By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE -- Someone asked Lorenzo Romar during his preseason media-day press conference whether the Huskies’ trip to New York City next month for games against Indiana and either Connecticut or Boston College is motivating the team. UW is playing those teams in the 2K Sports Classic benefiting the Wounded Warrior Project at Madison Square Garden Nov. 21 and 22.
Romar flashed the look of a coach that is used to being in “March Madness” regularly — but hasn’t been in it with his Huskies over the last two seasons.
"We were 18-16 last year and did not make the NCAA tournament," Romar said Tuesday afternoon. "We’ll start with that as motivation."
Chips on the shoulders of Romar and his players are only some of what’s new for UW men’s basketball this coming season, which is 33 days away from opening Nov. 10 against Seattle U.
The Huskies have seven new, eligible faces on the roster: freshmen Nigel Williams-Goss, Darin Johnson and Jahmel Taylor; now-eligible transfers Perris Blackwell, Gilles Dierickx (Florida International) and Mike Anderson (Moberly Area (Mo,) Community College; plus 6-8 walk-on forward Connor Smith, a senior Romar announced on Tuesday had made the team.
UW has one new assistant coach — T.J. Otzelberger in from Iowa State — one new-old assistant in Raphael Chillious, back after one season at Villanova, and a new strength and conditioning coach in Daniel Shapiro from the NBA’s Sacramento Kings. (The stories on how they got to UW:).
"There’s a lot of newness here right now," Romar said.
"It kind of feels like my freshman year again. A lot of new guys," said 6-10 forward Jernard Jarreau, suddenly a veteran as a mere redshirt sophomore.
Even the preseason practice regimen is new. A new NCAA rule has aligned the men’s game with the women’s by allowing 32 preseason practices in a span of 40 days back from a team’s opening game. That means the Huskies will have had two weeks of practice above what they normally would have had on Oct. 15, the previous first day of men’s basketball practices nationwide.
"The timing was right to bring in this many new players," Romar said.
Based upon two practices in the last week, the first one and Tuesday’s at Alaska Airlines Arena, here are early impressions of the 2013-14 Huskies:
1. C.J. Wilcox is walking around like he owns the place. He is confident. He is comfortable. His presence is commanding, yet in a characteristically understated way. And he doesn’t look antsy taking a conservative, patient approach in working back from surgery in May to repair a stress fracture in his foot; he will likely return to fuller practicing next week and will be ready for the opener.
"I lead more by example," Wilcox said Tuesday.
He’s going to lead by scoring, working and cajoling teammates this season. He has the credibility as being the team’s leading scorer, one of the nation’s best shooters, and a guy who could be making six or seven figures in professional basketball right now instead of being in college making nothing.
He is the undeniable leader of this team. And a month before the season even begins for real, he looks and acts like it.
2. The Huskies have a weapon they didn’t have consistently last season: a proven inside scoring presence in Blackwell. And they are going to take advantage of him. The guards that don’t? They won’t play.
Asked who the team’s No. 2 scoring option will be behind Wilcox, Romar didn’t hesitate: “Perris Blackwell. Mark that down.
“He’s 270 pounds, and he’s a nimble 270 pounds.
"We are going to demand that we throw Perris Blackwell the ball," Romar said.
Blackwell was an honorable mention for the All-West Coast Conference team two seasons ago at San Francisco, when he averaged 12.7 points and 6.1 rebounds per game as a junior. He said Tuesday that here at Washington he finally be the scorer he felt he could have been for three seasons at USF.
"Yeah, I mean, I like to score," Blackwell said. "And I like to do it in a variety of ways. I just want to show it here. I didn’t really get to show that at my last school."
3. This team will run. More than last season. More like his first 10 Huskies’ teams, including the three that reached the Sweet-16 round of NCAA tournaments and the five that won conference regular-season or tournament championships.
They ran repeatedly in that first practice last week. On lines, in drills, during scrimmaging, they ran. Romar has made it clear to the returnees and the new Huskies alike that this season’s team is going to get back to the running, pressuring teams of his first 10, wildly successful seasons at UW.
"We’d like to push the ball and be in the open floor as much as possible," Romar said Tuesday.
4. Williams-Goss, the McDonald’s All-American last season at Findlay Prep outside Las Vegas, is far smoother, poised and vocal than the normal freshman point guard. And he will be a huge factor in this season.
He’s already a leader. He makes a point of being first in the running drills. He joshes with players during stretching at the start of practice. He directs vocally during scrimmaging. He’s easy to forget he’s still a teenager.
"He’s steadiness, leadership and consistency is something that’s going to help our team," Romar said — after just one week of practicing.