Let’s start with a few items before we get to an interview with Washington junior co-captain Isaiah Thomas.
First off, sorry for the lack of activity on the blog lately and thanks for bearing with me. The tech crew is working hard to get everything resolved asap.
Also, we’re trying to incorporate some new features on the blog this season that I think you’re going to like. I’ll explain more later.
REMINDER: We’re hosting a Live Chat with Garfield High senior Tony Wroten, who is set to announce his college decision Thursday. His choices: Washington, Louisville, Connecticut, Villanova and Seattle University.
Had a chance to talk with Thomas last week and we went over a variety of topics including his thoughts on the freshmen. Thomas believes newcomer Terrence Ross has a bright future and Darnell Gant has surprised him more than anyone else. Thomas also said the surgery on his right big toe to remove a bone spur won’t completely heal until after the season.
It’s a fairly lengthy discussion, so I’ll break it up in two parts. Here’s the Part I.
(What do you envision when you think about the upcoming season?)
“Winning. First and foremost. That’s the only thing on our mind. We feel like we’re good enough to contend for whatever it is, but we know if we don’t come together as a team none of that is going to happen. So it’s about gelling and find roles and just playing your heart out and take it from there.”
(What are the priorities as you go into training camp?) “Just working hard. We got the talent. Everybody knows that. We know that ourselves. So just working hard and always bringing it. And just trying to find our roles earlier than we did the previous two years.”
(What lessons did you learn from last season?) “Just to be patient. Always keep your head up. I’m one of the leaders since Day 1. Those dudes follow me so if I got my head down, they’re going to have their heads down. No matter what it is, if we start the season 0-10, we still have to have the same mindset that we’re going to win the next game, we’re going to get better in practice and we’re going to get better throughout the season.”
(Last year around this time this team talked a lot about reaching the Final Four. No one is talking like that this year. Why?) “There’s no need to say it. We really felt that way. We feel that way this year, but there’s no need to talk about it. Like I tell my team, don’t talk about it be about it. We don’t need to say nothing. We don’t need to say we’re going to win the national championship or we’re going to get to the Final Four. We just have to let the game talk for itself.”
(What does being a captain mean to you?) “Captain is just a label. I feel like I’ve always been a leader since I first started playing basketball. I feel like people follow me. I don’t know. Captain is just a label. It’s something that’s fun knowing that you’re a captain, but the leadership stuff I’ve done that my whole life so it’s nothing new.”
(Give me a quick synopsis of the new guys.) “Terrence Ross. NBA player.”
(Really?) “Yeah. He’s that good.”
(In what ways?) “He’s advanced. Things come easy to him. You don’t realize how athletic he is until he dunks on somebody or how well he can shoot until he hits a couple in a row.)
(Does it look like he’s been away from organized ball for over a year?) “We can’t really tell because we’re playing open gym. Once the games come around, you can probably tell. But practice wise and in workouts, he’s been doing well. Aziz (N’Diaye) is as advertised. A 7-footer. A big man who can run, block, shots and rebound. He’s got a couple of offensive moves. So don’t be surprised if you see something from him on the offensive end.”
(Have you ever played with a legit 7-footer before?) “Yeah. A couple of times in prep school. Kenny. He goes to DePaul. He’s 7-3. … Then there’s C.J. (Wilcox) Everybody knows he can shoot it. Unbelievable.”
(Is he the best shooter on the team?) “Yeah. Best shooter in the conference.”
(He’s even better than you?) “I’m a different kind of shooter. But he’s lights out. He’s something I haven’t seen really. It’s just too easy for him. Then there’s Desmond (Simmons). He’s a hard worker. It’s crazy because I was talking to teammates about Desmond and he’s jut everywhere. He’s kind of like (Justin) Holiday. He always gets his hand on the ball. He’s just everywhere. Get’s little putbacks. Just works hard.”
(And Antoine Hosley?) “He’s a good player. He works hard. He’s trying to get into things. It’s hard. It was hard for me. It’s hard for any freshman trying to get to know what we’re trying to do. He’s good. He’s got talent. He can shoot it a little bit and he works hard.”
(Considering everyone, who has surprised you?) “Probably Darnell Gant. He’s transformed from a just a post player and he’s really trying to be a wing. He can shoot it. Now he can shoot it pretty well. He shoots 3s a lot. He’s been working on that all summer. Him and Holiday. But Darnell has really impressed me with what he can do now.”
(He’s shooting 3s?) “He can now. He’s not just limited to rebounding and scoring every now and then. He can score.”
(But can he defend in open space?) “Yeah. He’s always been able to defend. I can go back to my freshman year when he defended James Harden. He can guard guards and big men. ”
(Any other surprises?) “I can’t say. Everybody got better in their own way. You can tell. It’s not just everybody has improved in shooting or just one particular thing. Everybody has gotten better. Everybody has worked hard. I’m surprised by a lot of the dudes on the team.”
(And what did you do this summer?) “Just shot. Here and everywhere. I worked out with NBA players. I was all over. Just getting ready for the season. I’m trying to make an impact.”
(How much did your injury set you back this summer?) “It set me back a little bit. It still sets me back now because I can’t, I don’t have the explosion that I did. But it will come. Doctors say it will be there soon. It could take up until the end of the season to fully heal. But I’ve played 2-3 years with it so it’s nothing big to me. I’ve been just working this summer. Everything. You can name anything and I worked on it. Just trying to be an overall better player.”
(When fans see you play this year, what will they say is most improved?) “My shooting. Especially not just shooting 3s, but midrange and going into the key. That’s what I’ve been working on, the in-between game.”
(The part of your game that gets constant criticism is your decision-making on when to shoot or pass. How can you improve that?) “You really can’t. If you try too much, you’re going to be thinking too much and you’re not going to do one as well as you do the other. I’m a scorer. That’s what I do. But I also get my teammates involved. It’s like what Coach (Lorenzo) Romar always tells me. Just go out there and make plays. If you got a shot, take it. Or if a teammate is open get him the ball.”
(Looking back, did you make a decision last season to become more of playmaker?) “Not really. I think I matured so much over that year. The game just started to become easy for me. Things started slowing up and everything just started opening up. I give all the praise to my teammates. They made shots so it wasn’t just me. It wasn’t a big change. I think I got better over the season. Usually people slow down towards the end of the season, I got so much better and it surprised me a little bit.”
(What do you think about the Pac-10 this year?) “I really couldn’t tell you. All I know is Arizona is pretty good. They got some players coming back. Other than that, I’m not trying to disrespect any teams. Everybody is good. I’m not going to say nothing that’s going to get anybody upset. But Arizona is a pretty good team. They were good last year and they got a lot of their guys coming back.”
(Any thoughts on expansion?) “It’s cool. Those are kind of football schools though.”
(This is the last year someone can win the Pac-10 title. How about that?) “I’m going to try to get No. 3.”
(What are the team goals?) “We’ve got goals. Every team has a goal. Every team wants to win the national championship. That’s the main goal. As long as we work hard, play together and get better. You can’t really be mad at anything because you can only do the things you can control. You can’t control if the ball goes in the hoop every time. We’re just going to come out here and play hard. Play smart. And play together and have fun.”
(Your coach and I talked a lot about chemistry last week. What can you as a co-captain do to help with the chemistry?) “Even if I wasn’t a captain, as a point guard that’s your job. You’re like the coach on the floor. … I can make it easier for everybody else by getting everybody involved. If dudes don’t know their spots, telling them where they need to be at. And if dudes want to win like what we did last year, it will be like I don’t care if I score two points or 20. I don’t score if I have 10 assists. I’m going to do anything it takes to win. So if we have that mindset, we can be good.”