2001-02 Washington Men's Basketball Preview
Oct. 22, 2001
This could be a soap opera season at Washington, something along the lines of The Young and the Restless.
Make that extremely young and really restless.
How young are they? Eight of the 14 players on the preseason roster have never before worn a UW jersey in a game. Nearly half of the players (six) are incoming freshmen. The team features only four upperclassmen, including one incoming junior transfer and three seniors.
The numerous newcomers replace last year's five-man senior class that boasted 456 games of collegiate experience and 197 combined career starts. Included among the departing players is 6-8 forward Will Perkins who led UW in scoring and rebounding during each of the last two seasons.
Surprisingly, the high player turnover might not be fatal as Washington exchanges veteran experience for youthful athleticism.
'We have the most athletic team that we've ever had at Washington,' claims ninth-year coach Bob Bender. 'It's an athletic team that is more than capable of competing in the Pac-10 where athleticism has always been a necessity.'
As for being restless, that's an understandable condition considering the Huskies are coming off consecutive 10-20 seasons. Last year's squad tied for ninth place in the Pacific-10 Conference with a 4-14 record.
The Huskies seek to rejuvenate a program that competed in back-to-back NCAA Tournaments as recently as 1998 and 1999.
'We can't deny our record of that last two years, but we won't dwell on it either,' says Bender. 'We've got to dedicate ourselves to do whatever it takes to turn this around. We've turned things around before and we will do it again.'
While hopes are high that a nationally acclaimed recruiting class will spark a return to the NCAA Tournament, Bender emphasizes the importance of the experienced, returning players.
'The returning players are critical. They have to provide the new kids coming in with the balance and understanding that it won't all happen at once,' Bender explains. 'The veterans have the experience and can impart their knowledge of what it's like to play Division I basketball.
'Some of the returning players were making great strides, in spite of a losing season last year. They showed that they are more than capable of taking another step in their development.'
The success of the team may revolve around the pivot play of senior center David Dixon. The 6-foot-11 Dixon has slimmed down to 270 pounds, a playing weight that should enable him to become a more consistent offensive force. He was extremely productive at times last season highlighted by a 16-point, five-blocked shot performance in 20 minutes against Washington State.
'He ended the year on a positive note and has continued that progress through the off-season,' Bender says. 'People won't recognize David. If he can get some confidence early and build upon what he finished off last year we'll see the best of David Dixon.'
Another center, Marlon Shelton, will have his senior season sidetracked by knee surgery. Shelton suffered a torn ACL in his left knee during the second-to-last game of the season. The 6-10 senior underwent surgery in April, but re-injured it in mid-September requiring an additional surgery on Oct. 16. Shelton will be sidelined the entire season during which he will utilize his red-shirt year. He is expected to return for a fifth season next year.
Shelton led the 2001 team with 38 blocked shots and had a double-double with 11 points and 13 rebounds against UC Irvine.
The forward position has only one experienced returnee, senior Grant Leep who was voted the Huskies' captain by his teammates. The 6-7 Leep emerged last season as a dangerous 3-point threat after missing the second half of the 2000 campaign with an injured MCL in his right knee.
'He played well as a junior, had some important games for us and hit some big shots. His consistency is critical for us because of that threat from the 3-point line.'
'The two freshman guards have one year under their belt. Of all positions, that is the most difficult when you are a freshman. It's tough to be thrown into the fire in this league, to have to adjust to so much and at the same time have so much of the spotlight put on you. They did a good job of it and they are much better prepared to handle it as sophomores.'
Allen earned raves during his inaugural Pac-10 campaign, drawing notice for his quickness and ability to penetrate with the ball. An all-conference freshmen team selection, Allen is the Huskies' leading returning scorer after averaging 7.0 points per game.
An accomplished point guard himself at Duke, Bender appreciates the process of developing Allen into a playmaker.
'Curtis came in with the reputation of being a great scorer without a lot of experience running a team. He did a great job between the time we started practicing and the end of the season, starting to understand the mentality of a point guard. His unique quickness is such an advantage for us, one that we have never had before. As he understands the nuances of the game, he will make even more efficient use of that speed.'
Last season Massingale backed up the point guard position while gaining selected minutes at the shooting guard spot. He displayed a knack for scoring, including a 25-point outburst at UCLA. Massingale is slated for full-time duty at the two-guard this season.
'C.J. came into his own as a scorer, more of an off-guard. Now that he is more locked into that second guard position, he has developed a lot of different ways to score. He understands that in college you can't just be a jump shooter. C.J. has been a relentless worker.'
One player certain to earn increased playing time is 6-4 guard Sterling Brown, a sophomore who walked on to the team prior to last season. Brown is a fine outside shooter who converted 3-of-8 shots from 3-point range in limited minutes last season.
'Had there been more opportunities to get him on the court last year, he would have taken advantage of them. Now he is poised to do just that. Sterling has an uncanny ability to find a way to score. He is one of those natural scorers who you just put on the floor and he can find a way to score.'
Two players from last year's roster will finally get to suit up after red-shirting last season.
Perhaps no player's first game has been more eagerly anticipated by Husky fans than that of 6-8 sophomore forward Doug Wrenn. As the 1998 state player of the year at Seattle's O'Dea High School, the supremely athletic Wrenn was one of the nation's top recruits. He was rated No. 14 nationally by Hoop Scoop.
After one year of prep school, Wrenn attended Connecticut in 1999-2000 where he played 24 games, including starts against Georgetown and Syracuse. He transferred to UW prior to last season and practiced with the team, but was unable to participate in games.
'Doug has an incredible amount of hunger. He wants to prove what type of player he is, not only here at home, but also nationally. He is the kind of athlete who can play just about anywhere you want. He has worked hard to become more skilled. He has been extremely athletic and a powerful player who has become a better basketball player.'
Walk-on David Hudson attended classes last year, but was unable to practice with the team while awaiting approval of his transcripts by the NCAA. The 5-11 red-shirt freshman developed a stellar outside shot at Seattle's Rainier Beach High while playing with current Chicago Bull Jamal Crawford.
Mike DeCourcy of The Sporting News ranked Washington's incoming class as the nation's best recruiting haul with one of his primary criteria being 'which teams got the players they needed.'
'No school did a more thorough job of addressing its overall weakness and building for the future,' DeCourcy wrote.
Each of the six newcomers has a specific strength that addresses a Husky need.
The Athlete - Erroll Knight
A smooth 6-7 swingman, Erroll Knight was voted Mr. Basketball in the state of Washington after averaging 19.6 points and 7.0 rebounds for Seattle's Chief Sealth High School. A consensus top-100 national recruit, Knight was rated the No. 2 shooting guard in the West by Pac-West Hoops and the No. 59 player overall in the country.
'Erroll Knight is maybe as good an athlete as has ever worn a Washington uniform. Erroll will play anywhere we need him and everywhere we can use him. That's what he brings to our program.
'Can he have the same impact as Richard Jefferson at Arizona? I think that's a good example. He is athletic like that, but he is also developing into a very consistent 3-point threat. He has the ability to put the ball on the floor and create his own shot. He is a warrior. He has a hunger to keep getting better and to do what ever it takes to be successful.'
Mr. Inside - Mike Jensen
Named the top power forward in the West by Pac-West Hoops is 6-9 Mike Jensen from Kentwood (Wash.) High School. Jensen starred on the camp circuit during the summer of 2000, but his senior high school season was cut short as he and several teammates were suspended for a rule violation.
As a junior, Jensen averaged 14.4 points and 10.5 rebounds to lead Kentwood to a 21-9 record and seventh-place finish at the state Class 4A tournament. Selected among the nation's top 100 players by nearly every scouting service, Jensen was listed No. 66 by The Sporting News.
'Mike Jensen is going to have a huge opportunity to make an immediate impact on our team. His combination of athleticism, aggressiveness, ability to run the floor and shooting range is going to make him pretty unique in our league as a freshman.'
Mr. Outside - Josh Barnard
A 6-5 guard, Josh Barnard played the last two years at Tacoma Community College honing his sharp-shooting skills. He averaged 17.3 points per game and led the conference with 99 treys during 2001. Barnard shot 41 percent from 3-point range after hitting treys at a school-record 49% clip in 2000.
'Josh Barnard is a pure 3-point shooter, the purest 3-point shooter that we have had on our roster. He has great range and shoots with flawless fundamentals. He can also create his own shot because he gets to the basket and is athletic enough to get in the lane and get over the top of people.'
The Two-Sport Star - Charles Frederick
Husky hoop and grid fans alike were thrilled by the news of Charles Frederick's signing of a football scholarship. A graduate of Pope John Paul II High in Boca Raton, Fla., he was one of the nation's most sought after point guards in basketball and receivers in football.
Frederick averaged 19 points, eight steals and 4.2 assists per game his senior season. He was a consensus top-50 national recruit.
'Charles is on a football scholarship and won't be available to us until after the bowl season. He is a unique young man with the ability to play two sports at this level and he has a chance to make an immediate impact in both. He should be able to come in and play with just a minimal amount of time making the adjustment from football to basketball.'
The Big Man - Jeffrey Day
With two senior big men, the Huskies needed a big young player to develop for their imminent departure. Jeffrey Day is that player. An agile 6-9 product from 2000 state champion Seattle Prep High School, Day averaged 14.8 points and 6.6 rebounds his senior season. He should see time at the forward position while also being groomed for duty at center. He was the West's No. 17 ranked power forward in the Pac-West Hoops listings.
'Jeffrey Day is a player who is constantly improving. His improvement has no limits. He benefited from playing on a very successful high school team. He has a much more aggressive attitude toward the game. With his size, athleticism and that continued improvement, we will see Jeffrey's best years when he gets to Washington.'
The Walk-On - Will Conroy
Arguably the coup of the incoming class is point guard Will Conroy, a standout from Seattle's Garfield High School who walked-on at Washington. Conroy enrolled at school planning to pay his own way, but he was awarded a scholarship when one became available on the first day of fall classes.
Conroy was one of the premier prep players in the state last year and rejected offers from other colleges to become a Husky. He averaged 14.5 points, 3.6 assists and 2.0 steals per game. He tallied a team-high 24 points on March 23, 2001 in the annual Northwest Shootout which the Washington All-Stars lost 87-78 to Oregon.
'Will Conroy is a player that we are very fortunate to have join our program. He is all about winning, playing hard and doing it with the greatest attitude in the world. He is a tough kid who physically will really challenge people. He gives us the ability to pressure the basketball relentlessly for 40 minutes.'
Bender is thrilled with the recruiting class, both in depth and quality.
'We accomplished what we wanted to do in a very big way. We identified early the kids in that class and really concentrated our efforts to make the commitment to them and make them understand how important they were as a whole group. We certainly had to recruit them individually based on their needs, but we really emphasized how they could be the greatest class that we have ever had the opportunity to recruit and that coming in together would put them in position to be one of the top classes in the nation. Individually, they all are very, very talented, but collectively they're very special.'
The progress of that class will go a long way in determining if the Huskies can stem the tide of two losing seasons.
Despite the 10-20 record, last season was not without its highlights. The Huskies placed third at the Puerto Rico Classic with an overtime victory over Clemson, posted a hard-fought victory at Oregon's McArthur Court and capped the season with an upset of 13th-ranked UCLA. Those triumphs revealed glimpses of a capable team that was lacking in a critical area.
Bender singles out 'consistency' as the missing ingredient.
'If there is one thing in the past two years that has really hampered our ability to have winning seasons it is that we have played well at times, but certainly not been consistent. The first thing that we have to address is to develop a very consistent play from the beginning of the season and be able to maintain it. The irony of that being a priority is that we are going to have a mix of a lot of young and new players. That inherently is not always there, that consistency. We're going to be patient, but at the same time really push them in that manner.
'With the large incoming class along with many returning veterans we will have depth and through depth we should have great competition. Hopefully competitive practices will demand people to become consistent.'
Washington's version of The Young and the Restless begins its run in mid October. The introduction of a whole new cast of characters should make for some riveting episodes.