We’ll continue the Washington countdown with the No. 12 player on our list, freshman Hikeem Stewart.
The 6 foot 2, 175-pound guard out of Seattle’s Rainier Beach High was the first player to verbally commit last year to UW’s Class of 2011.
When we spoke he made the announcement, Stewart said: “You can never go wrong with home.”
In many ways it feels as if some Husky fans have undervalued Stewart’s potential because he had a less-than spectacular, injury-plagued senior season and a few sluggish summer league games. However, he was rated a four-star recruit by ESPN (Scout and Rivals gave him three stars), who had scholarship offers from UCLA, Oregon State, Colorado, Arizona and Arizona State.
Admittedly, Stewart is aware of the criticism and says it serves as motivation.
“I have a lot of doubters because they didn’t see me play my senior season they way I’m capable of playing, but that keeps me going,” he said. “That motivates me.”
Stewart starred in high school as a shooting guard who excelled in transition. His biggest challenge is learning how to run a team as a point guard.
He’s receiving plenty of help from junior co-captain Abdul Gaddy and sophomore guard Terrence Ross as well as older twin brothers Lodrick (USC) and Rodrick (USC and Kansas) who played for Division I schools.
“They told me to not try and rush things,” Stewart said of his brothers’ advice. “Don’t think about what anybody else might say like why didn’t you go here where you could have started automatically. I just feel like I’m going to work my way up to where I’m supposed to be at.”
Here’s the transcript of a recent interview with Stewart.
(How was your summer?) “It was good. Just putting in a lot of hard work. Early mornings. Staying in the gym. Polishing my game and getting ready for this season.”
(What’s surprised you about the transition to college basketball?) “The pace of the game and it’s more physical. The players are a lot smarter than in high school. And just having to catch on to things quicker than you had to in high school.”
(What have you done to get ready for all of that?) “Just working on more of the mental aspects of the game. You can’t get down on yourself. You got to play through certain stuff. Everything is not going to go your way starting out because obviously you’re coming out of high school and you’re playing with grown men.”
(You have two older brothers who played in the Pac-10. What have they told you about playing in this conference?) “I talk to those guys everyday and they say keep working hard, don’t get on the coach’s bad side and keep a positive attitude.”
(We’ve talked about this before, but are you trying to add weight?) “To get ready for the season I’m trying to add a couple of more pounds. That would help me out a lot. I’m just trying to continue to do what I got to do to be better as a basketball player.”
(The most frequent question I get from Husky fans about you is your role. Do you have one?) “My role is to help this team get as good as it can. Whether that’s playing defense or scoring points. I’m still trying to find that out. But I’m just going to keep working hard.”
(Are you a point guard or a shooting guard?) “Right now I’d say I’m more of a two guard, but I’m kind of in between. I can do both. But if I had to pick, I’d probably be a shooting guard. But I’m working on my point guard skills right now.”
(Coach Lorenzo Romar says your passing is better than advertised.) “Yeah. I’m not a flashy passer, but I’ll make the right pass at the right situation. I’m not going to do all of the extra stuff or flashy stuff, but I consider myself a good passer.”
(Are you comfortable running a team?) “Yeah I’m comfortable running a team.”
(And what’s your style when you’re a point guard?) “Again making the right play in the right situation. Getting the ball to people. Spreading it around, but mainly making sure we’re doing that needs to be done. If that means I have to pass, score or play defense, just doing what’s necessary.”
(I heard you were injured last year, which is something I’d guess most people didn’t know.) “I was real hurt last season. I tried to play through it. I never really told anybody about my injury, but it kind of progressed as the season went on. I kept playing on it and every game it got worse. It was my senior season so I was trying to play with it and grind it out. I rehabbed for like five games. I came back the Franklin (High) game and then I hurt it again. I got undercut. My center landed right on my knee and re-injured it again so that kind of set me back for the rest of the season.”
(What precisely was the injury?) “It was patella tendinitis, but my knee got really swollen and I had a lot of fluid in my knee. When he banged it, it just hurt it all over again.”
(Right or left?) “Right.”
(When did you injure it?) “It happened the first game of the season with Seattle Prep.”
(Looking back, would you have done things differently with your rehab?) “I would have. Listening to my parents, they were saying it’s not worth (playing). It almost ended up hurting to the point where I would have needed a major injury. I wish I had sat out my first half of the season so I could have grinded out the last half of the season. But it gave me motivation and more hunger for playing. Sitting out made me realize how easy you could be done playing a sport.”
(How is it now?) “It’s good. One hundred percent.”
(It was tendinitis so do you ever feel a twinge of it anymore?) “Not right now. The only thing I feel now is just sore from all this weight lifting we’re doing. I’m not used to that.”
(You said earlier the physical aspect is one of the biggest surprise during your transition to the college game. What do you mean?) “I’m used to being one of the biggest guards on the team and coming to college, you got 7-footers bringing up the ball. You got 6-10 wings bringing up the ball. So just the size and speed of the game takes some getting used to.”
(How do compensate for that?) “I make up for it with toughness and my athletic ability. I got heart and I think I can play with anybody. Just keep my confidence high.”
(What do you want to do this season?) “I just want to help my team out as much as possible. Whatever the coach tells me to do, I’m going to do it.”
(Have you thought about redshirting or is that something that’s not for you?) “I haven’t thought about it. I feel I can bring something to the team to help the out this year. I have a lot of doubters because they didn’t see me play my senior season they way I’m capable of playing. But that keeps me going. That motivates me. People say I’m not big enough. I’m working as hard as I can to get bigger and to be as prepared as I can be when this season starts.”
(Have you not thought about it because you’re just so accustomed to playing?) “Nah. I just never considered redshirting. My biggest dream is go come to college and play basketball. I feel I can help this team out anyway possible. If that’s playing defense and locking down a defender. If coach wants to give me the ball and run the team, it doesn’t matter. I feel like I can help the team.”
(Who has surprised you the most?) “Terrence Ross.”
(Why?) “Major player. Super athletic. He’s a leader on the court. And he’s real fun to play with too. He’s not arrogant or anything like that. And he goes out of his way to help the younger guys get better.”
(Who’s helped you the most?) “This whole team has helped me a lot. They welcomed me real well. They made the transition easier for me. Gaddy has helped me out a lot. He’s helped being a point guard. He’s been teaching me and showing me aspects of playing defense and how to run a team on offense.”
(How is he looking?) “He’s looking good. He’s got that ball on a string.”
(Does he look like a guy who had major knee surgery 10 months ago?) “If I didn’t follow Husky ball, I wouldn’t be able to tell that he injured his knee.”
(I hear you’re rooming with Andrew Andrews. How’s that going?) “It’s cool. Me and Andrew played against each other a lot in AAU growing up. I’m kind of familiar with him. We talked a lot during the AAU circuit. So I kind of knew he was going to come here. So we’re cool with each other and we got Shawn Kemp with us. We have a lot of freshmen this year and we’re kind of real close. We bonded a lot.”
(Can you talk about the dynamic of being teammates and even friends with someone that you compete with?) “Yeah we’re friends. On the court it’s going to be competitive. You can fight on the court and go at each other. You know guys are going to go at each other a lot, but at the end of the day you’re still teammates, roommates and friends. You know that you’re just pushing each other to be as good as you can be.”
(You said it earlier about your brother’s advice. There college experience must help you in so ways I’d guess.) “They told me to not try and rush things. Don’t think about what anybody else might say like why didn’t you go here where you could have started automatically. I just feel like I’m going to work my way up to where I’m supposed to be at. I’m going to try to reach my potential in college and I know that coach Romar is the one to help me do that.”
(What’s the best part of your game?) “I love to get out there on defense. And I just love to compete. Whatever it takes to compete and try to put my team in the best position to be successful.”
(What do you need to improve on?) “Improve on being a floor general, a point guard. I’m going to have to learn that. I’ve mostly been a two guard. But a two guard here is 6 foot 6. So I need to fine tune my (point guard) skills so I can be more of a combo-guard.