Seven months after the heart-breaking defeat in the Sweet 16, the 2010-11 Washington men’s basketball season officially begins at 5 p.m. today when the Huskies gather for their first practice at Hec Ed.
After tonight’s workout, the team departs for Lacey, Wash. for a two-day, three-practice training camp at Saint Martin’s University. There’s a lot to sort out before the Nov. 13 season-opener against McNeese State.
Here’s a five-point checklist I would follow if I were coach Lorenzo Romar.
1. ESTABLISH A DEFENSIVE MINDSET – Unlike last season when the Huskies had just two reliable scorers, it appears as if they have a handful of players capable of producing points. It’s unnecessary to worry about the offense right now and absolutely vital to get the players to commit to a defensive mentality, which is more difficult than it sounds. The four newcomers must learn UW’s defensive sets, when to trap, when to rotate and how to defeat screens. Matthew Bryan-Amaning and JC transfer Aziz N’Diaye must learn how to defend the basket without fouling. Even though Romar is a staunch advocate of man-to-man defense, it probably wouldn’t be a bad idea to spend some time working on zone defensive principles that might come in the Maui Invitational should they play Kentucky.
2. SPEND PLENTY OF TIME AT THE LINE – Even though the Huskies shot 72.0 percent at the free throw line last season, they have to improve because their best shooter (Quincy Pondexter) graduated. The top returning FT shooter Justin Holiday shot 80 percent last year and he’s a career 70.6 shooter. Bryan-Amaning will likely be UW’s No. 1 low-post option and most opposing coaches would rather foul the 52.6 career FT shooter then allow him a layup. The same goes for Abdul Gaddy who converted just 56.4 percent of his foul shots, which is surprisingly low for a point guard.
3. AND SPEAKING OF GADDY … – Regardless of who wins the starting point guard job, the Huskies need Gaddy to begin to realize his incredible potential. It’s difficult to be believe so many college scouts and recruiting analysts whiffed when evaluating Gaddy, who was the No. 2 high school prospect behind John Wall two years ago. Wall is the starting point guard for Washington Wizards and favorite to win the NBA Rookie of the Year. Romar has to manage the competition between Gaddy and Venoy Overton making sure both are productive no matter who starts. This is a big year for Gaddy, who has reached an early crossroads in his college career. By his admission, last season was disappointing and he can ill afford another season-long setback considering UW has a pair of highly touted guards committed to the class of 2011.
4. EXPERIMENT WITH COMBINATIONS – The early non-conference schedule is difficult, but it’s not essential to fill out the starting lineup right now. Still, it’s vitally important to determine which groupings are most effective and which players are productive alongside starters Isaiah Thomas, Holiday and Bryan-Amaning. In essence, there’s three scenarios to explore. Who is the better fit alongside Holiday and Bryan-Amaning on the front line? Is it N’Diaye, which gives UW a tall lineup and moves Bryan-Amaning to power forward. Is it Darnell Gant, a junior who has started in each of the past two seasons. He’s 6-8 and appears to have stretched his shooting range to the three-point line, but he’s also struggled with rebounding. Or is it one of the 6-foot-6 wings, Scott Suggs, C.J. Wilcox or Terrence Ross? Suggs has experience. Wilcox is the superior shooter and Ross has explosive athleticism.
5. PREACH SHARING THE BALL – This should be an easy lesson because the numbers don’t lie. When Romar’s teams at Washington average at least 16 assists per game, they average at least 82 points. In 2004-05, UW averaged a whopping 18.9 assists per game – the highest for a Romar team – and the Huskies averaged 86.5 points, which was also the highest during his tenure. In ’02-’03 they averaged 13.6 apg. and 72.4 ppg, both lows for Romar’s teams. Last season the Huskies averaged 14.3 assists and 79.2 points. They can improve in both categories if the players buy into the philosophy of sharing the rock. A lot of this hinges on Thomas’ decision-making ability and Gaddy’s maturation. Former Huskies Will Conroy and Nate Robinson averaged 6.4 and 4.5 assists per game respectively in ’04-05.