Unleashed: Maybe UW's Best Freshman Seasons Ever
Feb. 15, 2012
By Gregg Bell
SEATTLE - Tony Wroten has poster-ized an opponent with a bodacious, memorable slam that still gets replayed nationally. He's scored 22 points to rally his Huskies to a big road victory. He's blocked a layup at the buzzer to save another, even bigger road win, at Arizona.
And that was just in a span of three days last month.
Oh, yeah, he also is fourth among all Division-I freshmen in scoring. And he leads Pac-12 freshmen in assists and steals.
OK, OK, you know all about Wroten.
But get a load of Jazmine Davis.
Davis has gone from overlooked and supposedly too short at 5-feet-8, from being recruited to Washington by a coaching staff that is no longer here, to the highest-scoring newcomer in the Pac-12 - and the fifth-highest scoring freshman in the nation. She became a starting point guard at the highest college level on the first day of her freshman season, for a coaching staff that didn't know Jazmine Davis from Davis, Calif., this time last year.
She has since not just held the job but seized it like no other freshman at that position in Huskies history.
Not bad for a gal who left San Jose, Calif., to attend UW because she wanted to attend its renowned nursing school.
How big a splash has Davis made? How about the nine points in 39 seconds she scored last weekend while rallying her Huskies late against Oregon State, a splurge she called "an adrenaline rush"? Or how about the 27 she dumped on Oregon in a UW win last Thursday?
Davis is the fourth-highest scoring player in any class in the Pac-12 at 16 points per game.
Together, Wroten and Davis are 32.4 points per game of big-time buckets and bravado far beyond their teenage years.
They should become the first Huskies to win the conference's men's and women's basketball freshmen of the year awards in the same season.
And I'm not the only one who thinks so.
"They sure can this year, huh?" Adia Barnes says.
Barnes would know. She was the conference's freshman of the year in 1995 at Arizona. The first woman's basketball player inducted into UofA's Hall of Fame was talking to me Tuesday just off the court inside Washington's Marv Harshman gym, before she helped run the Huskies women's team through practice as an assistant on coach Kevin McGuff's first-year staff at UW.
"She really deserves it. I will be surprised if she's not Pac-12 freshman of the year," Barnes says of Davis.
Sunday on Fox Sports Network's national telecast of Washington's men's win at Oregon State that kept the Huskies men's team tied atop the conference, color analyst Don MacLean declared Wroten hasto be the Pac-12's freshman of the year.
MacLean also knows one when he sees one. In 1989, he and fellow Bruin Molly Tideback were the men's and women's basketball freshmen of the year in the Pac-10.
The same school has swept the honors just two other times in the 26 seasons the conference has handed out both hoops awards in the same season. Stanford did it in 2000 with Casey Jacobson and Jamie Carey, and Arizona did it in 2002 with Salim Stoudamire and Dee-Dee Wheeler.
Wroten and Davis could - make that, should-- become the league's fourth such duo next month.
The guys who actually have league votes in the matter agree.
"Hands down," UW men's coach Lorenzo Romar said Tuesday when I asked him about Wroten being the Pac-12 freshman of the year. "No question. On to the next award."
The U.S. Basketball Writers Association seemed to validate Romar's confidence Wednesday. It named Wroten one of five finalists for the Wayman Tisdale Award that goes annually to the national freshman of the year.
Wroten says winning the conference award would be an honor - but not truly the one he seeks over the next three weeks.
"It'd be a great accomplishment if I am blessed enough to get that goal," Wroten said on the eve of Washington hosting Arizona State Thursday night.
But then he added in the next breath: "It's not better than (being) regular-season champions or Pac-12 champions."
Davis' coach thinks the Pac-12's woman freshman of the year should also be a Husky.
"If you look at the season she's had, the numbers she's put up and how much of an impact she has on our team, she should be an incredibly strong candidate for that," McGuff says.
Freshman Brittany Boyd of second-place California is second in the conference at 4.8 assists per game and is averaging 10.1 points. And, yes, awards such as these tend to go to players on teams at the top of the league standings.
Yet the fact ninth-place Washington is 13-10 overall and 5-8 in the league is all the more reason Davis should win the award. She excelling often against double- and triple-teams from defenses that know she is UW's main threat to score from the perimeter, though fellow Huskies guard Mercedes Wetmore has been coming on lately.
Then there's the fact Davis was handed the keys to Washington's offense from the moment in September that all-conference scorer Kristi Kingma was lost for the season to knee surgery. Davis has had the ball in her hands most from Day One. Lately she has been excelling despite playing 35 minutes per game out of necessity because of UW's many injuries.
"She was Tia Jackson's recruit, but for us it's been like `Wow!' She's a great player," said Barnes, who was similarly under-recruited entering Arizona 18 years ago. "She's been overlooked a lot. She's taken advantage of every opportunity. She's probably even surprised herself a little bit."
Barnes has been working with Davis on shooting 200 or more extra shots after practices.
That been time fairly well spent, eh? Davis has scored 20 or more in five consecutive games, including from her points-a-palooza in the final minute last Saturday.
Wroten is a Seattle city kid. His goal of reaching the NBA is within his reach. Davis, 18 and eight months younger than Wroten, is from the Bay Area. Her goal to become a nurse is a few more academic years away.
They don't see each other all that often, since they are usually on opposite schedules. Their class schedules don't mesh. The week the men's team plays at home the women are on the road.
This week the men are practicing each afternoon on the main floor at Alaska Airlines Arena, the same court they on which they will play Thursday and Saturday. At roughly the same time the women have practiced upstairs in the Harshman Gym. The arrangement reverses next week before the women will host Washington State and the men play in Pullman.
Yet Washington's dynamic freshmen point guards sometimes do cross paths on the ground floor of Hec Edmundson Pavilion. And when they do, they love to brag on each other.
"I saw that move you put on that person in the game. I'll have to try that one," Davis and Wroten have told each other more than once.
Davis is particularly fond of Wroten's "Euro step" made universally known by Minnesota Timberwolves rookie point guard Ricky Rubio and perfected this season by Wroten. The "Euro step" is when Wroten takes a high dribble and a crow hop in one direction, then slides by a frozen defender in the other direction, usually to Wroten's preferred left.
Opponents know the move is coming, as it does a half dozen or more times a game. Yet they can't stop it without fouling him, as his scoring and the fact Wroten is UW's leader in free throws attempted by far with 188 (33% of his entire team's total) show.
"Oh, yeah, I LOVE his Euro move!" Davis said, her dark eyes lighting up. "I've been trying that in practice."
As if Davis needs another weapon. She's already lethal -- literally.
She has a second-degree black belt in karate.
"Her hands should be registered," Barnes joked. At least I think she was joking.
"Since I was three, four years old I've taken karate," Davis said, adding she earned the second degree of her black belt when she was 13.
"It helps me from a mental aspect because it gives me self-discipline. And in basketball you need to be disciplined. You've got to do it the right way, every time."
Opponents often see the 5-8 Davis and think, "No problem. I'll just push her around."
"I always feel like they are trying to rough me up a little," she says.
Bad, awful idea.
"The physicality out there on the court doesn't bother me. I'm always willing to throw my elbows out or push myself into players for position," Davis says. "I actually use karate every game I play.
"I'm actually try to hit youon my way to the basket."
Her father, Oliver Davis, was a basketball and baseball player at St. Patrick-St. Vincent High School in Vallejo, Calif., whose athletic career ended in injury. When Jazmine was in grade school, he would pick up his daughter from school each day - then not let her in the house until she made 100 jumpers shooting at the hoop from five designated, long-distance spots in the family's driveway.
Davis has welcomed Coach Barnes' extra shooting work before and after practices at UW, by comparison. At least Davis doesn't have to make shots now in order to come inside to eat or to drop off her school books.
"My dad had me shooting 500 shots a day," Davis says.
Thanks dad. She may become the second Husky woman to become the conference's freshman of the year. Husky Hall of Famer Karen Deden was the co-winner in 1988.
"It would tell me that hard work really does pay off, and that people notice," Davis said of possibly winning the award.
"Just to be nominated would be an honor."
I know what's next for Davis. She's going to apply to UW's nursing school while she has three more seasons creating magic for the Huskies on the basketball floor. Davis teaming next season with a recovered, motivated Kingma plus heralded incoming recruit Katie Collier, a McDonald's High School All America out of Seattle Christian High, has the Dawgs primed for a breakout.
That's the potentially multimillion-dollar question.
The 6-5 point guard is about to become Washington's all-time freshman scoring and steals leader. Yes, better than Isaiah Thomas, the 2009 Pac-10 freshman of the year who is now with the NBA's Sacramento Kings. Better than Mark Pope and Chris Welp, the other Huskies who have been the league's freshman of the year, in 1992 and '84, respectively.
Romar has been watching Wroten since before he was in eighth grade. He said Wroten has exceeded what the veteran coach thought he could do scoring-wise as a freshman. If anything, Romar thought one of the top recruits in his 10 years leading UW might have more assists and fewer points than he's had in his debut season.
Wroten agrees with that.
"The thing I thought I could do a little more of was fancy passes," he said. "But, you know, when you get in the college everyone is the best of the best. And they are longer, taller. Some of those plays don't get in like they do in high school. I've had to cut that down a little bit. But scoring-wise, I always feel like I am a good scorer.
"On this team, Coach Romar wanted me to score more to help our team win. I'm doing whatever it takes to make our team win."
Will he enter the NBA draft after this lone season, as 7-footer Spencer Hawes did in 2007 after one Huskies season?
Wroten said again Tuesday he is only focused on the present with the Huskies, on winning the Pac-12 regular-season title and reaching the Final Four.
"Right now, I'm thinking about college basketball, not the NBA," he said.
Sure, he needs to work on his outside shooting and foul shots. Yes, he could use more maturing under the nurturing Romar. After all, Wroten doesn't even turn 19 until April.
Yet his talent is undeniably world-class.
Is it the only year Romar expects to have Wroten at UW?
"I really don't know what he's going to do," Romar told me Tuesday. "We've talked about it a couple of times already. But I really don't know."
There is one thing I know: If Wroten - and Davis, for that matter - aren't the Pac-12's freshmen of the year, why bother even having the award?
About Gregg Bell Gregg Bell is an award-winning sports writer who joined the University of Washington's staff in September 2010 as the Director of Writing. Previously, Bell served as the senior national sports writer in Seattle for The Associated Press. The native of Steubenville, Ohio, is a 1993 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. He received a master's degree in journalism from the University of California, Berkeley in 2000.
Gregg Bell Unleashed can be found on GoHuskies.com each Wednesday.