Husky Men's Basketball Preview

Oct. 15, 2004


The Washington men's basketball team conducts its first practice Saturday, Oct. 16 in preparation for a highly anticipated season. UW returns all five starters from last year's Pac-10 runner-up and NCAA Tournament team.

The first game action for the Huskies is an exhibition contest on Nov. 9 against Westmont College. Tip-off is 7 p.m. at Bank of America Arena.

The regular season begins at home on Nov. 19 against Seattle Pacific at 7:30 p.m.

Following is a preview for the 2004-05 Husky men's basketball season.


'Experience.'

Finally, Coach Lorenzo Romar can utter that word in regard to his Washington men's basketball team. Romar's first two Husky squads were rife with underclassmen. Just one senior appeared on the roster in each of those campaigns.

Romar started as many as four freshmen on some occasions during his inaugural Husky season in 2003. His primary unit last year featured four sophomores.

All of his early efforts as a youth worker paid off last season as Washington seemingly matured mid season and won 12 of its final 13 Pac-10 conference games to vault from last to second place in the final standings. The Huskies advanced to the conference tournament championship game and were invited to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1999. UW finished with a 19-12 record, including a surge of 14 wins in the final 18 games.

The major players from last year's cast are back as Romar's 2004-05 team features five returning starters.

Washington is one of just six teams that participated in last year's NCAA Tournament whose entire starting lineup returns intact for 2004-05.

'We now have a veteran team. Not a veteran team that we inherited, but a veteran team that we've kind of grown with,' Romar remarked. 'We've never been in this position with all five starters returning. This will be something new for us. We definitely welcome it.'

Expectations are at their highest peak in years for the Huskies whose Pac-10 runner-up standing marked their loftiest finish since 1986. Early ticket sales forecast record crowds this season at Bank of America Arena.

The Huskies have already received favorable rankings in preseason publications. UW has not appeared in any preseason polls since the start of the 1998-99 season.

'I hear coaches ranked No. 1 say that what counts is where you are ranked at the end of the season. I agree with that part, but a lot of times coaches that say that are ranked every year,' Romar explained. 'We have not been ranked since we've been here, so that would be a compliment to our program at this point. It shows that things are moving in the right direction.

'If we go into the season and people think we are going to be successful then that bodes well for the perception of our program. I think it's great.'

The positive projections are based on the fact that the top seven scorers return from the nation's sixth-highest scoring team last season. UW's 82.0-point average was the second highest output in school history. Five Huskies averaged double-figure points for the first time since 1975. All five return.

In total, 90 percent of the team's points were registered by players who return this season. Also, the returning players represent 90 percent of the Huskies' rebound total and 90 percent of assists.

'We have a group of guys that understand how important a team situation is,' Romar said. 'I don't think we'll have an issue of guys from day one thinking they just have to show up now. That won't be the case. We were down for so long that guys don't ever want to go back.'

Last year's remarkable results halted a four-year streak of losing seasons for the Huskies.

'We stayed in touch with our guys throughout the summer, reminding them about how we need to stay together, to work hard and build on last year,' added Romar. 'My biggest fear is with success being so difficult to handle that we don't go off on our own. Sometimes we can forget our roles and have individuals decide they want a bigger piece of the pie. If you continue to do well as a group, you all end up getting a bigger piece of the pie anyway.'

RETURNING GUARDS

You would be hard pressed to find a guard corps more productive than Washington's. Last year's top three scorers were backcourt players, led for the second straight season by high-flying 5-9 junior guard Nate Robinson (13.2 ppg). A first-team All-Pac-10 selection, Robinson entered the 2004 NBA Draft pool. Despite projections that he would be selected after stellar performances at the Chicago pre-draft camp, Robinson withdrew on June 17.

'Nate Robinson is arguably the most exciting player in college basketball,' Romar exclaimed. 'Anytime you get an All-Pac-10 performer coming back, it obviously is a plus. I've never seen anyone his height on any level impact a game on both ends like he does.'

Junior Brandon Roy is a tremendous all-around talent who led the Huskies in rebounds last season (5.3 rpg) and was second in scoring (12.9 ppg) and assists (3.3 apg).Roy was selected to the all-district team in 2004.

'He is kind of a do-it-all player. He has a high basketball IQ. It's rare, especially in today's game, to have a player as good as Brandon Roy play so unselfishly. When one of your best players is your most unselfish, that carries over. By the end of last year, the team was very unselfish in its play.'

Senior Will Conroy is one of the finest playmakers in Husky history. He currently ranks fifth among all-time players with 296 career assists. His 142 assists last year were the second-highest single-season total ever by a Husky. Conroy was UW's third-leading scorer (12.3).

'Will is a warrior. He's taken and made many big shots over his career. He has gotten better at distributing the ball over the last couple years. It's always been his goal to lead the Pac-10 in assists. Maybe this is the year that he can accomplish that.'

Senior sharpshooter Tre Simmons led the Huskies with 48 treys last season, including three consecutive 3-pointers that keyed UW's upset of No. 1 Stanford. Simmons joined the team last year as a junior college transfer and averaged 10.8 points per game.

'He can score in bunches as well as anyone on our team. He's going to play a significant role on our team this year. You think of the Stanford game here where he helped blow it open. I can name you a half dozen games where his shooting alone either brought us back or broke the game open.'

Second-year walk-ons Brandon Burmeister and Alex Johnson complement the deep group of guards. Both players are outstanding outside shooters.

RETURNING FORWARDS

The stable of forwards feature versatile and athletic juniors Bobby Jones and Mike Jensen. Jones fills up a boxscore in every category while Jensen is capable of emerging as one of the Pac-10's premier power forwards.

Jones is the consummate team player. From his forward position he excelled defensively while ranking second on the team in rebounds (4.9 rpg), second in steals (37) and fourth in scoring (11.2 ppg). Jones registered two double-doubles in 2004.

'I think he's one of the best defensive players in the country. He's very, very versatile. You can't leave Bobby Jones on the bench very long.'

The team's finest inside-outside performer is Jensen, a powerful player with great athleticism. He started all 31 games last season and led the team in 3-point shooting at 42 percent. Jensen is highly capable of significantly improving his 7.6-point and 4.5-rebound averages.

'Mike is coming into his own to where he will build on last year. He is a great shooter for his size. He is a player with a lot of potential who can really help this team.'

Another excellent perimeter shooter in the forward ranks is sophomore Hans Gasser who gained valuable playing time in 11 games last season.

Second-year walk-ons Zane Potter and Matt Fletcher provide depth at the forward position.

RETURNING CENTER

Washington implemented a starting lineup of three guards and two forwards last season. The Huskies also have the ability to align with a true center with the emergence last season of Hakeem Rollins. The former Mesa (Ariz.) Community College standout made major contributions as the 2004 season progressed and finished as the team leader with 38 blocked shots.

'As you go back and look at season last year, there were several games that we don't win if we don't have Hakeem Rollins. There were several others that he kept us in the games and we didn't win.'

NEWCOMERS

A pair of newcomers are expected to make major contributions.

Junior forward Jamaal Williams red-shirted last season after transferring from New Mexico. He averaged 11.3 points and 5.1 rebounds for the Lobos in 2003 under former UW assistant coach Ritchie McKay.

'Jamal is an Adrian Dantley, Mark Aguire type. They are forwards that are rugged and can really put points up on the board. He has a real knack for putting the ball in the basket. He plays probably three inches taller than his actual size.'

Freshman guard Joel Smith is an athletic swingman who could work his way into the playing rotation immediately. A native of Lompoc, Calif., he played the last two years at Brewster Academy in Wolfeboro, N.H.

'Joel's another energy guy. He's a very charismatic and excitable guy. He's a good athlete who fits right in with everything that we're doing.'

Two other newcomers will red-shirt this season. Sophomore point guard Ryan Appleby transferred to UW after one season at Florida. Freshman center Zach Johnson underwent surgery on both knees during the spring and hopes to begin practicing with the Huskies at some point this season.

DEPARTURES

Only two players from last season's roster will not return this season. Both were reserves.

Guard Curtis Allen departed in brilliant fashion. He was carried off the court by the fans after his final home appearance, the upset of top-ranked Stanford. Allen averaged 4.9 points and 1.5 assists in 2004.

Center Anthony Washington left after his sophomore season during which he averaged 3.3 points and 2.1 rebounds in limited action. Washington announced in October that he will transfer to Portland State.

OUTLOOK

Clearly the offense is the Huskies' greatest strength. Last year's balanced attack will be bolstered by even more weapons this year in Williams and Smith.

'We've got multiple scorers. If you've got six or seven guys that can put the ball in the basket, it makes you difficult to guard.'

Romar singled out Jensen as a player who could join the ranks of last year's double-digit scorers. He also points out that last season's junior college transfers should be even more productive with a year of NCAA Division I battles under their belts.

'Not only will we have better depth, but now we will have more experience. Hakeem Rollins and Tre Simmons were junior college transfers who were kind of feeling their way last year. This year that won't be the case. We are not a young team. We are now a veteran team. That, along with the depth, should help us.'

Experience for last year's Huskies came in many forms. The returning players learned from the myriad playing time they collected as a group.

During the entire second half of the season, Washington played under the pressure of overcoming their slow start. Each contest became a must-win game if the dream of an NCAA Tournament berth was to be realized.

'There came a point last year where we couldn't afford to lose a game. We played two months of basketball where if we lost one game we weren't in the NCAA Tournament. That same type of attitude going into this year will help us deal with the fact that other teams won't overlook us.'

An area that clearly needs shoring up is the defense. UW surrendered a Pac-10 high 79.0 points per game.

Much of the high opponent point total can be attributed to the high-octane Husky offense that generated quick points, giving the opposition more trips on their offensive end. UW must decrease the opponent's shooting average of 46.5 percent, also the worst mark in the conference.

'By the end of the year we were good defensively, but it took us a while to get there. If we didn't defend at a high level at the end of the year I don't think we would have won. We were scoring a lot of points so other teams were getting their points too, but at the end of the year we were defending. It's definitely something that we've got to do a better job at next year along with rebounding the basketball.'

Romar tempers his enthusiasm for the upcoming campaign with one cautionary note.

'This past season we had no injuries. Things just kind of fell into place here and you can't expect that to happen next year. One little thing can go wrong and knock you off track so we have to come out not expecting anything. We've got to earn everything that we get.'

The team's goals are straightforward.

'We definitely would like to get back to the NCAA Tournament and get deeper into the tournament, ultimately that's what we'd like. It was huge for us to get a taste of the tournament last year and have that experience.'There's that word 'experience' again. Romar seems to enjoy using it.

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