After nearly a year layoff due to a knee injury, Jernard Jarreau returns to the starting lineup for Thursday’s exhibition opener against Saint Martin’s.
He’ll be joined in the front court by forwards Shawn Kemp Jr. and Mike Anderson, a pair of seniors who have been overshadowed at times during their UW careers. Both have impressed the coaching staff during the offseason.
Co-captains Nigel Williams-Goss and Andrew Andrews return as starters in the backcourt.
Washington coach Lorenzo Romar referred to his team as “sneaky old,” tough and long and the lineup reflects that sentiment.
“It’s been really good to have him back,” Romar said about Jarreau. “Not only have him back, but the new and improved Jernard. He improved last year, but now he’s doing those things with more muscle, a little more strength. You can run your offense offense through him. He can guard 1-5. He can switch any position. He can put the ball on the floor and make a play for himself (or) others. His versatility and his length just gives you a dimension that’s hard to find.”
For Jarreau, a 6-10, 240-pound junior forward, it’s his first game since tearing his right ACL in last year’s season opener against Seattle University on Nov. 11, 2013.
He appeared ready for a breakout year last season and won a starting job. During an exhibition game against Central Washington, Jarreau finished with 17 points, nine rebounds, five assists and three blocks in an amazing performance. Then tragedy struck and he underwent an eight-month recovery.
Sitting out gave Jarreau a greater appreciation for basketball.
“It was a headache sometimes,” he said during an interview during the offseason. “Not just by losing, just by me watching and not being able to really do anything. Watching them compete and I wasn’t with them. It was hard for me. I just wish I could have been out there with them and helped them a little bit more. That was the hardest part. Just sitting back and watching. … I just have more focus now. I’ll be more focused on the games. Every little thing counts.”
Anderson appears as if he’ll have a chance to thrive now that he’s in spot that suits him. Attrition on the front line forced the 6-5, 200-pound wing from Moberly Area (Mo.) Community College to play in the post against bigger, stronger players.
During his first year at Washington he averaged 5.5 points and 5.5 rebounds while starting 18 of 32 games.
“He’s a facilitator,” Romar said. “He’s worked on his shot. He’s knocking shots down. He’s playing with more confidence from the perimeter. He’s one of our best perimeter defenders and know we know he can rebound. All that battling he was doing last year when he would go in there fighting and scrapping, now he’s going to have some bigger guys helping him doing that.”
Meanwhile, Kemp has been in and out of the lineup during his UW career. He started 10 games and appeared in 32 last season when he was diagnosed with Graves’ disease, an autoimmune disease that affects the thyroid. The affliction played a role in why he averaged just 4.4 points and 1.8 rebounds.
“Shawn is totally different,” Romar said. “First of all, he’s much stronger. Forget about the illness. I’m not talking about that. I’m talkign about in the weight room. He moves guys. Guys defend him in practice and he posts up and you see guys take a step back. He now when he’s in that game understands what we want so much that he’s just been steady. He’s been steady all the way through.
“His defense is better because his floor position is better. He rotates better. He knows where to go. He’s not an intimidating shot blocker. That’s not who he is. But the things that he do, you better run the floor with him every time because he runs the floor. He’s fast. … Shawn knows he’s fast and knows most big guys can’t run with him. So with our guards pushing the ball up the floor, Shawn will get a lot of run outs.”
Newcomer Robert Upshaw, a 6-11 transfer from Fresno State, will start the exhibition on the bench. However, Romar said the lineup may change this season.
Romar also said sophomore Darin Johnson could be considered UW’s top reserve and would be the first off the bench in most situations.
Roles are still being defined, the Huskies are still getting used to playing at a quicker pace and expect to be better defensively, especially at the rim with shot blockers Jarreau and Upshaw.
Romar’s biggest concern for Thursday’s dress rehearsal is whether the Huskies will play hard for the entire game.
“We haven’t been able to do that for 40 minutes,” he said.