The Washington Huskies face an interesting situation next year. Much of it depends on whether Terrence Ross and Tony Wroten decide to return for one more year of if they decide to put their name into the NBA draft. Both players are projected to be 1st round draft picks in June, if they decide to enter the draft. Terrence Ross is generally considered a sure lottery pick, while projections for Wroten range from upper lottery to late in the 1st round.
Neither player has indicated yet what their intentions are. But, most people feel pretty strongly that Ross will be leaving for sure, while Wroten may be better than a 50% chance, but he might still return. Ross has already been with the program for two years, has been to an NCAA tournament, and probably has nothing left to prove at Washington or to NBA scouts. Wroten on the other hand, while dynamic has shown some definite areas in need of improvement. These include a high turnover rate, poor free throw shooting, the lack of any outside shot, and some occasional bad decision making. In addition, it might be interesting to see if leading the Huskies to the NCAA tournament, after this year’s disappointment, is motivation for him.
Either way, it’s worth consider what this roster would look like if either of them stayed or if both of them leave. While these two dynamic, athletic, and exciting players would certainly be a big loss, will it result in a major drop in the success or production or do they have the resources and talent to replace them?
Let’s break down the roster for next year:
First of all, we know the Huskies have only one graduating senior, F Darnell Gant. Everyone else returns.
Secondly, the Huskies have no known recruits on the horizon. While there are a few names out there on the recruiting lists, no one appears to be a “Washington lean” right now. They definitely seem bound to get someone to sign in the late signing period, but could sign 1-2 others depending on what Wroten and Ross decide. If there is one player on most people’s mind of intrigue, it would be 6’8″ forward William Howard of France. He certainly would seem to fit the bill of a nice replacement for Gant. Stories are that the Huskies quietly got him into a stateside prep academy so that he’d be eligible to come to Montlake next year. But, until the ink is dry on the LOI, we can’t count on anything.
Which brings us to focus on the current roster, which includes 11 known returning players. Let’s break them down by position:
Guards: Abdul Gaddy Sr., Scott Suggs Sr., C.J. Wilcox Jr., Hikeem Stewart So., Andrew Andrews Fr.
Forwards: Desmond Simmons So., Martin Bruenig So., Jernard Jarreau Fr.
Centers: Aziz N’Diaye Sr., Shawn Kemp Jr. So., Austin Sefarian-Jenkins So.
Looking at this group of players, I think it looks like the Huskies would be in a fine position, even if Ross and Wroten leave and they got no recruits to sign. Looking at the guards, the Huskies would have a lot of experience in the backcourt, with two seniors and a 4th year junior. In addition, Wilcox and Suggs are excellent three point shooters and Gaddy has shown this year that his outside shot has developed pretty nicely. We have yet to see what Stewart can provide in his very limited minutes, but he would seem to be in position to be the backup point guard when Gaddy rests.
The one player who really stands out in many people’s minds is Andrew Andrews. I have not seen him play, but others who have say confidently that he will quickly replace Wroten if he goes and won’t miss a beat. Andrews is said to be a dynamic player, with good ball handling skills, and a scorer’s instinct. With five guards on the roster, they would appear to have enough depth and talent to be successful back there and would only be better if either Ross or Wroten returned. If Wroten returns, I suspect it would be a good idea to go ahead and redshirt Stewart because there would not be any minutes for him next year.
On the front line, the Huskies do appear to be a bit undermanned. Desmond Simmons seems to be the obvious choice to become the starter up front to replace Gant. The key question is whether Bruenig or Jarreau are ready for primetime. While Martin Bruenig often looked lost on defense and tentative on offensive in the early season, he has clearly shown tremendous athleticism, especially with his amazing late game dunks. Bruenig has a great body, can shoot from outside, and seems to the skill set to be successful in Romar’s system. One might hope that after a year of practice that by next season he’ll be ready to make a bigger impact.
As for Jarreau, no one quite knows what to expect from the Louisiana player. He is 6’10″ and is said to run the floor like a guard, which is what he apparently was until his growth spurt late in high school. He might be very useful getting out on the break and shooting from outside. But, he needs to bulk up and be a force on the boards and on defense. But, it has to have benefited him to have redshirted and to have learned Romar’s system and gotten physically more mature. Without much depth up front, the Huskies certainly want to bring in a recruit, perhaps William Howard to give them a few other options.
There are only two centers on the roster, which is pretty typical for the Huskies, especially when they run so many three guard lineups. Aziz N’Diaye will be leaned upon heavily to be the mainstay in the center of the defense. His offensive repertoire has improved this season, but he could still work on it quite a bit, especially in establishing a strong post move. Aziz has two big weaknesses to work on. They are his propensity to get into foul trouble and his poor free throw shooting. The Huskies need him on the court to be successful and given the number of fouls he picks up rebounding and on putbacks. If he could just raise his 38% free throw percentage to 68%, he’d be scoring more than 2 points per game which could be 2-3 more wins in the season.
Backing him up is Shawn Kemp Jr. and Austin Sefarian-Jenkins. ASJ has been a nice surprise this season, but I don’t think the Huskies can count on him to be the savior next year. We don’t know what the football season will bring in terms of injuries or if he would still want to return knowing his NFL future and how his extended schedule makes academics more difficult. But, even if ASJ returns, he won’t be available again until mid-January at the soonest. So, the team needs to rely on Shawn Kemp Jr. to be more productive next season.
Kemp has his moments this season, but just as often he seemed ineffective and confused on the floor. Kemp can be excused somewhat given his two-year layoff from competitive basketball and the work he needed to do to get back in shape. But, hopefully he’ll be ready to make a more significant impact next year, given the need the team will need for rebounding and someone to step in when Aziz gets into foul trouble.
The key to this year’s somewhat disappointing season is that talent was never the issue. It was inexperience, chemistry issues, and a lack of that characteristic Romar defense. Players tend to improve with experience and this roster will not be so “young” next year. They struggled to win key games when they had late leads. If everyone returns next year (except Gant of course) this roster is the kind that could be a top 20 team capable of making a deep run in the NCAA tournament. If either Ross or Wroten leave the Huskies will have the backcourt depth to cope with it, especially with Suggs coming back. It’s really a matter of opening up minutes for others to shine. Either way, I think the Huskies will be fine.
I just hope that the freshman front court players show dramatic improvement next year. The Huskies need Simmons, Bruenig, and Kemp to improve dramatically next year (and maybe get some production from Jarreau) if they want to avoid the fate of another trip to the NIT.