Saturday, June 30, 2012

The X-Factor in 2012-2013

Every team needs a star and perhaps just as important is the X-factor player. The guy who doesn't always produce the most impressive stats in every column, but does the type of work that turns a potential loss into a win. Many times the X-factor is the first man off the bench who supplies tough defense, a steady hand, and killer instinct.

Last season, C.J. Wilcox and Desmond Simmons often appeared to be the X-factor as both supplied their own unique brand of basketball support. Wilcox was an efficient scorer and solid defense player as well as shot blocker, while Simmons was more known for his rebounding and sheer tenacity in getting down and dirty after loose balls.

This season presents a more interesting challenge in identifying who will step his game up in a special way to supply the team with that extra oomph that is needed to keep the scoring margin in our favor. With our best talent now in the NBA there is plenty of room for players to step up and become the stars of the hardwood. In turn, this leaves room for players to become the new X-factor, but exactly who is tough to nail down after experiencing such a shallow bench this past year.

Desmond Simmons is an easy early pick as next season's X-Factor. While Simmons' production on the glass slowed during conference play, the potential and talent was clearly displayed in the non-conference games and will most certainly be improved upon by the start of 2012's non-conference schedule. Simmons reminds me a lot of Jon Brockman, an undersized power forward with great strength and hustle. Simmons knows how to use his body to gain position and snatch rebounds up left and right and is more than willing to sacrifice his body diving on the floor and fighting for every ball out there. Simmons showed signs of an excellent mid range to long range shot in early season games, but strayed away from shooting the ball as the year went on. With the departure of Darnell Gant, the team could really use a consistent touch between 10 and 15 feet and Simmons may be just the guy to do it. What makes me believe in Simmons as the X-factor next season is his motor and drive. Not many players work as hard as he does day in and day out. Add in his extra experience due to his redshirt season and Simmons has all the makings of a game changer.

Aziz N'Diaye should also be considered in this discussion due to the offensive upside that remains on his side. N'Diaye will (more than likely) be a three year starter for the Dawgs, all without having much of a developed offensive game. Everyone knows the type of contribution N'Diaye makes on the defensive end with his massive body sucking up the paint and his rebounding efforts make him a very valuable force in the middle. N'Diaye can become an X-factor by turning his inability to shoot free throws into a passable aspect of his game. With N'Diaye standing taller and stronger than a majority of his opposition, playing above and through contact should not and has not been too much of a problem. What has been a problem is his production at the foul line following the contact. With a career average just over 40%, N'Diaye has missed, quite literally, over 100 free opportunities at easy points. I expect no player to be perfect at the line, but as Gilles Dierickx has shown, big men can shoot the ball well from the foul line if they are willing to work at it. Averaging 4 foul attempts per game this past year, N'Diaye is missing 2 to 3 points per game. Perfecting his shot suddenly jumps N'Diaye's 8 point average right into the double digit range and gives him a chance to put up a double-double in every game. A summer's worth of work should be enough to get him near the 75% any player should consider the minimum, it only comes down to whether N'Diaye is willing to put in the work necessary to fix his shot. UW has been well known for its string of proficient outside shooters and wings. If N'Diaye can become an offensive force in the paint, his presence can be a deterrent to defenses wishing to cheat outside. However, this will only work well if N'Diaye proves he can hit the free ones. Should N'Diaye continue to miss his foul shots, the opposition should have no problem instituting a "Hack-a-Shaq" policy and the defense will be freer to spread the floor and prevent the deep shots.

Mark McLaughlin is another intriguing choice, though for different reasons than the two mentioned above. McLaughlin was a dominating scorer at the junior college level averaging nearly 30 points per game. The biggest question surrounding McLaughlin is "Can he produce at such high levels against Division 1 defense?" The likely answer is that McLaughlin will continue to score in droves, though his possession numbers will not be high enough to rack up 30 points a night. Personally, McLaughlin strikes me as a guy who will produce much like Wilcox has these past two years. McLaughlin sizes up well next to Scott Suggs and Wilcox and could very well be the 6th man of this team and the first sub off the bench. What made the 2010-2011 Huskies so dangerous was the bench depth and scoring potential of so many players. That season featured a rotation of nearly 10 guys, all of whom could have started for any team in the Pac-10. They all could score and as such, substitutions did not mean a dip in scoring. McLaughlin should be a big help in that same vein. When Suggs or Wilcox need a breather, McLaughlin could offer up a third deadly hand to maintain a high team scoring average. McLaughlin needs to establish himself early in the preseason games in Europe and Africa to gain the confidence of his coaches and teammates.

A fourth choice is Jernard Jarreau, the 6-10 forward with point guard skill. Featuring a 7-7 wingspan, Jarreau is a lanky guy with huge potential to disrupt on the defensive end and play above the rim on both sides of the court. A comparison to Anthony Davis is likely farfetched, but Jarreau strikes me as a similar player due to their build and back stories. With N'Diaye beside Jarreau with a 7-6 wing span, the duo more than covers the 12 foot paint and take up 30% of the court's width. That type of length is tough to beat and will certainly help ail some of the defensive issues that plagued the Dawgs off and on last season. Jarreau must do more than play tough, preventative defense. Jarreau must also supply some sort of scoring potential, preferably from the high post where he can see above the defense to create plays through himself or with a pass to an open teammate. Jarreau could be the first man off the bench for the Husky frontcourt to provide Simmons with a breather. Jarreau's thin frame prevents him from subbing for N'Diaye, but that is where Shawn Kemp Jr. comes into play.

Go Dawgs!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Who will take over in 2012-2013?

The title of best player is always up for debate in the world of sports. Sure, some NBA teams possess super stars that leave little doubt like the Heat and LeBron James, the Magic and Dwight Howard, or the Zombie Sonics and Kevin Durant, but at the college level things change drastically. Several players contribute in a variety of ways to allow great debates about which player has the greatest and most positive impact on his team.
This past off-season saw the departure of our two best players in Terrence Ross and Tony Wroten. While some may not agree with declaring Wroten as one of our top players, it is hard to ignore everything he did for the Husky squad. What this means for the 2012-2013 season is a wide opening for several individuals to elevate their games to the next level and take over the reigns as the squad's "Best Player."
Being the best player is about more than points per games or how many rebounds a player can snatch up in 40 minutes. The best player needs to have intangibles that don't show up in the post-game box score. The best player needs to dominate all aspects of the game and thrive because of it.
Arguably the best player in recent, if not all, UW history is Isaiah Thomas and he is exactly the sort of player I refer to when I talk about a guy doing more than just hitting baskets and making plays. I.T. ruled the court with both his skills and his attitude. The guy refused to lose. He did everything and more to motivate and carry his team through adversity as well as success. If you have any doubt about how good I.T. was and is, just watch this.
My initial reaction was to peg Scott Suggs as the best player next season. Suggs has everything a team could want in terms of size, athleticism, and experience. After facing a tough foot injury right before the 2011-2012 season began, Suggs opted to take a medical redshirt and return in full force for a complete and dominating senior season. Built just like Ross, Suggs stands at 6-6 and nearly 200lbs. Suggs' long athletic frame allows him to elevate above the competition at the hoop and outside the arc. During his junior season campaign, Suggs showed a huge improvement concerning his inside game. Suggs was able to attack the rim and finish inside. We are all well aware of Suggs' ability to nail the outside shot. Suggs was arguably the best sharpshooter on the team in 2010-2011 due to his consistency and accuracy. Watching Suggs during warm-ups this past season has only increased my confidence in his ability to drain the long ball. As a fifth year senior, Suggs has more experience than most. Suggs has participated in 3 NCAA tournament appearances as well as having won a regular season title and two tournament titles (I won't include his redshirt season as he did not play in any games). I believe Suggs will step in to fill Ross' shoes immediately and will make a strong case for Pac-12 Player of the Year honors. The one aspect on his game that Suggs can improve on to solidify his position as the Best Player is rebounding. Suggs has never been a great rebounder, but the increased presence of his inside game will allow Suggs more opportunities near the hoop to snag a few extra boards. I can easily envision Suggs averaging 16 points and 5 rebounds per game. That type of production combined with excellent senior leadership and tenacity would make for an amazing player and could certainly be a game changer in tight situations.
C.J. Wilcox should be involved in any type of "Best Player" argument, whether simply the Husky Basketball team or the Pac-12 conference. Wilcox averaged a quiet 14 points per game last season despite battle nagging injuries that prevented him from seeing action in several games and limiting his play time in others. With a full summer to heal the stress fracture in his hip/leg, Wilcox is primed to light up the court for what could be his final season. Wilcox is attending the Kevin Durant skill camp this summer along with playing the the Seattle Summer league games, giving him plenty of opportunities to work on his abilities before the preseason games across the Atlantic. As with Suggs, Wilcox can strengthen his argument for the team's best player by improving his rebounding from 3 boards per game to 5 or 6. A greater aspect to improve upon, perhaps more important than a few more rebounds per game, would be Wilcox's ability to play into and through contact near the paint to draw fouls and free throws. Wilcox averaged 84% from the line last season and at one point had hit over 30 free throws in a row. Romar's teams have always been known to be unsuccessful at the foul line, yet individual players have made great strides in improving their shot from the charity stripe and in doing so become game changers. These individuals include I.T. and Jon Brockman. Last season, Wroten averaged nearly 8 free throws attempts per game, making under 60% on the season. With Wilcox's 84% average those 4 points from 8 free throws becomes nearly 7 points per game. 3 points extra per night is a huge number from the foul line where close games are won and lost. What could ultimately hold Wilcox back from being the best player on the 2012-2013 squad is his quiet nature. In terms of sheer athletic ability, no one can match-up with Wilcox. Wilcox has been the fastest at the mile, is one of the quickest sprinters on the team, and has the highest vertical jump of anyone. Wilcox out jumped Ross last season and we have all seen what type of plays can occur when a player has huge hops. If Wilcox can become not only a leader in terms of production, but also as a vocal and emotional leader, he could be a favorite for Player of the Year awards.
Aziz N'Diaye would be my third pick for top player on the team. N'Diaye's size and defensive presence alone put him near the top of the list. N'Diaye showed great improvement to his footwork, post moves, and in softening his hands. The big man is no longer a black hole in the middle where the ball will never return from. N'Diaye showed better court vision knowing when to take his man to the hoop and when to kick the ball back out to the perimeter. N'Diaye is already a supreme rebounder, picking up nearly 8 per night, but could take another step forward by boxing out better on the offensive end and allowing his length to take charge. Where N'Diaye can really improve is his offensive game. This has always been the weakest part of N'Diaye's game, but his jump hook is improving steadily. I would also like to see N'Diaye throw down a few more dunks. Too often, N'Diaye is right next to the hoop and opts for a dainty little lay-in. Throw down, big man, throw down. Dunks are the highest percentage shots there are. At 7-0, it is hard to have a dunk blocked inside 4 feet. Take a page out of this kid's book, N'Diaye, it'll help you immensely. If N'Diaye can continue improving his ability to catch the ball and finish at the rim, he could quite possibly average 14 points per game on top of 8 rebounds and a block or two a night. All that production does not even begin to tell the whole tale, something I argued earlier would be critical in determining the team's best player. How many times has an opposing player driven towards the lane only to see N'Diaye towering in the paint? How many times has that player then changed his mind and opted for either a terrible jumper or been forced to kick the ball back outside the paint? That is the type of impact that doesn't show up in the box score. It's the type of impact that every player should strive for.
A fourth, perhaps outside pick, would be Abdul Gaddy. Gaddy has struggled to live up to the All-American hype that surrounded him coming into his freshman season. Gaddy came to the UW as a quite young 17 year old, trying to compete against 22 year old players who were much stronger, faster, and experienced. Gaddy's sophomore campaign started phenomenally, but sadly he blew his ACL right as Pac-10 play began. Gaddy spent the summer recuperating his knee and appeared to be on track for a solid 2011-2012 year. Gaddy spent much of this past season looking slower and more cautious, something that was not all that surprising given his newly injured knee. At the end of the year, Gaddy finally realized how deadly he can be when driving the lane. Not only does it open the opportunity to kick out for an assisted 3-pointer, but it also allows Gaddy to get a good look at the hoop down low in the paint where his teardrop shot can be put to good use. What Gaddy needs to do in order to become our best player is to take this team over and make it his. This will be Gaddy's senior season. His last hurrah. Gaddy must develop that seasoned, vocal leadership this team so dearly lacked last season. Gaddy could average double digit points if he attacked the rim consistently and improved his 3-point accuracy. And, while it may seem greedy, I would really like to see Gaddy average 7 assists per game. Gaddy has amazing court vision and has a great knack for making solid passes to open players. I believe Romar's play calling is what is holding Gaddy back from averaging those types of numbers. If Romar can develop a few more motion offensive plays, Gaddy will have more opportunities to deliver the rock to open guys on the perimeter and in the post. With the addition of Suggs as a steady hand inside and out, Gaddy has one more tool at his disposal to spread the floor and make things happen. Another important point to note is the absence of Wroten allows Gaddy to resume taking a majority of the point guard play time, meaning more play-making opportunities to boost his stats.
So who do you think will take over in 2012-2013? One of these four? Someone else? Let us know in the comments below.
Go Dawgs!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

2012-2013: Who can take over in the frontcourt?

Quick recruiting update: Nigel Williams-Goss, a 6-3 point guard out of Oregon, has verbally committed to the Huskies for the 2013 recruiting class. NWG is a stereotypical Romar player: smart (4.0 GPA in high school), focused on the defensive end, and the completely opposite of a drama-hog. Instead of the "traditional" method of declaring a commitment via selecting a hat off a table, NWG opted to write a blog post about his decision. NWG is a great pick-up would should help replace Abdul Gaddy following his senior season.

Now back to your regularly scheduled programming.

I mentioned briefly in my early season preview that one of the Huskies biggest issues moving into the '12-'13 season is filling the power forward position Darnell Gant had been the center of the past two years. Desmond Simmons provided solid relief in the non-conference season, but struggled to have a strong impact in conference play. Outside of Simmons, the Huskies had little bench support to speak of at the 4 (and 5 slot for that matter).

If the Huskies want to compete for a 5th straight Pac-10/12 title, the Dawgs will need to find an answer to the question "Who can take over in the frontcourt?" While a definitive answer is far from complete at this point in the year, the Dawgs do possess a number of candidates who could make enough of an impact to take scoring and defensive pressure off the backcourt.

The only certainty in the frontcourt is Aziz N'Diaye who will undoubtedly remain in the starting line-up as our go-to center for the third straight season. N'Diaye improved his offensive game greatly this past year as well as his ability to play suffocating defensive without drawing a foul every few plays. This has allowed N'Diaye the opportunity to play more minutes, leading to more scoring and game play experience. N'Diaye's hands softened up and the big man was able to add some nice drop step maneuvers to his post game skill set. N'Diaye continued to struggle mightily at the foul line, but another summer could prove to be invaluable for his work at the charity stripe. Oftentimes N'Diaye's shots would fall short or long of their mark, but remain dead on target in terms of hitting the center of the rim. If the 7 footer can bring his foul shot percentage up to 75% from his career average of 40.4%, N'Diaye will see his scoring average raise at least 1 points per game (a number more significant than it may seem). This number increases even more if N'Diaye can play more into contact to draw a greater number of fouls. During the 2011-2012 season, N'Diaye averaged just under 4 foul shot attempts per game. With the Pac-12 featuring some powerful frontcourts next year in UCLA and USC, the Dawgs desperately need players to step up inside the paint and draw fouls on the opposition. While I do not expect N'Diaye to pull a Derrick Williams and average over 8 foul attempts per game, seeing N'Diaye raise his average from 4 to 6 would be fantastic for the Huskies.

I wish N'Diaye could play the full 40 minutes, but N'Diaye is not I.T. and those type of minutes will wear on any players as the season progresses. With that in mind it is critical that the Dawgs find a strong relief player who can fill the paint and provide solid play on both sides of the court. The loss of Darnell Gant is felt even more when considering this problem. While Gant may not have been the strongest player at the 5, his length and speed made him dangerous as a defender and his mid-range game made Gant a tough cover for bigger centers like Josh Smith.

Maybe the most obvious man for the job is Shawn Kemp Jr. Kemp comes in at 6-9 and a very solid 265lbs. Kemp may have averaged only 7 minutes and 2 points per game last season, but Kemp did something our other frontcourt players seemed scared to do: go hard to the rim and dunk the ball. Too often for my taste, N'Diaye would lay the ball in rather than going up for the jam. I know N'Diaye can dunk, I just don't know why he seems so scared to do just that. N'Diaye's length is unbelievable and very few players can get their hands up near his on the block. Kemp understands that a dunk is more than just two points. A dunk can change the momentum of a game by charging up the home crowd or silencing a hostile environment. Players rally around guys playing a tough, physical game and a center that can throw down next to the rim is an immense tool. I believe Kemp can be that tough player. I believe Kemp can be that guy to come in and bang in the paint, drawing a few fouls while delivering a few of his own. Kemp certainly has the genetics for highlight plays and showed flashes of his abilities during his limited play time. When considering Kemp as N'Diaye's backup you have to remember that Kemp had spent two season away from competitive basketball while improving his academic standing and his conditioning and skills suffered as a result. Now that Kemp is able to refocus his efforts in basketball, expect an immediate rise in his abilities.

We now arrive at the biggest unknown of next season: the 4. If I had to place a bet now, I would lay my money on Desmond Simmons starting at the 4 slot. Simmons proved he is the rough and tumble energy guy Romar professed him to be. Simmons was aggressive on both ends of the glass and supplied reasonably solid defense through the game. Some may argue that Simmons is a tad undersized for the 4 at only 6-7, but at 220lbs Simmons has the strength to battle with players bigger than himself. It is truly his motor that carries him forward and allows him to find success. Where Simmons needs to improve is his mid-range shot. The Dawgs need Simmons to nail down that 12 to 15 footer that Gant was known for.  It is an especially dangerous shot when used on the high post screen/pick-and-roll, a play Romar neglects to use way too often. I believe this is a simple fix for Simmons due to the fact that he started the year hitting exactly that type of shot. I'm not sure what changed between November and January, but the Freshman Wall almost always rears its head and Simmons encountered his late in the year. I doubt any Husky fan is expecting our 4 to average double digit points, but I think it is more than fair to want our starting forward to bring 7 to 8 points a game with him.

After Simmons, the experience level drops off pretty significantly. The Huskies have 2 players off the bench to provide some length and minutes.

I expect Martin Breunig to be a big part of the bench next season. I love this kid's attitude and the way he plays. Defensively, Breunig had troubles picking up Romar's style of play, which ultimately led to his limited minutes during conference play. That being said, Breunig is aggressive on offense and seems to possess solid court vision. After the Huskies ended their post season, Romar talked about how the defensive issues would be cleared up immediately and that the Husky fan base should expect a return to the hustle and grind that teams in the Romar era have been known for. Breunig has great athleticism and the will to do whatever is necessary to get the W. After a year of the learning a brand new system in a brand new country, Breunig is primed for an off season of training that is made even more valuable when considering the multi-week trip to Europe and Africa that will give The Dawgs an additional 10 practices before non-conference play. With a defensively improved Breunig, the forward slot issues could be much more easily and readily addressed.

A potential X-Factor for the '12-'13 season is 6-10 forward Jernard Jerreau. When Jerreau first arrived at campus he had to run circles in the shower to get wet. A full year of weight lifting during his redshirt season has led to at least 15lbs of muscle being added to his lengthy frame since high school. That additional muscle puts Jerreau at a much better 205lbs with another four and a half months to go before the games begin. Jerreau has skills that many others his size do not after growing 7 inches between his freshman year of high school and his senior year. Jerreau can handle the ball with somewhat surprising grace that combined with his 91 inch wingspan allows the New Orleans native to make plays above and around others with much greater ease. The key to Jerreau's career moving forward is continuing his weight lifting regiment to gain the strength necessary to play through contact and battle more stout players. Jerreau will not be able to compete in the center against guys like Josh Smith or the Wear twins due to his thin frame, but he could do a lot of good against the many 6-8 and 6-9 players at the forward position where his speed and length will be much tougher to stop. I, for one, am very excited to see Jerreau step on the court and see what all he has to offer. With a great shot and decent rebounding, Jerreau could make his way into the starting 5 due to his size (Imagine a starting 5 of 6-3, 6-6, 6-6, 6-10, 7-0, I'm drooling already).

Two other players have uncertain futures with the Huskies: Austin Sefarian-Jenkins and Perris Blackwell.

Perris Blackwell is a transfer player from USF who stands at 6-9 240lbs. What is holding Blackwell back are the NCAA transfer rules and his current standing as a student. If Blackwell could somehow complete 2 quarters worth of schooling over the summer, Blackwell could apply to the UW as a graduate student allowing him to immediately join and play for the Huskies. This scenario is highly unlikely and as a result, Blackwell will need to sit out the 2012-2013 season as a redshirt per NCAA regulations meaning Dawg fans will have to wait to see Blackwell donning the purple and gold.

Austin Sefarian-Jenkins is a potential All-American football player who may wish to sit out the basketball season to avoid injuries that could end his football playing career. Though ASJ loved and grew from his time on the hardwood, his future lies on the gridiron and risking injury as a walk-on to a sport that will not pay his bills is not a wise course of action.  At 6-6 and 260lbs, ASJ was great for about 5 minutes of play and 5 hard fouls, which is exactly what I would expect him to bring to the floor should he put on a basketball uniform for another season. What Husky fans need to keep in mind is that even if ASJ decides to play basketball once more, we will not be able to count on him until conference play as the football season extends into late December and, hopefully, very early January.

What next year's frontcourt comes down to is 5 guys playing a total of 80 minutes, of whom only two have any reasonable amount of experience on the court in a college atmosphere. N'Diaye should continue to pick up his 25 minutes a game and Simmons will likely add a few more to his responsibility in order to fill in the gap left by Gant's departure. This leaves 30-35 minutes amongst 3 players, all of whom could easily contribute the 10-12 minute average that would be asked of them. The most likely scenario is that Kemp Jr. picks up 15 minutes to fill in for N'Diaye, while Breunig and Jerreau split the remaining 15-20 minutes at the 4. With a stellar backcourt once again, this Husky frontcourt should not have too much scoring pressure on their shoulders and much of the frontcourt's responsibilities will come on the defensive end and both sides of the glass. Last season, the frontcourt accounted for 30% of the team scoring and I would imagine next season's team to average the same.

So who can take over in the frontcourt? The answer is pretty much anyone. N'Diaye and Simmons have shown they can play, but there is a lot of room for improvement and opportunity that several players could seize. Romar has always been big on players earning their starting position, stating that no one is ever guaranteed a starting spot when practice begins. While I think most fans would agree that N'Diaye will be in the starting 5, an argument can clearly be made for a number of players to start at the forward position, depending on the off-season progress made by each individual.

The conclusion is that Husky fans should not be terribly worried about our frontcourt. Our team will be much more experienced next season and the tools exist for our frontcourt to have a successful year. I've always been a firm believer that basketball is an inside-out game, meaning that a strong (or at least reliable) frontcourt will open the floor for a talented backcourt to take over. This group of guys can get that job done. Now we just have to wait to see if they can execute and utilize the talent on their team effectively.

Go Dawgs!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

An Early Look at the 2012-2013 Husky Basketball Team

The 2011-2012 season has been over for some time now. Our two stars have declared early for the NBA draft and Lorenzo Romar seems to be done recruiting for next season. The Dawgs have added two new names to the roster, though one will likely redshirt this season as per NCAA regulations regarding transfers.

So what can Husky fans expect out of next year's team? It's a bit hard to tell at the moment, especially in light of last season's less than stellar outcome. While the 2011-2012 team was young, but talented, the lack of depth may have ultimately led to the early season losses and the late season collapses. 2012-2013 looks to be loaded with much more experience and, hopefully, a much deeper bench that will allow Romar and staff to execute the type of high octane defense that has been such a staple of this program.

With 7 freshman on last season's roster it is easy to see why the team may have struggled early on. Next season the roster will feature 2 redshirt freshmen, 5 sophomores (4 if Austin Sefarian-Jenkins does not return), 1 redshirt sophomore, 2 juniors, and 4 seniors (though Perry Blackwell will be redshirting). Now I must state that experience does not always equal talent, but it certainly is not a deterrent. Only two incoming players will have had zero experience with Romar's program and both players are experienced college ball athletes. Along with the preseason trip to Europe and Africa, this team should be a much more prepared unit than the 15 guys that took the court against Seattle Pacific University in early November, 2011.

The biggest question is most certainly "Who will replace Terrence Ross and Tony Wroten?" With Scott Suggs returning from his medical redshirt season, it is easy to imagine Suggs slipping right into Ross' starting possession and immediately make a positive impact. Suggs was our most consistent 3-point threat in the 2010-2011 season and he appeared confident in his shot throughout the exercises in the pregame warm-ups. Suggs has a chance to be one of the leagues leading scorers if he can not only knock down his jumper, but also drive the line with regularity to keep the defenses from cheating out to cover him. C.J. Wilcox also has the potential to jump into the starting 5 with his excellent outside shooting. At times, Wilcox was a streaking shooter hitting either all of his shots or none at all. There is no stopping Wilcox once he gets hot, just take a look at the 2009-2010 game against UCLA for proof.

I should also throw the new Husky's name in here, Mark McLaughlin. While I have seen very little of his game outside the occasional highlight video, McLaughlin is another tall wing with excellent scoring abilities. McLaughlin could provide excellent 6th man support, much like Wilcox this past year. Who knows, McLaughlin may turn out to be a better scoring threat than either Suggs or Wilcox, though my money is on the later players.

As for point guard production, the majority of the burden will fall upon Abdul Gaddy who is still struggling to live up to the hype set before his freshman year. Gaddy showed much more aggressiveness in the final stretch, but it proved to be too little too late. Gaddy is a well controlled guard with great court vision who, unlike Wroten, can see his teammates on the perimeter while attacking the lanes and is very comfortable kicking it out for an open J. Gaddy needs to be willing to move inside the paint and drop in the teardrop over the opposition frontcourt or simply bank his shot off the glass into the rim. When Gaddy executes inside, it looks all too easy and often leaves me wondering why in the world he doesn't attempt such things more often.

With next year's starting 5 likely featuring 2 outside threats versus 2 point guards, we may see more driving shots from whoever is at the 1 position as the defense spreads to covers the 3-point threat. I also believe that Andrew Andrews is in a position to provide stellar relief for Abdul Gaddy. Andrews has shown to be a fairly solid outside shot and is also known for having great speed and passing abilities. I've been told that Andrews has come out of practices looking like the best point guard on the court. We can only hope that these rumors are true. Hikeem Stewart can also improve his impact on the game by spending the summer with a shooting coach. As it stands Stewart is a 1-dimensional player without much of a shooting game, making it far too easy for opponents to simply sit back and let Stewart jack up shots that will never fall.

The second question the Huskies will have to address is "How will the frontcourt perform?" In many ways, this is a more important question than replacing Ross and Wroten. Players almost always step up their offensive production when called upon to do so and considering the holes our team needs to fill is in our deepest position, well we as fans shouldn't stress ourselves too much in that regard. The Huskies lose Darnell Gant to graduation, leaving Aziz N'Diaye as the only major minute grabbing big man. Desmond Simmons will pick up most of Gant's minutes as Simmons proved himself to be an amazing rebounder and hustler whenever he got into the game. Simmons did hit the proverbial freshman wall late in the season, but the fact that it took so long to occur is a testament to the work ethic Simmons possesses. I believe that Simmons and N'Diaye will be responsible for most of the dirty work off the glass, but expect some support for our outside guards.

The Husky frontcourt will also add in 6'10 redshirt freshman, Jernard Jerreau. While Jerreau is still built like a beanpole, he has put on weight since arriving to the UW campus. Another summer of working out will hopefully see an additional 10 or 15lbs of muscles added to his physique. The frontcourt should also see reasonable production from Shawn Kemp Jr. and Martin Breunig, both of whom showed potential on the offensive side of the ball. Their defensive lapses is what likely kept both players from receiving more minutes throughout the year. I am a big fan of Breunig. During his limited playtime, he really impressed me on the offensive end and I like the way he executes. I also enjoy Kemp Jr. dunking the ball next to the rim, rather than trying to lay it in as N'Diaye so often does.

So can the frontcourt establish itself as a respectable threat such that our backcourt benefits? I would say...yes. The Husky frontcourt will not be one of the top in the nation, heck it likely won't be one of the top in the conference (see UCLA for frontcourt depth). What the Husky frontcourt will be is a reminder for teams that the pick-and-roll still exists, that cheating out to the perimeter leads to easy dunks and lay-ins, and that dropping the ball inside to our big men is not any less effective than hitting a 15 foot jumper. Last season our frontcourt averaged only 28% of our points, I'd like to see that number jump to 35%. Our team relied far too much on backcourt production last season and that wears down players quicker than one might imagine. Sure, we managed to score nearly 80 points per game, but our defense suffered from the effort required on the offensive end. If the post can establish themselves as a scoring threat, the perimeter players will not be asked to run off of so many screens or cut across the baseline as often. I'm not saying those things should stop by any means, but if we can get a nice pass to the block for a 1-on-1 situation, our frontcourt should be talented enough to score a majority of the time. N'Diaye has really begun to put together some solid post moves that are near impossible to stop at 7 feet tall.

Overall, I would say this team may be slightly more consistent than 2011-2012, but I fear a similar post season outcome. UCLA and Arizona look very dangerous with some very talented freshmen joining their respective teams. Stanford also looks to be a threat, losing very little from last year's NIT championship team. What this means for the Huskies, is with a successful non-conference reason of their own, the Pac-12 could finally start making a return to dominance in the NCAA tournament. At this point, I would predict the Huskies to finish in 3rd, maybe 4th place, with a 12-6 or 11-7 record. As the season draws nearer and more information begins to come out from the various camps and practices, I'll speculate more on how each individual Pac-12 team should fair in the coming season.

Go Dawgs!

Friday, May 4, 2012

UW to Take On Europe and Africa

The UW Huskies scrapped plans earlier this year to travel to China for several exhibition games against Chinese professionals. We were promised something equally exciting, if not more so, and the UW did not disappoint. The Huskies have scheduled 7 games across 15 days throughout Europe and Africa. UW is allowed 10 practices before hopping on their plane out, which will no doubt be tremendously helpful in preparing for the regular season.

The Huskies begin their trip on August 25th in Barcelona, Spain for a 5 day/2 game stint before departing to Nice (pronounced Niece), France (having been to Nice, I must say I am quite jealous of the weather they should experience). The Dawgs will stay in Nice for 3 days for two games at which point the Huskies will head over to Paris, France for a 4 day/2 game stay. Following Paris, the Huskies will fly down to Senegal, Africa for a 4 day/1 game stay. This should be immensely exciting for Aziz N'Diaye as it will give him the opportunity to play in front of friends and family.

Go Dawgs!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

What Sports Mean to Me

Sports are more than just two teams or a group of individuals competing against one another. Sports are more than the score at the final buzzer. Sports are more than just a show to turn on in passing while flipping channels. Sports are a way of life, a way to define oneself, a way to learn valuable life lessons that can only be found on the hardwood and gridiron, and an escape from the monotony of everyday life.

Just about every kid dreamed of being a sports star at some point in their life. Whether it was draining a buzzer beating 3-pointer to win the championship or hitting a walk-off grand-slam in the bottom of the 9th, every child wanted to be a super star. The fact of the matter is that very few will ever get to experience that pure jubilation of nailing the game-winner and the rest must be content to watch it happen.

I was no exception. I grew up playing sports from the moment I could swing a bat or shoot a ball. I was 3 years old when my dad first handed me a rolled up newspaper to hit a wiffle ball. A year later I was on my first peewee tee-ball team alongside my cousin. Not long after that I picked up basketball, which was soon followed by soccer.

My parents are both Physical Education teachers, one of my grandfathers was also P.E. teacher. Like my grandfather, my dad was a coach and player throughout his life and their passion for all things sports was instilled in me from a young age and I have loved every minute of it. My dad introduced me to his two sports: basketball and baseball. My mother gave me her love for soccer. My dad coached my basketball and baseball teams through my 8th grade season, at which point I then transferred to a new school district where I played my last season for any organized team in basketball and baseball. Since then I've been content to play both sports in pick-up games where ever I can find the time. Just having graduated from the University of Washington, I spend most of my day job hunting and playing pick-up basketball for 3 or 4 hours a day down at the IMA. I played organized soccer in a rec league until I turned 19 as well as indoor soccer alongside my mom for well over a year straight. Every weekend my mom and I would head to the Bremerton Indoor Center where we would take play alongside several other parent/child combos.

Sports have given me so many tools that I have used in both the academic and "professional" setting. Skills like team management, time management, teamwork, communication, and persistence are the first few that jump to mind. There comes a killer instinct from playing sports, a drive to excel in all scenarios, that is hard to achieve without some sort of sporting background.

I was never an amazing athlete. Not a slouch, but I was hardly ever the star. It was never my true dream to pursue a career as a sports athlete. My cards lay in academia and that's what I have successfully achieved. I just graduated with a 3.4 GPA and a Bachelor of Science in Physics. Every year myself and my friends would sign up for a variety of intramural sports that included Flag Football, Co-Ed and Men's Basketball, Men's Softball, and Co-Ed Ultimate Frisbee. Like myself, my friends have grown up with sports playing a big role in their lives. Just because I couldn't compete at the highest level didn't mean I had to halt my "career" as an athlete. I still strive to be the best I can be, to play the hardest I can every game, and to leave everything on the court.

Despite my relatively short endeavor in organized play, I still live vicariously through my Alma-mater's various sports teams, namely the Men's Basketball team. I don't regret this for a moment, even when we suffer a tough or humiliating loss. There are times I wonder if it would be easier not to care so much about a group of guys I don't even know. Sometimes I wonder if all the emotional strain, the countless hours, and words typed out before me is worth anything at all. That's when I remember how amazing it feels to cheer a team on through insurmountable odds to a crazy win. I don't think any sports fan can deny just how ridiculous a huge win can feel; it always makes my day/week/month/year/life that much better.

I can remember nearly every detail leading up to I.T.'s game winning, buzzer beater against Arizona in overtime for the Pac-10 championship. I can remember feeling on top of the world when we got up early. I can remember feeling depressed as we went down 4 with under 40 seconds to go. I also remember feeling pure ecstasy as I.T., Terrence Ross, and C.J. Wilcox all nailed consecutive 3-pointers to tie the game in regulation. The tension during the final seconds was indescribable. It was myself and about 10 other friends in my little "apartment style" dorm living room surrounding a 40 inch T.V., sitting/kneeling/pacing as Thomas dribbled up the court. As he sized up Jones, everyone went tense. One of my friends said "Nope..." as I.T. let loose his shot. It seemed as though the game went into slo-mo and as the ball fell through the net and the backboard lit up. Then...chaos erupted in my apartment. Everyone began to jump and yell, hugging everyone in sight, falling off their chairs, and collapsing to the floor. It was so loud we were heard in another building across the road from us and I'm sure the people above us could make out every word we said without a problem. I wouldn't trade that feeling for anything. I still get goosebumps to this day when I think of that moment.

Sports are a way of life. I can think of very few people who do not refer to their teams as "We" or "Us." Whenever a game is completed I always talk about how "we" won and what "we" did well or terrible. never "they." Following a sports team means being a part of the team and I firmly believe that not a single coach or player would fail to acknowledge that their fan base is an integral part of their team. Without the fans there are no paychecks.

Sports are who I am, who I was, and who I will be until the day I die.

Go Dawgs!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Perris Blackwell Transfers to UW

The former USF forward has opted to transfer to the University of Washington where he will have one year of eligibility remaining. Blackwell is currently a junior and will likely have to sit out the 2012-2013 season, unless he can complete the coursework necessary to graduate from USF. Doing so would allow Blackwell to apply to the UW as a graduate student and therefore grant him immediate eligibility to play during the 2012-2013 season.

Blackwell is a 6-9 240lb forward with sizable experience. Last season Blackwell averaged over 12 points and 6 rebounds per game and has started in over two-thirds of his college appearances. While it would be certainly helpful for Blackwell to be available for next season, Husky fans should not hold their breath and would be better off expecting Blackwell to contribute in the 2013-2014 season. Either way, Blackwell should help fill some of the void in the frontcourt that has so often troubled the Huskies.

Go Dawgs!