SEATTLE — Shawn Kemp Jr. expected this to be his breakout season at the University of Washington. He came into his sophomore year with a legitimate shot at earning a starting role in the Huskies’ frontcourt, UW men’s basketball coach Lorenzo Romar was touting him as the team’s most dangerous on-the-block scoring threat, and Kemp set a personal goal to lead the team in rebounding.
But all that will have to wait. Six to eight weeks, if the medical prognosis is correct.
Romar announced Tuesday that Kemp suffered a torn patella tendon in his right knee, an injury that won’t require surgery but likely will keep him out of action until sometime around the start of Pacific-12 Conference play.
“It’s hard,” Kemp said Tuesday. “It’s hard to deal with, hard to take it in. Of course, I want to be out there playing with the team. But I’ll still be on the bench cheering them on. I can always rehab and get better.”
Kemp said he’d been struggling with knee soreness most of the summer, and during a practice early last week he landed awkwardly and knew immediately something was wrong.
Kemp was battling Desmond Simmons, Jernard Jarreau and Martin Breunig for the fifth and final starting spot and the injury comes at a tough time. Abdul Gaddy, C.J. Wilcox, Scott Suggs and Aziz N’Diaye are virtual locks to start, Romar said —
“It doesn’t impact the rotation,” Romar said, “but it impacts a guy who was turning the corner, an offensive weapon. We thought he was really playing well.”
N’Diaye, a 7-footer who is slated to fill one of two post positions up front in UW’s new high-post system, said the Huskies will miss Kemp’s size (6-9, 255 pounds) and rebounding potential.
“We’re going to miss him,” N’Diaye said Tuesday. “But I’m thankful it’s not like a major injury and he’s going to bounce back from it.”
Jarreau, a 6-10 post player who appeared to have a role even before the injury, could get extended minutes and might even start now that Kemp is out.
“I just think it gives me an opportunity to come out and prove myself,” Jarreau said. “… I just think I have to come in, build up to it, and just handle my business.”
Jarreau redshirted as a freshman last season, while Kemp was an immediate contributor as part of UW’s eight-man rotation. The son of former Seattle SuperSonics star Shawn Kemp averaged 1.6 points and 0.8 rebounds while playing in 28 games as a true freshman.
The Huskies have enough big men to absorb Kemp’s loss with Simmons, a third-year sophomore who started 11 games last season, the most likely fifth starter in Sunday’s opener against Loyola (Md.). The 6-7 Bay Area native averaged 4.2 points and 4.8 rebounds per game last season.
But Kemp’s absence leaves N’Diaye, Simmons, Breunig and Austin Seferian-Jenkins as the only experienced big men on the roster. And Seferian-Jenkins, a 6-6 sophomore who averaged 7.2 minutes in 17 games last season, won’t be available until the football season ends. He is the Husky football team’s star tight end. Breunig, a 6-8 sophomore from Germany, played just 32 total minutes in conference play last season.
“I wish I could come back sooner,” he said. “But I’ve got to make sure my knee is fine. I don’t want to come back too early and get my knee hurt (again).”