By Griffin Bennett – Staff Writer
It’s time to jump back in. I think we all needed a little break after we lost He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named to Avatar Nation. I’m feeling refreshed and ready for 2010/11. We can all agree that there are big expectations for Romar’s crew this year and anything less than a return to the Sweet Sixteen would be a failure. While losing our emotional and statistical leader in Quincy last year (can’t wait to buy those sick New Orleans jerseys with Pondexter on the back), Elston Turner has also left in the form of transferring to Texas A&M in search of a larger role. However, the core returns led by newly-elected captains Isaiah Thomas and Justin Holiday with hopes of a Final Four. Not to be overlooked are the additions of freshman Terrence Ross, Desmond Simmons and Aziz N’Diaye. That leaves us where we are now; late June and full of hope.
As we learned last year, pre-season hype and expectations don’t matter in March. What matters is the work that each player has put in during the summer. While their peers are partying and soaking in the sun, the best players know that their summer workouts are what make them great. It’s also the time when the players aren’t in front of the cameras. Our goal is to help bridge that gap and get as much information out as we can this summer. The road to the Final Four begins this summer and each player (and even the coaches) will have their own storylines that will determine how far we get. Some are more important than others, so here is my list of the five most important ones to follow this summer.
Arguably the most important storyline for every program, but I’m looking at it from a 2010/11 season angle only. The reason that I’m including it in here at all is because I think this will be one of the strongest and deepest recruiting classes that the Huskies will have ever assembled. With 3 seniors, 1 rollover, and the possibility that IT leaves early, that leaves a possible 5 players to sign coming off of one of the Huskies best seasons. I’m not forgetting Kevin Davis; I just don’t want to count my chickens with him quite yet. Craig and I are already drooling over the prospects that Coach Romar and his staff have been looking at.
Real quickly (as we’ll save it for other posts) in order, the guys that I’m most excited about are:
4. Who will be the third forward?
This will be very interesting to follow as we know Holiday and MBA will be two of the three “forwards” that will play. We all know Romar doesn’t think too highly of the center position and loves to play it as more of a hybrid second power-forward spot. That leaves us with these candidates to fill the vacant third spot: Darnell Gant (PF), Tyrese Breshers(PF/C), Aziz N’Diaye (C), Terrence Ross (SF), and Desmond Simmons (SF/PF).
I’m sure that Romar will give Gant the spot to lose as he is a junior and should be afforded that luxury. However, I expect his leash to be shorter than Brian Scalabrine’s was in the NBA finals. Breshers never lost the weight that he promised us all that he would lose (we’ve all been there) and he I don’t believe he ever truly was 100% last year. Remaining are the three newcomers in Aziz, Simmons, and Ross. We have yet to see any of these guys play against college talent yet so paying close attention to the summer camps and practices will be a huge indicator.
If I had to bet my gold #3 Brandon Roy jersey on one of these players to win the battle, I would choose N’Diaye. It’s no more than a hunch, but I think he will provide the most to a starting line-up that was vertically challenged last year before losing Pondexter. Aziz will provide rebounds and blocks at decent rate while also being able to run the floor the way that Romar loves. With him in the starting line-up, it allows MBA to play at his natural position of PF which will give him a shorter/weaker match-up that could allow him to thrive. On the other hand, N’Diaye could be slower than I-5 at 4:30 on a Friday before a three day weekend while also having chronic knee problems. Either way, it makes for an interesting storyline.
3. Gaddy on the U18 team
Yes, Gaddy qualified for the U18 team heading into his sophomore year. I have friends who went to UW with me who would have been too old before they graduated high school. We all expected so much from our McDonald’s All-American last year, but for most of it he couldn’t smoke a victory cigar if he wanted.
After making the U18 final roster, he averaged 5 points, 2.8 assists, 2.4 turnovers, and 0.8 steals over 13.4 minutes a game. He was the teams’s 6th player off the bench. Saying “this isn’t going well” would be an understatement. I couldn’t have imagined a more perfect situation for a young gun-shy uber-prospect than this team presented. It should have done wonders for his game but more importantly for his confidence. As Gaddy has said, he’s looking to get his “swagger back”. With Ryan Appleby working on his shot when he gets back, I expect him to be better than what his USA stats have shown. Honestly, it’s not looking good.
With Venoy out performing him last year, I expect Romar will hold the same competition for the PG spot in the fall that he held last year, but I believe Gaddy will be ready. This experience does not help his already crushed confidence, but a late change isn’t out of the question.
2. MBA in the UK
The biggest question this year will be “Who will score Quincy’s share of the points?” I fully believe it’s going to come from the guys we already have, not anyone new. MBA is already showing dominance in England as Craig wrote about earlier . I won’t repeat the details, but MBA’s development will be a huge part as I fully expect him to become the Pac-10’s best big man this year. There are will be no more excuses for him as he is now a senior (wow that went by fast) and there is no room for error if he is trying to make the next level. He slowly improved last year and if he regresses next year then the Huskies’ wins might as well.
He also has the chance to make the England’s Olympic team which would allow him to play alongside NBA players like Ben Gordon and Luol Deng later this summer. The experience he would gain from that opportunity is what’s going to be paramount. He can play in these scrub games against Luxembourg (their country is so small that they can only play half-court games) but there’s no real competition there. He has to make the national team in order to get some well-needed minutes against quality opponents.
1. Holiday and Venoy
These two seniors will be the key for the 2010/2011 Dawgs. We pretty much know what we’re going to get from Isaiah and any dramatic improvement from him will only be a pleasant surprise. It’s the two vocal elder statesmen that we all need to keep an eye on this summer.
Venoy has two options this summer: 1. Feel comfortable with his roll as the backup PG that brings the defensive energy along with being the one of the best defensive guards in the country. Or, 2. Wanting to show the world that he’s more than just some defender and he works on his shot, controlling the pace of the game, and wins the starting PG spot.
Venoy maybe the most polarizing Pac-10 player this year as far as the other teams are concerned, but that’s because he’s good. I hope he’s not happy with that moniker and wants to become great.
J-Holiday has a similar choice to make because of his scoring ability that he flashed during the NCAA tournament. As I said about MBA, the scoring will come from within the starters from last year’s team. I think Holiday is going to make that “Dentmon-esque” leap forward his senior year and will average around 13 and 6ish. Once again, I’m basing that off only hopes and dreams, but Romar will hand him the keys and ask him to help lead this team to greatness.
The success of the Huskies’ season lies in the hands of these two players. They are 2 of the top 5 players on this team. If they fall short, so will the Dawg’s Final Four hopes.
Thanks for coming!