Youth - And Size - To Be Served On 2011-12 Huskies
Oct. 11, 2011
By Gregg Bell - UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE -The first thing that will strike you upon first glance at the Huskies as the reigning, two-time Pac-10 Conference tournament champions this season is that they are young.
Puppy-Dawg young. Younger than in any of Lorenzo Romar's 10 seasons as Washington's coach, in fact.
Seven freshmen, headlined by heralded Seattle native and all-state guard Tony Wroten, will be among the 15 Dawgs that will begin full practices Friday at Alaska Airlines Arena.
The surplus of new guys will be trying to collaboratively help offset the losses of leading scorer Isaiah Thomas, who left a year early to be drafted by the NBA's Sacramento Kings, plus inside force Matthew Bryan-Amaning and versatile leader Justin Holiday. They are gone from last season's team that went 24-11, beat Arizona in the conference tournament title game and beat Georgia in the second round of the NCAA tournament. Washington then lost a late lead and then its third-round NCAA game to North Carolina in March.
"We have an interesting blend of guys. It's a unique mix," Romar said Tuesday at the Huskies' annual preseason media day, when a roster was required reading.
Yet here's the thing about those young-ins: Romar through seniors Darnell Gant and Scott Suggs plus junior point guard Abdul Gaddy all say that after a summer of pick-up games and a month of conditioning practices together these guys aren't playing or acting new.
"I've talked to Scott and Gaddy about it: It's crazy how every time Romar brings in recruits, they fit in. Automatically. Like, as soon as they get here they just fit," said Gant, who with Gaddy are the team's two returning starters. "It's like they've been around for longer than they have.
"We've all developed this type of friendship and this type of camaraderie that everything jells. I feel like when the season starts and the more we practice together, we are just going to get better and better."
Wroten has definitely been around longer than it seems. And not just because he starred across town at Seattle's Garfield High School. Or because his debut is as eagerly awaited as Thomas' was after he arrived at UW from his native Tacoma by way of a Connecticut prep school in 2008.
"I've been coming to the games here since I was very young," Wroten said. "Before, I was always chillin' with the team. So we already knew each other. And Jenard (Jarreau, a freshman forward), from New Orleans, I've been talking to him in what seems like forever. So coming in it's not like, `Who's that? Who's that?'
"We already bonded. We go out. We play video games. We do community service. We're bonded together. We know each other, so we feel more comfortable (than normal freshmen). That's why I think we can be a special team this year."
OK, so they are tight.
Yet they are something else that hasn't always been the case on Romar's Huskies teams.
They are looooooong.
Wroten, who will spend time with Gaddy at point guard this season, is 6-5. Gaddy is 6-3 - and is playing with what his coach says might be even more quickness and confidence than he had while getting off to a smooth start to last season -- before he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee in January.
Jarreau is 6-10 only because of a monumental growth spurt in high school, and Romar says he handles the ball "more like a guard."
Desmond Simmons is coming off redshirting his first year last season. He's a 6-7 at a not-so-small forward.
And, oh yeah, 7-foot center Aziz N'Diaye is back in the middle, running the court and moving far more fluidly than when the junior endured a foot injury last season following ACL surgery the year before. Yet the native of Senegal still dominated the inside at times, notably against North Carolina in last season's finale, more than a Romar big man had in years.
All these long legs and arms make for what has the potential to become a matchup nightmare for opposing backcourts of smaller guards, with harassing defense and fiendish rebounding possible from every position in Romar's up-tempo system.
"This group has more size than you've been accustomed to seeing with our Husky teams since we've been here," Romar said. "And it's a good thing, because I don't think we've compromised our athleticism or our quickness."
Of course, we all know about potential.
"We haven't done anything. That's what potential means," Romar said.
The "doing" part begins this weekend. The Huskies make what has become an annual training camp-like retreat Saturday and Sunday, this time to Evergreen State College in Olympia. Twelve practice days on campus after that lead into the lone exhibition game on Nov. 4 against Seattle Pacific.
The season begins Nov. 12, 13 and 14 at home against Georgia State, Florida Atlantic and Portland in The World Vision Classic tournament. The first road test is Nov. 20 at Saint Louis, Suggs' home area and the team Romar coached before coming to Washington.
It all depends how much they internalize the one, overarching must on every Romar team, regardless of skill, size or experience: Defense.
As Romar said, even Thomas, who became a leader and a ball hawk at both ends of the floor in his three standout seasons at UW, entered as a freshman thinking "defense is something that you put around your yard."
"It will take you a while," Romar joked of the pun, "but you'll get it."
He hopes the same is true for all his freshmen this season.