While he's been out, Overton has been irritating his teammates at practices.
"I'm annoying people on the sidelines," he said, smiling. "When somebody gets beat (defensively), I'm giving them hell."