With the season getting underway on Saturday at the University of Portland, it’s time for SSN’s 2008-2009 Husky Men’s Basketball preview. The Dawgs finished 16-17 last season (7-11 in the Pac-10) and ended their year with a first-round loss to Valparaiso in the inaugural College Basketball Invitational Tournament.
The Dawgs return senior starting PF Jon Brockman, a 2009 Wooden Award candidate, who averaged a double-double last season (17.8 PPG, 11.6 RPG) and is the captain and spiritual leader of the ballclub.
Other returners include: PG/SG Justin Dentmon, Sr. (9.8 PPG, 2.3 APG); PF/C Artem Wallace, Sr. (3.2 PPG, 2.7 RPG); SF Quincy Pondexter, Jr. (9.9 PPG, 4.8 RPG); C Joe Wolfinger, Jr. (4.2 PPG, 40.4% 3-point shooting percentage); PF Matthew Bryan-Amaning, So. (4.2 PPG, team-high 18 blocked shots); PG Venoy Overton, So. (4.9 PPG, 3.2 APG); SF Justin Holiday, So. (0.7 PPG, 1.3 RPG).
Point guard Isaiah Thomas (5’8″, 180 pounds), a Tacoma native, is arguably the most-hyped of this year’s incoming players. Originally a member of the 2007 recruiting class, Thomas spent two years at South Kent Prep School in Massachusetts before arriving on Montlake this season. A prolific scorer in high school, Thomas backed up the hype with a 27-point performance in last week’s exhibition game versus Western Washington University. Other newcomers include: PF Darnell Gant, RS Fr. (6’8″, 215); PF Tyreese Breshers, Fr. (6’7″, 255); SG Scott Suggs, Fr. (6’6″, 190); SG Elston Turner, Fr. (6’4″, 205).
A bulk of the scoring load will need to be distributed amongst the rotation with the departure of guard Ryan Appleby (11.2 PPG), a senior last season. Senior guard Tim Morris also saw his eligibility clock run out last year, while redshirt junior swingman Joel Smith transferred to Chaminade University in Maui, Hawaii. Adrian Oliver, a sophomore guard a year ago, left the program five games into the 2007-2008 season and is now at San Jose State University in California.
No changes on the staff this year as all the coaches return. Head Coach Lorenzo Romar enters his seventh season on Montlake, having compiled a 119-72 record at UW since 2002. The three assistant coaches are Cameron Dollar, Jim Shaw, and Paul Fortier, with Lance LaVetter as Director of Basketball Operations.
How they stack up: Backcourt
Though slightly undersized, the Husky guards bring a great deal of speed and quickness to the floor that opposing defenses will have a tough time containing. Starting point guard Isaiah Thomas (pictured left) has an explosive first-step and a knack for getting to the rim. Despite his short stature, Thomas has powerful hops and has thrown down in-game while in high school.
Starting backcourtmate Justin Dentmon has had a bumpy tenure on Montlake but spent the offseason working on his shot to become a reliable scoring option. As a freshman, Dentmon was counted on to distribute the ball to the likes of Brandon Roy, Bobby Jones, and Jamaal Williams but watched as that role changed over the following seasons. Seemingly in limbo between the 1 and the 2, the 5’10” Dentmon seems to have found his niche as an undersized shooting guard in his senior season. He kicked off the ’08-’09 campaign by going 4-6 from beyond the arc in last week’s exhibition against WWU.
Sophomore point guard Venoy Overton, a starter a year ago, employs an erratic but effective style of play that allows him to out-quick the majority of defenders he matches up against. If Overton wants to regain his starting spot, he’ll need to show some consistency with his jumper (25% behind the arc last year) and improve on his ability to finish around the rim in order to leapfrog either Thomas or Dentmon. Overton did post a team-high 45 steals last season.
Freshmen Elston Turner and Scott Suggs will challenge for rotational playing time early on and could emerge as zone-busters with their shooting abilities. Neither Turner nor Suggs is afraid to pull the trigger on a deep ball, and both possess above-average range and accuracy. At 6’6″, 190 pounds, Suggs will likely need to bulk up over the course of the season in order to handle the rigors of the college game. Turner has the bloodlines to be successful; he is the son of former NBA player Elston Turner, Sr., now an assistant coach with the Houston Rockets.
How they stack up: Frontcourt
Senior captain Jon Brockman is arguably one of the best power forwards in the nation and has the numbers to back it up. In his three years on Montlake, Brockman has averaged a combined 13.5 PPG and 9.2 RPG and has seen his numbers increase steadily with each subsequent season. If the trend holds true this year, we should expect a 20/12-type season from the Wooden Award contender.
Junior Quincy Pondexter is entrenched at the starting small forward spot for the Dawgs after coming on strong late last season. Though he has displayed flashes of athletic brilliance in the previous two years, Pondexter’s tenure can best be described as “inconsistent” thus far. Pondexter registered a career-high 25 points on two occasions as a freshman (against Arizona and Idaho), but regressed in his sophomore campaign, failing to eclipse double-digits in scoring average (9.9 PPG). With the departure of Ryan Appleby, Pondexter should be given a greater role in the offense and be allowed to create off the dribble more frequently, which is what he does best. His biggest weakness is confidence, however, and Pondexter will need to overcome his mental demons before he’s fully able to unleash his on-court physical prowess.
Sophomore Matthew Bryan-Amaning (pictured right) and redshirt freshman Darnell Gant are the two primary contenders for the fifth starting spot in Lorenzo Romar’s lineup, with Gant taking a surprising early lead in the contest. After starting the exhibition opener versus Western, Gant managed a mere four points in 19 minutes of action, while committing three personal fouls. Bryan-Amaning, meanwhile, came off the bench to score 12 points in 18 minutes of work while committing no fouls. Gant’s emergence as a starter hinges on his ability to do the dirty work, which Coach Romar has a fondness for, despite the fact that Bryan-Amaning is the more polished scorer. The combination of Gant and Bryan-Amaning equates to one very complete player, and the two should push each other to improve upon their weaknesses as the season progresses.
Freshman Tyreese Breshers, junior Joe Wolfinger, and senior Artem Wallace are wildcards. Breshers (shin surgery) and Wallace (knee surgery) are currently limited by injuries, while the 7-footer Wolfinger will likely see a reduced role out of the gate in Romar’s uptempo offense. Should Breshers and Wallace return to health, there’s a good chance they might not see expanded playing time anyways, as the run-and-gun style of play the Dawgs are looking to employ doesn’t quite fit their individual games at this point. If pressed into duty, look for Wolfinger to spread defenses and suck big men onto the perimeter to defend his long-range shooting ability; he’ll collect the occasional rebound as well, but is little more than a foul-prone roadblock on the defensive end. The 6’8″ Wallace has established himself as a grit guy the past two seasons, providing the rebounding and defensive intensity needed when Jon Brockman is on the bench. His inability to extend his shot beyond ten feet has made him an offensive liability, however, and he should yield minutes to Gant and Bryan-Amaning as a result. Breshers, for all his potential, might be in line for a redshirt season if he can’t play catch-up and get up to speed with the rest of the team.
How they’ll finish
The Dawgs could arguably finish anywhere between second and sixth in the Pac-10, but should be amongst the top four if their on-paper credentials play out in games. Their success will depend greatly on the ability of the freshman Thomas to run the offense and provide a heavy dose of scoring. It’s no secret that the Huskies of late have struggled when they fail to push the tempo, so look for the team to revert back to the days of the Brandon Roy-led Dawgs and run opponents out of the gym. Improved athleticism and quickness from a year ago should ease that transition and take some of the burden off Brockman, who should continue to put up consistent numbers no matter the style of play. If this team can put all the pieces together, there’s no reason why they can’t end their two-year NCAA Tournament drought and return to the true postseason for the first time since 2006.