The emergence of their 6-foot-9 forward, who has been battling through Graves Disease for six months, could become a literally huge factor in the Huskies getting back up to size in the Pac-12.
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE – It’s a tossup which Lorenzo Romar and his Huskies are happier to see again:
Their home court at Alaska Airlines Arena for a game.
Or a healthy Shawn Kemp Jr.
The 6-foot-9 junior is back up to 255 pounds, from a low of 233 in the preseason while he battled through daily nausea and fatigue. He first starting feeling sick in July. It took until September for him to learn he had Graves Disease in his malfunctioning thyroid, affecting all sorts of functions and feelings throughout his body.
Now, Kemp is coming off a season-high 13 points with six rebounds Saturday at Stanford. His continued emergence as a sorely-needed presence inside would go a long way to UW (11-8, 3-3 Pac-12) keeping Oregon (13-4, 1-4) struggling Thursday beginning at 8 p.m. on Fox Sports 1 television, the Washington IMG College radio network and here on GoHuskies.com with the official live game chat.
“He is just now getting all his strength back,” coach Lorenzo Romar said Wednesday before a second consecutive, energetic practice inside Hec Edmundson Pavilion following the team’s Sunday and Monday off. “He’s playing more like he did at the end of last year.”
Last season after Romar put Kemp into to the starting lineup the 6-foot-9 forward responded by averaging 8.4 points and 3.4 rebounds per game. That was about double was he was averaging before Jan. 31.
Kemp’s return to prominence would be a huge boost to the Huskies. They have had to rely on four guards and lone big man Perris Blackwell since Desmond Simmons had arthroscopic knee surgery in the fall and fellow post Jernard Jarreau was lost for the season to a November knee injury.
"I’m close to 100 percent," Kemp said. "I feel way better than I did in the summer, but I’m not fully there yet."
The same can be said for the new Huskies; with seven new players this season they are not fully there yet.
But they survived having four of their first six conference games on the road, going 3-3. That rugged start has included a game at No. 1 Arizona in which the Huskies led by six in the second half; a loss at the other undefeated team in league play, California; a blow out win at then-11-2 Arizona State; the lopsided win over No. 15 Colorado at home Jan. 12, UW’s first victory over a ranked team in three years; and the loss at Stanford, which at 12-5 overall and 3-2 in the Pac-12 is a half game in front of the Huskies for fourth place in the league.
“To go through all that and be 3-3 and coming home for two games, I definitely think we’re still in position to make some noise,” Romar said, referencing Saturday 2 p.m. game against Oregon State (10-7, 2-3). “I don’t think we’ve shot ourselves in the foot at all.”
As for Kemp, he said his weight Tuesday of 255 “is exactly where I want to be.” It’s a sign that his strength is returning, and that the combinations of medication that Washington’s medical staff changed a week and a half ago are working. The previous regimen sapped Kemp of his energy and thus his effectiveness, leaving Romar no choice but to go primarily with four guards.
Mike Anderson, a 6-4 guard, has been the de facto second big man with Blackwell while Kemp has labored. Much bigger California exploited UW last week while blowing out the Huskies in Berkeley.
Kemp said that before October’s preseason practices began he was throwing up violently every day; “I mean, every day.” Coaches first thought he was out of shape, but doctors eventually discovered abnormalities with his thyroid.
“When I first found out I was relieved to know what was going on, because it was getting to me,” he said.
Even after that realization, he remained sluggish as the medical staff tried to find the best combination of medicine. Meanwhile Kemp stayed in foul trouble in the games he was able to slog through. He was unable to move his feet consistently enough to avoid grabbing with his hands or banging with his body.
Kemp has 50 fouls this season despite playing just 269 minutes. That’s by far the highest fouls-to-minutes-played frequency on the team. He’s fouled out of three games.
At Arizona on Jan. 4 he had five fouls in just 10 minutes played. In UW’s win over Colorado he had four fouls in 13 minutes.
But in two games since last week’s medication change, Kemp is 8 for 14 from the field for 18 points. He has just four total fouls against him in his last 34 minutes, marked progress.
Yet he is still adjusting to how games are being officiated this season. His illness, lethargy and spotty play into December left him the last Husky to experience this season’s emphasis by officials to call almost any contact by a defender a foul.
"I’m still adjusting. It’s not hard to see out there that they are calling a foul every other play," he said with a grin.
When asked him this team needs most to move atop the conference over the final six weeks of the regular season, Kemp said flatly: “Rebounding. Rebounding.”
He is averaging 1.9 rebounds per game. That number must improve as he shows he can handle — and is worthy of — more playing time.
This healthier, happier Kemp expects to do exactly that.
"As I go forward I definitely expect to play the way I did Saturday (at Stanford)," he said. "I don’t plan on going back down. … I plan on progressing. I feel better each day."
How much does the Huskies’ leading scorer and captain value the return of Kemp to contributing regularly?
"It’s big," C.J. Wilcox said Wednesday. "We need to get that every game from here on out. It makes Perris’ job easier. It makes everybody’s job easier."
INSIDE THE DAWGS: Wilcox has made more 3-point shots (20) than all six of the Huskies’ Pac-12 opponents have combined (16) so far in league play. … Some of it was because Stanford went primarily to zone defense to thwart Wilcox’s outside shooting, but UW had a season-low six turnovers in its last game. That was its fewest in a game in 12 months. The Huskies have turned it over 10 or fewer times in 10 of their 19 games. Oregon is likely to play some zone against Wilcox Thursday. … The Ducks are last in the Pac-12 allowing 85.2 points per league game. League foes are shooting 49 percent against Oregon so far. … The Huskies are 15-11 against Oregon under Romar. That includes an overtime loss in their last meeting, in the semifinals of the Pac-12 tournament won by the Ducks last March in Las Vegas. Wilcox was denied on a drive into the lane on the final play of regulation that could have won that game for Washington.