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Wilcox thrives as Huskies's sixth man

Moving sophomore out of starting lineup pays off for Washington

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By Scott M. Johnson
Herald Writer
  • Washington's C.J. Wilcox (23) tangles with Portland's David Carr in a game earlier this season.

    Associated Press

    Washington's C.J. Wilcox (23) tangles with Portland's David Carr in a game earlier this season.

SEATTLE -- Heading into the conference season last week with an uncharacteristic lack of depth, University of Washington men's basketball coach Lorenzo Romar nonetheless found himself with quite a decision to make in terms of his lineup rotation.
With 7-footer Aziz N'Diaye back at full strength, and freshman guard Tony Wroten Jr. emerging as the team's go-to scorer, Romar had to find a way to effectively bench one of his starters.
The odd man out, so to speak, was one of the Huskies' most productive players in sophomore wing C.J. Wilcox.
Wilcox's response? Fifteen points off the bench in the Pacific-12 Conference-opening win over Oregon State on Thursday night and another 24 in Saturday's victory over Oregon.
"Romar told me it wasn't a demotion or anything like that," said Wilcox, who started each of the Huskies' 11 non-conference games and ranked second on the team at 14.5 points per game. "It's better for team chemistry, and I understood that. As long as we're winning, I'm OK with it."
With two consecutive home wins under the Huskies' belts, Wilcox isn't going to make any waves. But the 6-foot-5 sophomore probably wouldn't say much regardless of how UW was playing. The even-keeled, calm-as-still-waters wingman never seems to get rattled by much, and his demeanor may have been a factor in Wilcox being the odd man out.
While Wroten has spent a good part of his athletic life being coddled, and point guard Abdul Gaddy has had confidence issues, Romar chose the team's most easy-going player to bite the proverbial bullet this time.
Wilcox, who started six games as a redshirt freshman last season but mostly entered games off the bench, said his not-so-new role as sixth man made for an easy adjustment.
"Since I did it last year so much, it's just coming off the bench, ready to shoot," he said. "It wasn't too much of a transition."
Romar said part of the decision to bring Wilcox off the bench is that the sweet-shooting swingman is a chameleon in terms of fitting into roles and lineups that are constantly in motion.
"If C.J. starts, if he comes off the bench, if he plays with any combination we have, he's going to do the same thing," Romar said. "He's just so versatile, and he adapts so well because he can shoot the ball, he can guard the ball, (and) he can guard different positions.
"… Whatever combination, then C.J. fits in. And, on top of that, C.J. is selfless."
Wilcox's ego-checking demeanor has not been lost on teammates, although Gaddy said any of the starters who would have been asked to move into the sixth-man role would have been fine with it.
"It's about this team, and it's always about the team," Gaddy said. "That's how we can win."
Gaddy added that the new starting lineup, with another ballhandler in Wroten and the shot-swatting N'Diaye in the paint, is just another look for a team trying to find the right combinations.
"Coach (Romar), each year I've been here, he always switches it up -- no matter what week it is," Gaddy said. "The NCAA tournament, he could switch it up."
Romar did just that last postseason, when he inserted Ross into the starting lineup for the first time and saw the then-freshman emerge as a blooming star. The same seems to be happening to Wroten, who has become too important to keep out of the starting lineup.
The change has left one of the team's most consistent scorers, and best outside shooters, to be on the bench when games start.
"It's great," Romar said of having a prolific scorer coming off his bench. "When you look at your rotation, you would like to have someone coming off your bench that's going to keep everything at the same level or give you a lift somehow. I think we've seen that's what C.J. has done.
"But if we change it, and C.J.'s back in the starting lineup, he'll also give us a lift in the starting lineup. He's just going to give us a lift because he's on the team."
Story tags » Huskies Football

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