SEATTLE — Lorenzo Romar used to peek around the conference, note the performance-altering injuries sustained by other Pac-12 basketball teams, knock on wood and feel thankful that his Washington Huskies were typically able to avoid such ills.
Until last season, when guard C.J. Wilcox was hampered by a foot injury, forward Shawn Kemp was sidelined for weeks with a knee injury, and Romar’s Huskies lacked the depth necessary to operate at the desired tempo.
The result was an 18-16 finish, a first-round loss to BYU in the NIT marking the end of a forgettable season.
So as UW began practicing last week, it was with the intent to use their newfound depth — knocking on wood all the while — to become a more aggressive team on both ends of the floor.
“Last year it seemed like the majority of our possessions were in the halfcourt,” Romar said during Tuesday’s team media day. “And a big goal of ours is to make sure that doesn’t happen as much this year. You have to play halfcourt basketball and have to be somewhat effective if you’re going to be successful in your season, but our approach is we like to push the ball in the open floor as much as possible.”
If nothing else, the Huskies should do that more effectively this season. Considerable groundwork must first be laid, however, as UW welcomes six newcomers — three freshmen, a junior-college transfer and two players who redshirted last season — and meshes together with a staff of assistant coaches that looks far different than it did two seasons ago.
There is much new about the Huskies, yet Romar hopes they look more like his UW teams of old. They’ll still run the high-post offense, he said, with the most notable tweak being his insistence that they get into it quicker.
“I don’t think it’s any secret — just attack,” said freshman point guard Nigel Williams-Goss, the most heralded of Romar’s four-man recruiting class. “Attack offensively, attack defensively, and like coach Romar said, we want to be a team that punches first. We don’t want to be on the defensive. We want to come out and attack you at both ends of the floor.”
Aiding that effort is the addition of fifth-year senior forward Perris Blackwell, a transfer from the University of San Francisco who sat out last season due to NCAA rules.
You can probably pencil the 6-foot-9, 280-pound bruiser in as a starter. Romar was asked who might be the team’s most consistent scorer behind fifth-year senior guard C.J. Wilcox (16.8 ppg as a junior), and instantly responded: “Perris Blackwell. Mark that one down.”
Blackwell averaged 12.7 points and 6.1 rebounds per game during his junior season at USF, and believes he can be the dominant post scorer the Huskies have lacked.
“I post up, I can face up, I can shoot, I can dribble, I can pass,” Blackwell said, also describing himself as ‘an IQ guy.’ “I’m pretty well rounded, and I just want to show that here. I didn’t really get to show it at my last school.”
He’ll be joined in UW’s frontcourt by Kemp (6-foot-9), Jernard Jarreau (6-10), Desmond Simmons (6-7) and Florida International transfer Gilles Dierickx (6-11). Romar deems this the tallest roster he’s had at UW.
Williams-Goss and third-year sophomore guard Andrew Andrews will likely be the team’s primary ball-handlers. Wilcox has been limited in practice as he recovers from foot surgery, but Romar expects him to return to full-go soon.
Freshmen guards Jahmel Taylor and Darin Johnson — Wilcox compared the latter to former Huskies star Terrence Ross — will compete for playing time, as will junior-college transfer Mike Anderson.
Wilcox, who considered entering the NBA draft before deciding to return for his senior season, said the Huskies are a “good group of guys, all willing to learn.”
And able to attack.
“Last year, we didn’t have bodies to attack the way he wanted to,” Wilcox said. “We had a lot of guys hurt, we had a lot of guys practicing all practice and playing 30 minutes a game. … But we have a deep bench this year, so I think that’s going to allow us to play more up-tempo and attack more.”