UPDATED: 8:23 P.M.
Already thin in the front court, Washington’s backcourt depth will now be tested after the school announced junior guard Hikeem Stewart is leaving the team.
“Hikeem is a great young man that I’ve enjoyed coaching and being around as much as any player that’s played for the Huskies ,” coach Lorenzo Romar said in a statement released by the school. “We hate to see him leave, but I am fully supportive of his decision, and will sincerely support him in whatever direction he goes.”
Washington granted Stewart a full release and he can transfer to any school without restrictions.
The 6-2 guard helped Rainier Beach High to a 3A state title as a junior in 2010. As a senior, 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. He was Washington’s first commitment in 2011.
After signing with the Huskies, Stewart said: “You can never go wrong with home,” while noting his twin older brothers Lodrick and Rodrick picked USC over Washington in 2002. Rodrick transferred to Kansas after his freshman year.
However, Stewart never found a role at Washington. He played 16 games as a freshman and scored eight points. The next season, he tallied 11 points in 17 games.
In a 2011 interview, Stewart said a high-school injury was partly responsible for his slow start at UW.
Before the season, Stewart acknowledged this was a make or break year for him at Montlake.
“I feel like it’s now or never for me,” he said. “I’m coming in with a different mindset. I’m ready to get on the court. I’m hungry.”
However, Stewart was making the switch from shooting guard to point guard and there weren’t many minutes for him behind touted freshman Nigel Williams-Goss and sophomore Andrew Andrews.
It became apparent Stewart had a marginal role at Washington when the Huskies started a four-guard lineup last week that included C.J. Wilcox, Mike Anderson, Williams-Goss and Andrews while Stewart played a minute in a 89-78 loss to Boston College.
Stewart appeared in every game this season, but he averaged just 4.4 minutes and scored five points.
Stewart met with Romar Monday afternoon and informed him of his decision. Stewart then told the UW players.
“It kind of caught me by surprise,” said Stewart’s father Bull. “I was shocked. But the opportunity is just not there at Washington. Romar is a great guy. Just a class act. He’s great to help us out. We’re very happy. I’ve got a lot of respect for Coach Romar. He’s like family and I’ll root for him and and that team.
“For Hikeem, they way he put it is he’s not quitting. He’s still pursuing his dream. He’s re-energized his career. He had a good summer. It’s just not working out and he wanted two years to play. Hikeem wanted to start another chapter in his basketball life.”
Bull Stewart said Hikeem will immediately begin considering where he’ll transfer.
“He hasn’t contacted any school or anything like that,” Bull Stewart said. “We wanted to do it right and be respectful.”
Bull Stewart regrets Hikeem’s decision to play as a freshman.
“If he had redshirted, I don’t think we would be having this conversation,” he said. “He wasn’t totally healthy anyway. He should have sat out, learned what he needed to learn and then now he’d be a 20-year-old sophomore and things are totally different.”
Washington has nine healthy scholarship players at this time because Jernard Jarreau suffered a season-ending knee injury, Desmond Simmons (knee) is expected to return in December and center Robert Upshaw is redshirting after transferring from Fresno State.
Stewart is the third player from Washington’s five-man 2011 recruiting class to leave school early. Tony Wroten Jr. left for the NBA draft after one year and Martin Breunig transferred to Montana after two years at UW. Andrews and Jarreau are the remaining members.
Stewart’s departure opens a spot on the roster for Washington to add another player next season. The Huskies signed Timberline High wing Donaven Dorsey and Canadian big man Tristan Etienne.