Jan 19, 2012; Seattle, WA, USA; Washington Huskies head coach Lorenzo Romar during the 2nd half against the California Golden Bears at Alaska Airlines Arena. California defeated Washington 69-66. Mandatory Credit: Steven Bisig-US PRESSWIRE

Is UW in Danger of Falling Back To The Middle of the Pac?

Is Perris Blackwell the Answer Up Front for the Huskies?

With the announcement that Tony Parker will be joining the likes of Shabazz Muhammed, Kyle Anderson, and Jordan Adams, Ben Howland has managed to assemble the #1 recruiting class in the country at UCLA. Sean Miller continues to assemble talent at Arizona with another all-star recruiting class of Kaleb Tarczewski, Brandon Ashley, Grant Jerrett , and Gabe York.  Colorado is putting together a nice class with Josh Scott and Xavier Johnson. Stanford has added ESPN Top 100 talents like Roscoe Allen and Grant Verhoeven. And then there is Washington…

For the last few years, Husky fans have gotten their hopes up that Lorenzo Romar would land that big recruit which would put us over the top. He’s come oh so close on a number of occasions, but often seems to end up playing second fiddle to the big time programs. I could make an extensive list here on the near misses, but I already upset people once before when I did so.

But, when we look at a team that missed out on the NCAA tournament and then still ended up losing two underclassmen to the NBA draft you have to wonder what this team will be able to do next season. At this stage the Huskies have managed to add just one player we know will be playing next year in SG Mark McLaughlin of Tacoma Community College. Sure, he lead the nation in scoring among junior college players, but that doesn’t always transfer to the DI level. McLaughlin was certainly highly recruiting out of high school, but his journey to Washington as been…well let’s just say it has been an interesting ride.

By all accounts McLaughlin will likely earn serious minutes as either a reserve in the regular rotation along with Wilcox, Suggs, Andrews, and possibly Hikeem Stewart, while others think he might even grab the starting nod at the 2 along with Gaddy. Then there is the second scholarship take up by Perris Blackwell, the transfer from San Francisco. It is unknown at this time whether Blackwell will be eligible to play next year or will have to sit out a year and come back in 2013. There is also one more scholarship sitting out there that might go to a player like William Howard, Jordan Tebbutt, or Victor Robbins.

While the Huskies certainly will have more experience next year than they had this year, there is not enough evidence to know if that will mean a better team. While one would hope that Shawn Kemp Jr., Martin Bruenig, and Hikeem Stewart will be better than they showed this year, we can’t know if that is true. Will Abdul Gaddy live up to his 5-star hype out of high school or stay at the same level as a dependable and serviceable starting point guard, but not one who will take over games. Will Suggs be able to replace Ross? Will Andrews be able to replace Wroten? Will Aziz develop a post-offense and will one of the big men replace or surpass the play of Gant? We have lots of question marks going into this season.

Of course other teams have question marks too. Arizona and UCLA have amazing recruiting classes, but will they be able to mesh together and dominate the conference? Maybe they will have a repeat of this season, but we certainly can not count on it. Howland has a track record of getting teams to Final Fours and Arizona won the conference and went to an Elite Eight just two seasons ago. Sure Cal lost a lot, but Mike Montgomery has certainly proven over the years that he can win a lot of games in this conference without all the 5-star recruits. Stanford has a lot of experience and Colorado building a nice solid program.

Will well traveled Mark McLaughlin make up for the loss of Tony Wroten? Mandatory Credit: Mitch Stringer-US PRESSWIRE

In the longer run, the question is whether Romar can keep up with the Joneses (and I don’t mean Terrance). I know Romar is banking his legacy on the absolutely stacked 2013 recruiting class with the likes of Jabari Parker, Jabari Bird, Aaron Gordon, Nigel Williams-Goss, Isaac Hamilton, Stephen Domingo, Zach Levine, Jordan Bell, Kyle Washington, among others. Romar will have at least three scholarships available when Scott Suggs, Aziz N’Diaye, and Adbul Gaddy graduate , plus the possibility of a 4th if this current scholarship goes unfilled, CJ Wilcox blows up next year and enters the NBA draft, or if there is an unexpected transfer. There is also the uncertain future of Perris Blackwell, who may get eligible this year and open up a 5th scholarship or may have to stick around for another year.

But, while Romar may be wanting to stack up as many scholarship slots as he can for this 2013 super-class, he also has to realize that many on that list (certainly the 5-star players) are most definitely 1-and-dones. Will they consider UW as their place to play when the Kentucky’s, UCLA’s, and Kansas’s of the world reign supreme in that category?

Then, there is also the issue of playing time and national media attention. Unless you are in the unusual position of being Kentucky, where you can field an entire starting five on the floor of NBA first round picks, in reality, having too many top notch players on the roster, all with the desire play meaningful minutes, score points to get noticed and become one-and-done players, might actually be a hindrance. Romar might be able to convince one or two of these players that they can be a star at UW, but 3, 4, or 5 seem unlikely.

But, we also have to accept the possibility that none of these highly sought after national players will come to UW. Then what? Will UCLA and Arizona continue to scoop them up? Will Kentucky and Kansas and Duke continue to suck up the best players in the country and leave no room for the Huskies And, if that happens, can UW compete with 3-star players over the long run?

Maybe…Certainly, if you had a coach which had a strong reputation for being a great tactician and X’s and O’s coach who was known for winning with lesser talent, you might feel you can still compete. But, when all the 5-stars of the West Coast keep showing up in Los Angeles and Tucson, you have to think at some point that you might not be able to keep up with the arms race. Based on Arizona’s and UCLA’s most recent performances, you might feel confident that UW can stay high on the pecking order. And perhaps they can. But, one gets the sense that UCLA and Arizona’s recent woes were an aberration and that they are about to explode onto the scene.

This season and the next couple of seasons to come are some of the biggest question marks we have seen in UW hoops in years. Will UW continue to win conference titles and tournaments or has their time come? Has UW simply benefited from a weakened period of play in the conference and now that the “big boys” are back on the rise, will UW fall back into the middle of the pack? The drama of this yearly roller coaster ride certainly appears to be continuing. But, I guess that’s what makes watching Husky basketball so maddening and exciting at the same time.

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