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Husky Men's Basketball

The latest news and analysis on Husky men's hoops.

July 11, 2011 at 5:57 AM

First impressions of the 2011-12 Huskies

Stopped by Edmundson Pavilion last week to check out the 2011-12 Washington team in some pickup games.
There’s always turnover with college teams, but you felt things were different walking into the building. For starters, a new Alaska Airlines sign hangs over the main entrance and adorns the Montlake side of the building. The “W” at midcourt is also outlined in gold, which is a nice new touch.
Fittingly, the Husky team looked different from the one that was knocked out of the Round of 32 in the NCAA tournament by North Carolina. Almost everyone was in attendance Thursday. The only absentees were newly signed Shawn Kemp Jr. and walk-on Brendan Sherrer. Kemp wasn’t feeling well that day. Not sure about Sherrer.
In addition to the UW men’s team there were two NBA players (former Husky star Spencer Hawes and Nick Collison, the Oklahoma City Thunder veteran and former Sonic who maintains a home in the Seattle area). Washington football players Austin Seferian-Jenkins and James Johnson also played and more than held their own. More on Seferian-Jenkins later.
The other notable player was former University of Portland player Luke Sikma, who is the son of former Sonics great Jack Sikma.

Most players took their lead from Darnell Gant, who appeared to organize teams and get the games going. The fifth-year senior looked comfortable in his new role as co-captain and was one of the most vocal players on the court. He mixed words of encouragement with verbal jabs (what else would you expect at a pickup game?) and playful pokes (when talking to Martin Breunig he called the freshman Keanu Reeves because the newcomer bears a slight resemblance to the actor).
It’s important to remember open gym rules and etiquette are vastly different from organized basketball. There’s not much defense being played and the action rarely gets intense. That’s not to say the guys aren’t playing hard, but there’s nothing of tangible value on the line in these games. Big men can sometimes be an afterthought, but that’s usually not the case with the Huskies because they know each other so well.
Still with six freshmen, this group is at the embryo stage of their development as a team and relationships (on and off the court) are starting to form.
— When asked who has surprised you the most, two veterans and one newcomer said freshman Andrew Andrews. I understand the sentiment because the Oregon 5A State Co-Player of the Year has little reputation around these parts. In the games I saw, he paired against freshman Hikeem Stewart, which was fitting because those two will likely battle for the third point guard position next season. That’s a pretty big role on the team. The past two seasons the Huskies had three ball handlers in the rotation, which was a big reason why they led the Pac-10 in assists and was second in assists-to-turnover ratio.
Admittedly Andrews has a chip on his shoulder. We talked briefly Thursday and he said he’s motivated by the lack of recognition he’s received and it shows in his play. He’s fearless at times. But what jumps out about his game is his consistency and solid decisions with the ball. He’s not reckless. He made the proper pass, rarely lost the ball on the dribble, drove to the rim in traffic and drained a few open jumpers.
— The comparisons between Stewart and Andrews may persists all season so we might as well start now. Stewart (6-2 and 175 pounds) was the smallest player on the court. He’s aggressive offensively and didn’t shy away from taking shots even with NBA players on his team. Stewart is creative in the lane. He’s able to get off-balance floaters and layups in traffic to the rim. He lost the ball a few times in transition and his shooting skills far outweigh his passing ability. He reminds me of a younger Justin Dentmon.
Tony Wroten Jr. plays with an ease and confidence unlike many freshman. He’s never hurried, but he was one of the quicker players on the court. His left-hand jumper has a low starting point and trajectory and it takes him awhile to get the shot off. But if he’s open, he can hit the college three-pointer. Wroten played several games with Gant and Terrence Ross and it was interesting to watch the chemistry between them. Wroten dished out at least one eye-popping assist in ever game. He’s fearless with his passing. He’ll throw the ball to anybody at any time. He also had more than a few turnovers, which is to be expected as players begin to learn each other.
— Breunig was the second player to arrive. He’s been on campus the past three works and told me he’s added 10 pounds although others think it’s more like 3-5 pounds. Still he has a solid, muscular frame and he’s thicker than I expected. As advertised, he can do a little bit of everything. Breunig had his hands full against Gant and the NBA guys in post. At one pint, Gant abused him with an up and under move, but Breunig didn’t back down. Offensively he worked best on the baseline about 10-15 feet away from the rim. And it wasn’t uncommon to see him grab a rebound and dribble up court.
— Just as Stewart and Andrews will likely be linked, so will Breunig and fellow freshman Jernard Jarreau. They have similar styles and may fight for backup minutes in the front court. Jarreau is loaded with confidence and he told me he wants to compete for a starting position. At 6-10, he’s the second tallest Husky and his height should help him find a spot in the rotation. He was active around the rim and wasn’t afraid to take a three-pointer. He dribbled well in the open court and could get around the first defender, but struggled to finish at the rim in traffic. Jarreau has a long wing span and he altered several shots. He’s 195 pounds and he said he’s working to add a little bulk to his frame before the season.
— In some ways Desmond Simmons is the seventh member of the freshman class. At least that’s how Gant sees it. “Dez is really one of them and if you’re thinking about the freshmen as a group, then he could have the biggest impact because he knows our system better than the other guys,” Gant said. Simmons is all hustle and grit. He wore a black brace on his surgically repaired right knee, but appeared explosive while running and jumping. I didn’t keep statistics, but Simmons appeared to get his hands on most rebounds. Still it’s difficult to evaluate him in pickup games because he’s a physical player and it always varies from game to game whether officials will allow so a lot of contact in the post.
— Gant didn’t attempt a three-pointer during his first two years and last season he converted 18 of 48 (37.5 percent) behind the arc. He was proud of the work he put into his perimeter shot and this summer it appears as if he’s working on his interior game. In Thursday’s games, he attempted just a couple of outside shots and did most of his work beneath the rim. Gant dominated the younger Huskies and it was too bad the NBA guys often paired against each other because Gant needs as much work as he can get against accomplished players. Still it’s impossible not to notice Gant has more confidence than he did in his previous four seasons.
— Even with NBA players on the court, at times Ross looked like the best player on the floor. Still if you were drafting a team of the players Thursday, the 7-1 Hawes would probably be the first person taken. But Ross would likely go No. 2. He thrives in an open-gym setting. He wowed the few folks in the stands with high-flying dunks, alley-oop slams and putback jams. Whenever anyone guarded him one-on-one, Ross either tried to blow past them with a dribble drive or he jabbed and whirled to create room for a fadeaway jump shot. Ross, a 20-year-old sophomore, also looks much more chiseled than he did last season.
Scott Suggs has worked on his ball handling skills. He ran the offense at the point guard spot at times and looked much better dribbling in traffic than ever before. Suggs made a fair share of NBA-range three-pointers. It’s possible he could fill the role as the third point guard. He’s versatile enough to play shooting guard and small forward.
— It also seems as if C.J. Wilcox is making a point to dribble and attack the rim more than ever before. Still his deadliest weapon is one of the purest jump shots around. Wilcox can go unnoticed in a pickup game because he doesn’t get many screens. During the season, the Huskies make it a priority to free up the sharpshooter with a variety of picks and offensive sets designed to get him open. On Thursday, he had to work for his shot. A few times, he shot off the dribble, which would be a deadly weapon if he added it to his arsenal.
— Before the games began, junior center Aziz N’Diaye, who is rehabbing after toe surgery, worked alone in the gym.
Abdul Gaddy didn’t play and took a few shots on the side. He wasn’t wearing a brace around his surgically repaired knee.
— Seferian-Jenkins (6-6 and 250 pounds) is short for a post player, but he has a solid build, wide body and he knows how to use it. He finished at the rim and was unafraid of contact. He reminded me of Tyreese Breshers because he often bullied his way to the basket, but I’m not sure if his arms are as long as the former Husky who retired last season. Seferian-Jenkins might become a two-way player and he could help the basketball team, but he’ll likely have a bigger impact as a pass-catching tight end for the Huskies.

Comments | Topics: Abdul Gaddy, C.J. Wilcox, Scott Suggs


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