By Scott M. Johnson Herald Writer
SEATTLE — In the absence-makes-the-heart-grow-fonder world of athletics, the University of Washington men’s basketball team has missed exponentially two injured players with each frustrating performance.
During their fall to a 2-3 record late last month, the Huskies were beginning to look upon Scott Suggs in street clothes like he was the second coming of Brandon Roy. And the way UW coach Lorenzo Romar was talking up Shawn Kemp Jr., you’d have thought he was … well, Shawn Kemp Sr.
Just how much Suggs and Kemp can help this year’s Huskies is a question that could be answered in the near future — perhaps as soon as Saturday evening.
Kemp said Tuesday that he “definitely should be back Saturday,” while Suggs also is expected to begin practicing this week with a possibility of being back in action this weekend.
Romar said Kemp (torn patellar tendon in his right knee) and Suggs (plantar fasciitis in his foot) won’t get cleared for full participation in practice until Thursday, and he wasn’t making any projections about their chances of being on the floor for Saturday’s game against Nevada.
“I can’t put anything on it, myself,” Romar said. “… If they can practice a couple of days (this week), then they’ll be available.”
Now sitting at 4-3 with a pair of close home wins under their belts, the Huskies have weathered the storm of being short-handed and could be getting closer to full strength. But just getting back a pair of players who have a combined 14 career starts probably isn’t going to turn UW into a top-five program overnight.
It will certainly be a good first step toward progress, however.
“We just have more depth and can sustain our defense for longer periods of time, and we don’t have to concoct different ways to get through the game defensively,” Romar said of the effect Suggs and Kemp could have on the team when they return.
“So it helps immensely having those guys ready to play. And offensively, those guys both provide points for us.”
Junior C.J. Wilcox, the Huskies’ leading scorer at 19.7 points per game, said he’ll welcome the additions whenever they come.
“It’s definitely going to help,” Wilcox said. “We’ll be bigger when they get back. Scott knows what he’s doing on the defensive end. Hikeem (Stewart) has been doing a good job in Scott’s absence, but having (Suggs) back is definitely going to help us.”
The Huskies believe that Kemp could add some rebounding to a team that struggled on the boards in a loss to Colorado State two weeks ago, and Romar believes he can be UW’s best low-post scorer.
While the 6-foot-10 Kemp averaged just 1.6 points and 0.8 rebounds per game in limited action as a freshman, Romar pointed toward two games during UW’s summer international tour in which Kemp scored in crucial late-game situations.
Suggs, a senior wing who was averaging 10.3 points per game before the foot problem flared up, adds experience and another go-to scorer to complement Wilcox.
Without those two players, the Huskies have struggled at times to find consistent scoring beyond Wilcox. But UW has scratched out four wins, including back-to-back victories over St. Louis and Cal State Fullerton.
“As a whole, the toughest part of our non-conference schedule (was) our earliest games, when you talk about Ohio State and some of those other games that we played,” Romar said. “We just had to find a way to mix and match and keep guys out of foul trouble and keep guys rested. I wish our record was different, but it’s not.”
Bringing back Suggs and Kemp might not be like adding Ray Allen and Tim Duncan to the lineup, but the Huskies will welcome both of them with open arms.
“We haven’t said: ‘Without those two guys, we’re not even going to practice because we’re not going to be any good; so let’s just wait to see what our real team is like,’” Romar said. “We’ve been trying to get better without them. The fact that some guys have been able to get some additional minutes in their absence is going to help us in the future down the road.”
Whether it’s Saturday or in the near future, UW’s injured duo is ready to shake off the rust and get back into action.
“Yeah, definitely,” Kemp said Tuesday. “I’ve been ready (mentally) for the past few weeks.”