If the Isaiah Thomas era is truly over, then Washington loses more than it’s fiery co-captain and outspoken leader. Over the past three years, the 5-foot-9 guard was the soul of the team.
I still remember his first UW press conference. He was brash and bold for a freshman. He said it was his mission to restore UW’s swagger that had been missing the previous two seasons when the Huskies missed the NCAA tournament.
He received the blessing of Nate Robinson to wear the No. 2. He had Brandon Roy on speed dial. He talked to Will Conroy every other day. The old Husky regime co-signed for Thomas, smoothing his transition into a leadership role.
He was a freshman playing alongside All-America candidate Jon Brockman, but it was Thomas who took the most shots (431), led the team in points with a 15.5 scoring average and started 34 out of 35 games.
Over the next three years, Thomas’ personality became ingrained in the way UW played basketball. He took his a little man’s complex on the court and constantly outworked bigger opponents.
If Thomas doesn’t return, its the third straight year UW will lose an iconic player including Brockman and Quincy Pondexter.
The Huskies also lost a trio of seniors in guard Venoy Overton and forwards Matthew Bryan-Amaning and Justin Holiday.
If Thomas doesn’t return, UW loses its top three scorers, 58.5 percent of its scoring and a quartet of players who played a combined 499 games.
The last time the Huskies had this type of turnover, Brandon Roy, Bobby Jones, Jamaal Williams and Mike Jensen left after the 2005-06 season. The next season UW finished 19-13 and missed the postseason. In 2007-08, the Huskies fell to 16-17. It was Lorenzo Romar’s second losing season at UW and his first since his first year.
The 2006-07 team was young. Six of the top seven scorers were underclassmen. Spencer Hawes, a freshman, led the team with a 14.9 scoring average.
Romar acknowledged the similarities between the loss of players in 2006 and 2011.
He admitted the Huskies need to shore up the inside, but sounded optimistic about Washington’s chances next season.
“Our perimeter is potentially really good,” he said. “Potential means you haven’t done anything yet. But with Abdul Gaddy coming back. And then those three wings – Scott Suggs, Terrence Ross and C.J. Wilcox. I think those are three pretty potent wings with size.
“And then coming in with Hikeem Stewart and Tony Wroten, I like the potential of that group. I really do in spite of Isaiah leaving. I still like what those can potentially do on the perimeter. I think we have great size and great range in the back court next year.”
Possible starting lineup
PG – Abdul Gaddy
SG – Scott Suggs
SF – Terrence Ross
PF – Darnell Gant
C – Aziz N’Diaye
Reserves (in order)
G – C.J. Wilcox
G – Tony Wroten Jr.
F – Desmond Simmons
F – Jernard Jarreau
G – Hikeem Stewart
Wilcox and Wroten are also strong candidates to start and Romar has hinted he may rely on a three-guard lineup.
When asked who will be the face of the team next season, Romar said: “We have a couple of seniors in Scott Suggs and Darnell Gant. I think Darnell Gant is a guy that is fiery and works really hard. He’s a guy that sets a great example. Even as a freshman, I thought Abdul Gaddy was a leader in his own right and now he’s going to be a junior. As we look towards the future, those guys will be guys that will step up and lead.”
Being the “face” of team encompasses many meanings. Sometimes that person is the leading scorer, the go-to guy in the clutch, the star who graces the cover of magazines or the player who stands in front of the media day after day and answers the tough questions.
So what do you think?