By Scott M. Johnson Herald Writer
SEATTLE — Life after T &T officially began Wednesday, when the University of Washington men’s basketball program took its first step in replacing underclassmen-turned-NBA-prospects Tony Wroten Jr. and Terrence Ross.
A verbal commitment from Tacoma Community College guard Mark McLaughlin, a 6-foot-6 scoring machine who already has made commitments to five other colleges since graduating from Inglemoor High School in 2008, helped fortify a roster that will be missing the Huskies’ two leading scorers next season. The Huskies also get senior Scott Suggs back from a redshirt season and might rely on swingman C.J. Wilcox to carry a bigger load offensively.
But there are still plenty of question marks when it comes to the UW basketball program and its immediate future. The losses of the team’s two top scorers, along with one of the Huskies’ few established big men in 6-8 senior Darnell Gant, have left coach Lorenzo Romar with some work to do.
And yet the Huskies’ coach was displaying his typical optimism Wednesday afternoon.
“It gives other guys an opportunity to step up,” Romar said. “This is nothing we were blind to, nothing that blind-sided us.”
Wroten, Ross and Gant combined to average 39.6 points per game last season, which accounted for 52 percent of the Huskies’ offense. The only returning scorer in double figures is Wilcox, who averaged 14.2 points per game. Suggs, point guard Abdul Gaddy, big man Aziz N’Diaye and reserve Desmond Simmons are the only other returning players with extended playing experience.
“I don’t think the cupboard’s totally bare,” Romar said. “… We still have some pieces there to be able to continue to go forward.”
Romar added that Suggs has the potential to be a 15-point-a-game scorer and that current redshirt Andrew Andrews, a point guard from Portland, should be a regular part of the rotation next season. He also said that UW’s inside game could get a boost from the experience gained by freshmen Shawn Kemp Jr. and Martin Breunig and the addition of 6-10 redshirt Jernard Jarreau.
The key to UW’s 2012-13 season, however, could be Wilcox. After struggling with a hip injury for most of this season, the 6-5 wing player should be a bigger contributor next season.
“I already think he’s one of the best shooters in the country,” Romar said Tuesday. “I think he can be one of the best guards in the country.”
And then there’s McLaughlin, the junior-college transfer who probably won’t single-handedly make up for losing two players who combined to average more than 32 points per game last season. But the Huskies have had McLaughlin on their radar for awhile.
The 6-6 guard initially committed to Washington State during his junior year at Inglemoor but changed his mind and signed with Nevada. When that school made a coaching change, he switched again and ended up at Baylor. McLaughlin never played a game for the Bears, eventually returning home for personal reasons before playing at Seattle University last season. He then ended up at Tacoma CC, where he led the nation in scoring as a sophomore at more than 28 points per game. He’ll bring two years of eligibility to UW.
The Huskies will be looking for the well-traveled McLaughlin to provide some semblance of stability after losing Ross and Wroten with remaining eligibility.
Romar supported both players’ decisions but admitted that Wroten still has a lot upon which to improve to make it at the next level. Romar said that’s simply a byproduct of Wroten being an 18-year-old freshman.
When asked how Wroten’s short career at UW might be remembered, Romar defended the legacy of his star freshman.
“If people look down on him, it’s just unfair,” Romar said of Wroten. “… While he was here, boy, he got a lot done.”
Romar said that Andrews recently underwent hip surgery but is expected to be ready when the team begins practicing again in the fall. N’Diaye is expected to undergo the knife as well, with wrist surgery in his near future. Romar said he’ll probably be in a cast “for a few months.” … The signing of McLaughlin, which is expected to be made official next week, doesn’t mean UW is finished with its recruiting season. Romar said the Huskies expect to sign “two or three” recruits before next season.