Back to Hoops Boot Camp for Huskies

Oct. 12, 2007

By Gregg Bell
The Associated Press

SEATTLE (AP) -- Many college basketball powers will be dunking and goofing around in their annual, crowd-pleasing 'Midnight Madness' shows Friday night to kickoff the preseason.

Washington? The humbled Huskies will be heading back to boot camp after a one-year hiatus.

Last October at Hec Edmundson Pavilion, coach Lorenzo Romar's youngest team in 11 years as a head coach did the dunks, skits and songs in a first-time, late-night show. The Huskies then went 19-13 and failed to make the NCAA tournament for the first time in four years.

'Last year, it I think there was more hype coming in. This year, there is more a got-something-to-prove-type feeling,' said co-captain Jon Brockman, UW's leading returning scorer and rebounder, and a contender for national honors this season.

So it's back to avoiding the hype and spending this weekend at Romar calls a 'retreat,' at quiet St. Martin's University in Lacey.

'It's just a way for us to be together, get away, concentrate. No distractions,' Romar said Thursday. 'We don't just practice together, we eat together -- it's like a retreat, in that respect. I like that.'

The agenda for the getaway is clear: Defense. Followed by defense. Then, more defense.

'That's what we are hopeful to create, a mind-set,' Romar said. 'Our identity is not in the highlights or the baskets that we make. Our identity is in getting stops, rebounding the ball and in making the tough plays.'

The Huskies all felt they got away last year from the frenetic, pressure defenses hawking predecessors Nate Robinson, Will Conroy, Bobby Jones, Brandon Roy used to smother opponents. That was the hallmark of teams that enjoyed perennial NCAA berths and the first back-to-back Sweet 16 appearances in school history.

Part of the reason for last season's departure was the unprecedented youth. But Quincy Pondexter and Adrian Oliver, who had a combined 39 starts as freshman last season, are older now and know the value of defense.

'Oh, there's a completely different focus,' said Pondexter, who averaged 10.7 points per game and twice scored 25 in 22 starts last season. 'There is a lot more defensive work (coming) this season.'

The other part for the slowdown last season was having 7-foot center Spencer Hawes anchoring the middle. That made Washington far more half-court oriented on both offense and defense than any of Romar's previous four seasons. But Hawes is now in the NBA, shelved by knee surgery with the Sacramento Kings after just one season at UW.

Romar got an idea of what he has during Washington's summer of exhibition games in Greece. But he would only name two likely starters a month before the opener Nov. 13 at home against New Jersey Tech in the NIT Season Tipoff.

One is Brockman. The rugged junior and soul of the team has the personality that fits this return-to-defense mentality. The other is Pondexter. His lanky, 6-foot-6 frame and ball-handling skills make him versatile on the wing or slashing inside.

The rest of the lineup is an open competition. Junior Justin Dentmon, a prolific high-school scorer in Carbondale, Ill., struggled last season while playing point guard -- largely because no one else on the roster was one. Now freshman Venoy Overton, a true point guard from Seattle, has cleared eligibility issues and will challenge Dentmon for that job.

Joe Wolfinger, a 7-footer who is completely different from Hawes -- he shoots well from outside and is not a true center -- is ready after overcoming a stress fracture in his foot for two seasons. Artem Wallace, listed as a center but only 6-8, emerged late last season and is another candidate to start on the front line.

Guard Ryan Appleby said he is prepared to start or come off the bench again as a streaky, 3-point shooter. He will compete with Oliver for a starting spot.

Guards are everywhere. Despite missing last season with his own foot stress fracture, junior Joel Smith has played in 66 games, more than any current Husky. And Tim Morris, who sat out last season after transferring from Stanford, also brings NCAA tournament experience to the backcourt.

'If we get that defensive mentality,' Morris said of a team many are picking to finish the bottom half of the Pac-10, 'we have a chance to be pretty good.'

This story appeared in the Kitsap Sun

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