By Tim Booth Associated Press
SEATTLE — Since he was charged with returning the Washington men’s basketball program to prominence, coach Lorenzo Romar’s has never gone more than two seasons without taking the Huskies to the NCAA tournament.
Keeping that streak alive is not going to be easy.
The Huskies are talented and potentially the king of team that could make a run in the loaded Pacific-12 Conference, but the roster is unproven in key spots and filled with questions coming off an 18-16 season.
“We have a good group of guys willing to learn, willing to work hard,” Washington senior guard C.J. Wilcox said. “I think we’re going to surprise some people.”
Washington was picked to finish eighth in the Pac-12 in the preseason poll.
Wilcox gives the Huskies an established scorer to go along with the addition of high school star Nigel Williams-Goss and forward Perris Blackwell, a transfer from the Univesity of San Francisco. All three will be in the starting lineup tonight when the Huskies play Central Washington in an exhibition game.
Here are five things for Washington fans to watch as the Huskies prepare for their 2013-14 season open Sunday against Seattle University:
Wilcox and who else?
Where will Washington get its scoring aside from Wilcox? He averaged 16.8 points last season and played most of the year with an injured foot. Even with Wilcox ailing, the Huskies still had enough scoring options to stay competitive. Wilcox is healthy, but who will help score is unknown. Guard Andrew Andrews is the top returning scorer other than Wilcox at 7.8 points per game, but much of the slack is being placed on Williams-Goss, Blackwell, Shawn Kemp Jr., and Jernard Jarreau. Blackwell averaged 12.7 points his last season at San Francisco and Williams-Goss averaged 18 points as a high school senior.
Relying on Perris
There are a lot of expectations being placed on Blackwell for the one season Washington will have him on the floor. Blackwell was a serviceable scorer at San Francisco, averaging double figures his final two seasons for the Dons. Romar believes Blackwell can be the consistent interior answer the Huskies were missing last season. Kemp and Jarreau were inconsistent, and while graduated center Aziz N’Diaye was a good defender, he struggled offensively. Blackwell spent all last season learning Washington’s system in the hope he is fluent when he hits the floor.
Depth to run
Romar never felt Washington had the depth or health last season to push the tempo the way he wanted both offensively and defensively. The Huskies averaged just 67.9 points last season, the lowest since the 2000-01 season and the only time during Romar’s tenure that Washington has failed to score at least 72 points per game. On the defensive side, the 12.3 turnovers per game the Huskies forced were the fewest during Romar’s time as well.
Williams-Goss is just the fifth Washington player to have participated in the McDonald’s All-American game. He played for Team USA in the FIBA under-19 World Championships this summer. He joins the Huskies with a wealth of experience most college freshmen don’t have. Then throw in that he averaged 18 points and seven assists playing for one of the top prep programs in the country at Findley Prep in Henderson, Nev., and it’s easy to see why the freshman is expected to be a leader immediately. “I’ve always played with older players at a high level and being a vocal leader is just something I’ve always been,” Williams-Goss said. “That hasn’t changed here.”
Washington has put together a worthy non-conference schedule. Their home slate lacks excitement with the exception of a Dec. 22 meeting against Connecticut that is the home schedule highlight. Away from Seattle, however, the Huskies will face challenges. They’ll play Indiana in the 2K Sports Classic in New York and play either Boston College or Connecticut a night later. They also have two true non-conference road games, going to San Diego State and Tulane. It’s a solid slate to get the Huskies ready for conference play that begins Jan. 2 at Arizona State.