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October 4, 2013 at 4:15 PM

Lorenzo Romar on C.J. Wilcox: “He’s the leader”

C.J. WilcoxCatch Part II of our conversation with coach Lorenzo Romar.

In this segment, he talks in detail about Washington’s six returners and identifies three players expected to have breakout seasons.

Romar also believes C.J. Wilcox (right) will have a special year. He thinks the sharp-shooting star is more versatile than ever before and believes newcomer Perris Blackwell will prevent opposing teams from loading up their defenses to stop Wilcox.

Here’s the interview.

(Let’s talk about the guys returning. Hikeem Stewart first. He says it’s a make-or-break year for him. Is that true?) “I don’t know what he means by make or break. I know that he’s a junior now and he would say it’s time to take the next step. I think there’s players in the past that we had and in their freshmen and sophomores years they did OK and they took the next step their junior year. Well it’s time for him to take the next step. I know he’s worked hard this summer to do that.”

(Is he still trying to transition to be a point guard?) “Yeah I’d say so. He’s still more of a combo-guard, but again we wouldn’t have any problem putting him in there at point guard.”

(You have three point guards who have played the spot most of their careers and he’s making the switch. It looks like you’re pretty stacked at the spot and he’s going to have a hard time finding minutes.) “We could literally start three point guards if they made the best team. It really wouldn’t matter in that regard. But I’m going to tell you something, we don’t have one guard on our team that’s always played the point guard position. Not one.”

(What about Nigel?) “Eighth grade Nigel averaged 35 points a game or something like that. He was a scorer. Nigel became a point guard when he went to Findlay. He began to make that transition.”

(And Jahmel?) “Jahmel played, up until his senior year, more of the off guard. He was kind of like the combo guard. And Andrew had the ball in his hand, but it was to score. Now these guys have developed and their better point guards.”

(And they think like point guards.) “I would say Nigel probably thinks like a point guard more than any of our other guards. Isaiah Thomas ended up being a terrific point guard, but he didn’t think like a point guard for a long time. It didn’t mean he wasn’t any good. He was all-conference not thinking like a point guard and went to the NCAA tournament not thinking like a point guard. But it took him awhile to think like one. Will Conroy didn’t think like a point guard until his junior year.”

(Until you had a conversation with him.) “(Laughs) Something like that. That being said, Nigel thinks like a point guard.”

(Let’s move on to your power forwards. I had a conversation with Desmond Simmons the other day and he talked about going home this summer and really working on his perimeter game. He wants to move more to the wing and we talked a little bit about Quincy Pondexter making a similar transition. Is that in Simmons’ future?) “I think when people talk about Quincy Pondexter, his senior year him and Justin Holiday were the forwards. Matthew Bryan-Amaning was the five so to speak. So if you had to pick a position, Quincy was a 4-man. He wasn’t a wing. But he did a lot of stuff on the perimeter.”

(I remember that year and Quincy had a G next to his name on the roster.) “Yeah he did. But in Desmond’s case it’s not that important. In our system he can still be a so-called four and do things out on the perimeter. But that being the case the better you are at doing both, the better you are.”

(I guess for Desmond establishing a perimeter game is the evolution of his game. He’s never going to grow to be 6-10 so this is a way to set himself apart from the other two power forwards on the roster.) “I believe Desmond has set himself apart when he does what he’s better at anyone in doing. He gets 14 rebounds and 18 points in a game. When he’s in their playing junkyard dog basketball, he is setting himself apart. I think sometimes guys say now I’m going to be a perimeter guy, well then OK if we’re going to talk about the perimeter guys there’s Mike Anderson, Darin Johnson and C.J. Wilcox. If we’re talking perimeter guys, we’ll judge you against those three. But no one on our team can do what Desmond does and what he does best. In fact, there’s not many people in the conference can do what he does at that level when he really gets into doing that. With that now, when he’s open and he hit your shots it looks really good. Guys closing out on him and he can take them off the dribble and finish that. Wow. Now you’re really a monster if he can do that stuff.”

(I talk to NBA scouts at Washington games and ask them who they’re looking at and they say Jernard Jarreau. And nothing against Jarreau, but that blows my mind. But that NBA guys say he’s the most intriguing prospect on the roster. Where does his game go in in his sophomore year?) “If Jernard can finish. Jernard is very skilled and he can get to the rim with the ball, but then he has to finish. Once he gets there, complete the play. If he does that – because now he’s become a pretty consistent outside shooter – he can be really good. Defensively I think he can guard close to 3-4 positions with his length. He has a 7-foot-5 wingspan. He gets deflections and blocks. He had some moments last year, some good moments last year.”

(We talked about this last year, but in your high-post offense he seems to be ideally suited for the power forward spot because he can shoot and pass.) “He’s really good at that spot. He can make the pass. He can knock the shot down if you back off of him. He can drive the ball from that area. And  he can see over the defense. He is probably the best we have at that spot in terms of making all of the different plays and the different reads that you need to make.”

(With that being said, Shawn Kemp Jr. finished the season at power forward. And he finished on a tear. You could argue he was your second-best player  in the last 2-3 games.) “Well again if part of your team is – you mentioned Desmond setting himself apart – well where Shawn sets himself apart is his ability to score down low on the block. After Perris, he’s the best we have at scoring down low on the block. In our offense whoever is in there, you can play two bigs. The guys that come up at the elbow that are high-post guys, whatever side it goes to the strong-side guy is the high post. The weak side guy is the post-up guy. So it’s interchangeable. There’s not one high-post guy. In a two-guard front, we have one high-post all the time. If you have a one-guard front, there’s two wings, two at the elbow and either one of them whatever side it goes to is the high post. So Shawn and Perris and all of them have to be efficient to be able to do that.”

(Can Shawn play with Perris?) “Absolutely.”

(Because it seems that passing isn’t their strong suit.) “They’re good enough. I wouldn’t say either are stellar passers, but they’re good enough. Aziz probably had more difficulty with all of that than these guys.”

(What about Andrew Andrews? How would you assess his first year on the court and what’s next for him?) “I thought his first year was a great learning year. At times he was spectacular. Tough. He’s just tough. Not intimidated by anything. If a freshman can average 8 points per game, he’s usually pretty good. He’s going to end up being pretty good usually. I wouldn’t say we had a bad team, but we didn’t have our best team last year. If he averaged 8 points on a last-place team, then it may not mean as much. But if we had won the championship, he still would have averaged somewhere around 8 points. I think there’s three returners that have a chance to take big steps. That’s him, Shawn and Jernard. So we anticipate him taking a big step this year.”

(And he didn’t have the greatest outside shot. More than anything I thought he was learning where and when he could get his shot in this offense.)Nate Robinson shot 27 percent from the three-point line, I think, as a freshman. Some of that was because he came out to basketball after playing football. Some of that was just learning. And he ended up being a fine shooter. He shot 37 percent before it was all said and done. Andrew Andrews, he’s a fine shooter, but last year he didn’t shoot it well. He’s a much better shooter than he shown.”

(Going back to the pairing question, can Andrews play with Nigel Williams-Goss?) “Just like Will (Conroy) and Nate played together. Just like Venoy (Overton) and Isaiah played together. Yes.”

(In those previous point-guard pairings, somebody was more of a scorer. Nigel is a prototype point guard and I wonder if Andrews can score like Tony Wroten Jr., Isaiah Thomas and Justin Dentmon?) “Justin Dentmon didn’t do that until his senior year. Isaiah is in a class by himself. And Tony averaged 14 a game. So with Andrew that’s within reason. That’s not far fetched for him to do that. But again, he’s a sophomore. But it’s not far fetched for him to do that because he’s aggressive. He has an aggressive mentality.”

(And last but not least, C.J. Wilcox. What do you know about him?) “I know that I’ve not seen many guys mature over the course of their college careers like he has. He was really reserved when he came in, bashful on the court even. Now he’s the leader. He’s the captain. He’s up to bench pressing 270 pounds now. He was 205 when he came in. He’s just gotten stronger. He’s vocal. He’s a man. And you can see it. He’s about as hungry as anyone. He really wants to do well this year.

(Is he mentally tough enough to carry the team?) “He’s mentally tough enough to do anything right now. He’s really evolved into something I think is going to be pretty special.”

(If I’m an opposing coach playing Washington I’m saying I don’t care about anything else, but No. 23 is not going to beat us. If the freshmen, the forwards, Andrews or Perris want to take 20 shots and score 30 points that’s fine. But it won’t be C.J.) “Yeah and I think he’s good enough to still do what he needs to do because he has help now. For starters a guy like Perris Blackwell. A guy like that who you can throw the ball inside and you know you’re going to get something for it. I think that’s going to make everyone else better. But I don’t think C.J. is going to drop off at all. He had label that he’s a standstill shooter and that’s it. I can show you tons of film where he took the ball off the dribble and drove to the basket. Shot fake and went by a guy. I can show you tons of film of him doing that so he’s not just a standstill shooter. He’s just become so much more versatile now. He’s going to have a lot of freedom. I think he’s going to have a great year.”

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