Saw it again.
“In spite of having two first round NBA draft picks and a potential future first-rounder in Aziz N’Diaye, the Huskies significantly underachieved last season.”
A word used frequently to describe last season’s Dawgs. That team had some talent but did not make it to the Dance. So they “underachieved.”
Let’s be fair. There was a moment where the bench was effectively Darnell Gant, Martin Breunig and Hikeem Stewart. Senior Darnell Gant said, “Since I’ve been here, I can’t remember it ever being like this.” Under those circumstances, it was a Godsend when Husky football tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins joined the basketball team. Remember that?
C. J. Wilcox was hurt; Elston Turner and Clarence Trent had transferred; Isaiah Thomas went to the NBA; Tyreese Breshers retired due to injuries; Scott Suggs broke a toe and redshirted; Shawn Kemp had been out of basketball; and Jernard Jarreau and Andrew Andrews were redshirting. The only depth was in Lake Washington.
But when two players get drafted in the first round, in hindsight many believe bigger things were possible during the season.
And there has been another weakness bruited about.
Basketball historian John Halverson, when asked about the “team” phenomenon, said, “The right collection of players will beat a team of superstars who don’t play well together. But talent is indispensable. Ideally, you want a talented team that plays well together. [Purdue’s] Rick Mount dropped 63 points on Iowa before the 3-pointer [was instituted] but Iowa won because Rick Mount really didn’t do too much else. Larry Bird, on the other hand, took Indiana State from mediocrity to one of the best teams in the country because of his team-oriented versatility.”
Former Husky guard Tony Wroten was in the spotlight beginning in the eighth grade, and while his teams, e.g., Garfield High, would go far, still, that seldom-used word “underachieve” would occasionally come off the lexicon bench. Some have suggested that at times Wroten’s presence at Washington was a disruption more than a means toward focus and team cohesion. However, while the cohesion of, say, the ’79 Sonics, was never evident last season, it would be unfair to suggest the Husky team should have done better. Considering the personnel issues mentioned above, Wroten and the Huskies did well.
Now Terrance Ross, Tony Wroten and Darnell Gant are gone.
Who’s left? Which group would constitute the “right collection of players” next season?
While Aziz N’Diaye will most certainly be in the middle, Halverson says that N’Diaye “…is not as good as people think” and believes that Washington Head Coach Lorenzo Romar might have better success going “small,” complementing from a combination of, say, Abdul Gaddy, C. J. Wilcox, Scott Suggs, and Mark McLaughlin or Jernard Jarreau or Desmond Simmons. Not enough size underneath? Dennis Rodman, at 6’ 6”, led the NBA in rebounds-per-game for seven straight years, and was named NBA Defensive Player of the Year twice. The Worm just did what needed doing. Without Ross and Gant, a player with exceptional desire like Desmond Simmons, a high school work horse, may surprise people.
Inside scoring? When the Husky Bigs scrimmage against each other, the most effective scorer is usually seldom-mentioned Jernard Jarreau because of his versatility. Some fans have expressed hope that next season Jarreau will remind fans of Oklahoma Thunder forward Kevin Durant. Durant? Perhaps among current NBA players – but the comparison is still weak. A better comparison might be a taller Keith/Jamaal “Silk” Wilkes who teamed with Bill Walton under John Wooden at UCLA. The versatile but extremely slender Wilkes, at 6’ 6” 180 lbs., had a high basketball I.Q., a quick inside game, and a great outside shot. When asked for the ideal player description, Wooden said, “I would have the player be a good student, polite, courteous, a good team player, a good defensive player and rebounder, a good inside player and outside shooter. Why not just take Jamaal Wilkes and let it go at that.”
Is Jarreau as good as Wilkes? No, but it is well to remember that at this stage in his development, neither was Wilkes.
In the late 1990s, the Sonics were terrible until the new coach Lenny Wilkens put together a revised lineup that included Jack Sikma, Marvin Webster, John Johnson and Gus Williams, none of whom played for Seattle the previous year. None were superstars. But they were a talented team that meshed and played well together both offensively and defensively – some said they “overachieved” – as results proved.
The prospect of Wilcox, Suggs, McLaughlin and Jarreau on the floor together would create considerable scoring possibilities, favorable defensive schemes, and there is enough height to do the job around the glass – although some, e.g., Wilt Chamberlain (who would know), say height is overrated, and to a certain extent that’s true. For example, during past Husky games, 5’ 9” Isaiah Thomas occasionally led the Huskies in rebounding, as did 5’ 8” Nate Robinson. As Dennis Rodman often demonstrated, positioning and desire go a long way.
If one group of the above Husky players is, as John Halverson said, the “right collection,” demonstrating above-average basketball I.Q., they could be a pleasure for fans everywhere to watch. The odds of that happening? Not high. But that’s the funny thing about odds.