You never know what you’ll get at the Northwest Collegiate Summer League. Games are played Mondays and Wednesdays and some nights NBA players such as Isaiah Thomas and professional players like Justin Dentmon and Matthew Bryan-Amaning will make an appearance.
But mostly the NCAA-sanctioned league is a showcase and training ground for college players. This year Washington, Seattle University and Seattle Pacific are participating and since this is a UW blog, we’ll focus on the Huskies.
There were four games this week, but the most interesting matchup was Monday’s nightcap that included a Suns team comprised of UW freshmen Darin Johnson and Jahmel Taylor against a Nets squad led by UW walk-on Quinn Sterling.
The Nets dominated in a 72-55 victory with Sterling adding 12 points. He’s a lights-out shooter, especially when his feet are set. Off the dribble, he’s not nearly as effective and he’s limited athletically.
Taylor finished with four points in loss. He’s exciting to watch because he’s all energy and hustle. A couple of summer league coaches raved about his leadership skills and ability to accept coaching. Taylor is a prototypical undersized point guard. At 5-11, he’s always one of the quickest players on the floor. He doesn’t shy away from contact and stands his ground against bigger guards. However, at times the 160-pounder is at a size disadvantage when he’s forced to defend forwards in the paint. If he’s in a defensive scheme that switches on picks, then he could be exposed.
Still Taylor is at his best on the defensive end because he’s got a bulldog mentality. On Monday his perimeter shot was erratic. He struggled on pick-n-rolls, which is bound to happen in summer league games. And he had more turnovers (five) than points. Taylor has to improve his college three-pointer much like Thomas and Dentmon did during their careers at UW.
Johnson was the best player on the floor and the star of the night. He scored a game-high 21 points. He stood out because of a diversified offensive attack. He did a little bit of everything. On three occasions in the first half, he got to the rim with a beautiful spin move in the lane and finished with his left hand. Twice in the second half, he used his dribble to separate from a defender and drained long jumpers. He was also adept using screens at the high post to create offense for himself.
Johnson is a fluid player who doesn’t look like he’s exhorting much energy. He tends to glide across the floor. But he’s also surprisingly athletic and grabbed a couple of rebounds in traffic.
On Monday Johnson didn’t make many high-flying plays above the rim. Not sure if that’s in his repertoire. However, he looked like somebody who might help the Huskies offensively next season.
Washington, which lost three of its top four scorers, needs players who can score. It’s easy to imagine Johnson filling a spot in the rotation as an offensive-minded spark plug off the bench. Not sure how the 6-4 guard can start in a backcourt that will likely feature C.J. Wilcox, Andrew Andrews and Nigel Williams-Goss. It also remains to be seen if Johnson can rebound and defend well enough to warrant significant minutes. Terrence Ross is arguably the most gifted offensive UW player in the past decade, but he struggled to stay on the floor as a freshman because his defensive struggles.
Here’s a quick Q&A with Johnson from Monday.
(In regards to summer-league games there’s always that question about how hard do guys compete? What are you trying to accomplish playing in these games?) “I just try and work on stuff I’ve been working on with the coaches and everything I’ve been training for all summer. That’s pretty much it.”
(Is it important to win? Or is it more important to work on your individual game?) “You always want to be competitive, but in games like this you don’t want to take it to a level where somebody gets hurt. You just want to come out and showcase the skills that you have.”
(How competitive is it?) “It’s competitive. Guys are going after it. It’s there. It’s not the most competitive game, but it’s good.”
(Do you get your best work during the week out here or at other places?) “The best work is always during training so you can do it out here. So I’d say working hard with the coaching staff at Washington and then coming out and showing it here.”
(I haven’t seen you a lot, but tonight you displayed an ability to finish at the rim with the left hand. Where did that come from?) “That was one of my weakness coming in this summer so I just wanted to put a lot in and work on that. So when I got out here to Seattle I can show that I can finish with my right and my left. A lot of people have a weak left hand, but I just wanted to improve on that.”
(So how much have you improved your left hand?) “Every time I’m in the gym, I use my left hand. I get up as much shots as I can with the shooting machine and with coaches. That’s mostly what I’ve been working on, my shot and getting to the basket.”
(You also looked surprisingly strong rebounding.) “That was another weakness with my game. I’m still not quite there with the rebounds. But being able to show athleticism that’s going to be important, especially this year. That’s an area that I’m really trying to work on.”
(In general, how has your summer been?) “My summer has been going good. Transitioning and moving out here. I like it out here so far. It’s going to keep improving. I started class this week. It’s going good so far.”
(Is it a difficult transition to move and be away from home?) “It’s a difference. I wouldn’t say it’s physically challenging. You got to be mentally tough. You got to know this is what you want and it will pay off.”
(Do you have a roommate?) “Yeah. Jahmel.”
(How is that going?) “It’s going good. Me and him have a lot connections. We’ve been going and getting shots up. I’m enjoying it so far.”
(Have you been able to bond with the other incoming players. Obviously Nigel Williams-Goss has been away, but are you starting to build any camaraderie? Maybe with Mike Anderson?) “He’s not here yet. I’m pretty sure when he gets here he’ll be kicking with us a lot. I’m pretty sure we’ll be bonding later on.”
(Now that you’re here and had some chance to see the guys, how do you think you’ll fit in next season?) “I’ll just do whatever coach ask me to do. That’s how I feel like I’ll fit in. Just try and contribute the best way I can. That’s how I see myself right now.”
(Who has been the biggest surprise so far?) “I haven’t really seen everybody because a lot of guys aren’t here yet so I wouldn’t know how to answer that.”
(Have you had fun with all of this?) “Coach is pushing us in the individual workouts. Things like not being able to put your hands on your knees and stuff like that. It might not sound fun, but it’s a push. You know that you’re getting better so it’s a great feeling.”