The countdown continues with the player who may have as much to prove as anyone on the team – Abdul Gaddy.
January 4, 2011 changed everything. It started as a normal day for the 6 foot 3, 185-pound point guard. Nearing the end of Washington’s practice, he cut to the rim around a defender for a layup like he’s done a thousand times. This time his left knee buckled and nothing would be the same after that.
He tore his anterior cruciate ligament and underwent season-ending surgery 10 days later.
Maybe one day the injury will be a side note in Gaddy’s resume. But this year, the biggest question for him and one of the concerns for the Huskies is whether the junior co-captain can pick up where he left off and fulfill the promise of high expectations.
Few recruits arrived on Montlake with more accolades. Gaddy, who had originally committed to Arizona, was a five-star prospect and a McDonald’s and Parade Magazine All-American. He was rated the second best point guard in high school behind John Wall and ahead of Eric Bledsoe, who was third on the list.
As a 17-year-old freshman and the youngest player in college basketball, Gaddy struggled to find his footing. He started 29 games and averaged just 3.9 points and 2.3 assists. He shot 41.7 percent from the field and converted 3 of 20 three-pointers (15.0 percent).
Gaddy brushed off the slow start as a learning experience and vowed to improve the next season. He returned as a sophomore with more confidence and averaged 11.7 points in the first three games. Gaddy also become a better playmaker, who took care of the ball. Before his injury, he led the Pac-10 with a 3.1 assist-to-turnover ratio. He also improved his three-point shooting to 41.0 percent.
Gaddy scored a career-high 17 points against Long Beach State, when he converted three three-pointers. Still his best game might have been a 12-point, six-assists performance against Virginia in the Maui Invitational.
For a local prodigy entering their third year, there’s so much UW fans don’t know about his game. He’s a pass-first guard, who seems to thrive in the half court setting. He found success offensively with a running floater in the lane and was able to convert open jumpers. Admittedly he can improve running the pick-n-roll and staying in front of smaller, quicker point guards.
Before the injury, Gaddy was mired in a 3-for-17 shooting slump over a three-game stretch and no one knows if it was a glitch or something more. He worked on his perimeter shooting in the offseason. At one point, he was shooting as many as 1,600 shots per day and was intent on making 18,000 attempts before the start of the season.
“It was a confidence builder,” he said.
Nine months after the injury, Gaddy was cleared to play Sept. 7.
“Probably happiest day of my life!” he wrote on Twitter.
Gaddy hopes to resume a UW career that began slowly but was picking up momentum before the injury. He’s started his past 41 games and 42 overall. It remains to be seen whether he’ll remain in the starting lineup, but Gaddy will play a major role in Washington’s season.
Here’s a transcript of a recent interview with Gaddy.
(Are you better or as good as you were last year?) “I feel like I’m better.”
(How is that possible if you’ve taken off so much time?) “I’m older and wiser. I feel quicker. Coach has told me I look quicker out there. I just feel more confident. I just know the game more. I feel like I’m more of a vet in the game. I think that’s helping me a lot.”
(Are you tired of the injury questions?) “A little bit, but in the back of my head I know it comes with the territory so it’s kind of like I’m prepared to answer them.”
(Okay then, I’ll ask just a few. Whatever is amazed about with your recovery is you didn’t need a brace when you returned and you didn’t have to slowly get back to full speed. Once you were cleared to play, it was as if you never left. Are you naturally a quick healer?) “I don’t even know. I never had an injury severe like this so severe like this so I really don’t know. I just feel like it was a blessing and I contribute everything to our trainer Pat Jenkins. I asked him before am I going to need a brace. I asked him early before I had surgery and he said you won’t if you rehab it hard enough and we train without it. And that’s what we did. The knee became more stable than the other one. I think he helped me rehab really good.”
(You saw other guys like Desmond Simmons and Aziz N’Diaye have to deal with the brace and not be able to practice fully. Were you concerned you might have to do the same thing?) “Yeah. They all talked about it. They said you may have a little of this and that. You may have some swelling. But in the back of my mind I was like I don’t want to sit out or nothing. Maybe that’s because it’s the competitor in me. That no matter what, when I came back I still want to be a starter. I still want to pick up where I left off. I didn’t want to have no setback at all. That’s just me being a competitor. Me being like man I’m not going to let anything stop me unless I truly had to sit down. Unless the trainer was like alright you got to hold back a little bit. You got a little bit of this so just wait. But I haven’t had any of that. So I’ve been trying to push myself as hard as I can in practice to get better and I’ve been doing well.”
(I saw a tweet of yours this summer about making a crazy amount of jump shots. How many was that?) “Eighteen thousand.”
(Eighteen thousand?) “In 22 days.”
(Why?) “It was mostly a thing just for the fans to see, but also because I was shooting a lot with Isaiah (Thomas) and like in 3-4 days I was getting a thousand shots a day. More than a thousand shots a day. And makes. So that means I was shooting 1,600 or 1,700. It seemed like it was an every day thing and it was normal. I was having fun with it. It was a competition and we were competing against each other. I just wanted to keep going so I just kept doing it like every day.”
(That’s a lot of shots.) “It’s a lot of shot, but it was mostly just for confidence. I know that I can make a lot of shots now. So that when I’m wide open, if I miss I know that I’m going to make the next one. It’s just a confidence builder. And I think those shots have helped me shoot the ball in practice so far.”
(There were times I thought you were pushing yourself too hard. I asked Romar about it and he said he’d rather have a player push himself too hard than not hard enough. You ever think that?) “I’ve actually thought about. Sometimes I’ll be like man maybe I am pushing myself too hard. Sometimes we’ll have practice all week and we’ll take a day off and coach will ask did you take the day off or did you come in and shoot. And I’ll say yeah I came in and shot. He’s like well sometimes the body does need rest. And I’m like yeah you’re right. But I just take the whole mentality that if I’m not in the gym, somebody else is. I really believe that. I just like to be in the gym.”
(Where did that come from?) “It just came from when I was a younger age. I’m a good listener. Sometimes I believe a lot of stuff that I shouldn’t believe, but that’s one of the things that I believe. When you’re not in the gym, somebody else is. I may be in my room and sometimes I just feel I got to go to the gym. Somebody might be in the gym right now. It’s just like that. And I’ll call one of my teammates and say you trying to go shoot? Usually I’ll C.J. (Wilcox) or I’ll call Dez (Simmons) and say let’s go to the gym and shoot. And we just go do it.”
(Is it easier to lead the team now as opposed to two years ago when you were 17 or even last year on a team that had a lot of older veterans?) “Yes. It’s a lot easier because I’m a lot older. I know the system better. Then I was a 17 year old still learning the system. So I was the leader naturally, but I was still learning at the same time. So I’m learning from the older guys while I’m trying to lead them on the court being the point guard. It was difficult, but now it’s a lot easier. I know the system. Coach gives me more freedom to where I can tell guys where to be because I know it already. The younger guys really look up to the older guys like me or Scott (Suggs) or Darnell (Gant). Those guys are good listeners. They’re all coachable.”
(What did you learn from Thomas?) “The will to win. It has to be greater than anything. It’s not the fact that you got to like winning, it’s just the fact that you got to hate to lose. That’s the main thing I took from him.”
(What did you learn from Venoy Overton?) “Toughness. Venoy did whatever it took to win too, but he did it at any cost. He may knock a guy down and not pick him up. And that may be what’s called for. I took that as he’s just playing hard. One of my best friends Avery Bradley said Kevin Garnett is like that. He’s knocking you down and he doesn’t pick you up. He’s just playing hard.”
(And Justin Holiday. He’s not a point guard, but I’m just curious.) “Just knowing the system. He knows the system so well and that’s why he was such a great defender. He knew the system so well and he’s like a coach on the floor. And it’s crazy because he really knew a lot and it’s not like he’s the point guard, but he was like the point guard in his mind. He knew a lot of stuff and he told us a lot of things. He would even tell coach how we should defend teams and coach would be like okay we’ll do that. I just try to pick his brain a lot with certain things like how should I guard this or how should I read this screen. I learned a lot of those things from him.”
(When you got hurt and Thomas took over the point guard duties, did you think he’s doing it better than I did or was it just different?) “He did it differently and I went and took what I did and combined it with what he was doing. I was like dang he does this really well and I want to combine it to what I do well. That’s just going to make me better. He’s a great player and he made a lot of great plays and he led the team well.”
(I thought Thomas really took UW’s pick-n-roll to a different level because he was able to get to the rim.) “I learned that a lot from him. He’s really aggressive. He attacks the screen well. He knew how to make plays. He wasn’t just a scorer off the pick-n-roll. He made plays for his teammates and when that didn’t happen, he scored for himself. I watched a lot of film on it too. He played the pick-n-roll great. Like I said I watched a lot of film and I’ve been working on it in practice so I can get better at it too.”
(Who has surprised you the most?) “I’d say Martin (Breunig). He’s been playing really well in practice. Playing really hard. A lot of people will say Terrence (Ross), but I expected that from Terrence. Terrence is a great player. He can score points in bunches. What he’s doing now, I expected. C.J. is the same thing. I expected him to do that. Those two guys are ridiculous scorers. But Martin is probably the most surprising. He’s a really good rebounder. He’s athletic. He plays hard and he tries to be a perfectionist. He reminds me a lot of myself in that he tries to do what the coach says the right way the first time.”
(Can this team be as good as last season?) “We have the potential to be.”
(Can you share the court with Tony Wroten Jr.?) “Yes.”
(How do you know? Whenever I see you guys practice, you’re always on opposite teams.) “We have to go against each other because it makes us compete. I think we can play together because we complement each other in that he’s a freak athlete. He can defend full court. He can make plays to where he can draw fouls. It helps me so I can play off the ball. I can be a shooter. I can be a scorer or I can bring the ball up and he can be a slasher. So we can just play off that in different ways. We never really know for sure unless we actually play with each other.”
(Can you be successful if you don’t have the ball in your hands?) “Yes.”
(How do you know that?) “Just from shooting. All of the different stuff that I’ve worked on. Coach has talked to me about it. When you’re off the ball, you got to be able to do this and that. And I worked on it with Isaiah so I pretty much knew how to play off of Isaiah. We did it well at the beginning of last year. I pretty much think it will be the same thing with Tony. And Tony kind of sees the floor better so in a lot of ways I can just move without the ball and he’ll find me in certain areas.”
(What do you want for this team and for yourself this season?) “For us to be the best team that we can be. Whatever that is, that’s what we’ll be. We’ll work hard every day. We’ll be the best UW basketball team that we can be. Coach Romar is going to push us every day to be the best that we can.”
(And for you?) “For me to be the best player that I can be. I want to try to come back off of my injury and play … I don’t really want to worry about my injury. I just want to play. Go out there and play as best as I can and help this team win.”
(You ever feel you have something to prove. Maybe prove you’re deserving of that high ranking you had coming out of high school. Or prove you’re fully recovered from the knee injury.) “It’s more to prove that nothing is wrong with me. That my knee is not bothering me. That’s the main thing. My knee has nothing to do with anything. My knee doesn’t bother me. I’m fine. That’s the main thing. That’s the only thing I have to prove. I have nothing else to prove. No rankings or anything. The only thing we have to prove is we’re trying to be the best team that we can be. We’re trying to win a national championship and we’re trying to take it one game at a time.”