By Scott M. Johnson Herald Writer
SEATTLE — Watch and wait.
It’s an unfortunate reality for hundreds of freshmen college football players who redshirt each fall, but is somewhat of a rarity in the sport of basketball.
And yet the University of Washington men’s basketball program has built a winning tradition with players who redshirted as freshmen, including two current upperclassmen who are projected to be in this year’s starting five. So when Class of 2011 recruits Jernard Jarreau and Andrew Andrews were approached before last season and asked to delay their playing careers, all it took was a glance around the locker room to provide evidence that a redshirt can be good for the long run.
Jarreau, a 6-foot-10 post player whose lithe frame wasn’t exactly college-ready when he arrived last fall, said talking to one-time redshirts Darnell Gant (who has since graduated), Desmond Simmons and C.J. Wilcox helped get him through his freshman year of inactivity.
“Those guys — Darnell, Desmond, C.J. — they told me positive things and told me that everything would work out fine,” Jarreau said. “Everything seems to be going good right now, and I think I should be good to go.”
Jarreau and Andrews, a 6-2 point guard from Portland, are hoping to prove once again that not every incoming freshman has to have the immediate impact of a Tony Wroten or an Isaiah Thomas to become a big-time Huskies contributor.
Both Jarreau and Andrews could fill key roles on a team that lacks depth. Andrews is slotted as the primary backup at point guard, where Wroten and Abdul Gaddy carried the load last season while the redshirt watched from the bench. Wroten has moved on to the NBA after just one season at UW, while Gaddy will be entering his senior year and is the projected starter.
Gaddy, who played against Andrews in practices all last season, said the redshirt freshman should fill an immediate role for this year’s Huskies.
“Andrew’s a really aggressive player, on offense and defense,” Gaddy said. “On offense, he’s going to push the ball and put pressure on players. He’s really smart, so he knows where guys are at on the floor at all times. On defense, he likes to pressure the ball; he’s physical.
“He’s definitely going to help us this year — big time.”
Jarreau gives UW another big body up front, where the Huskies are thin on experienced contributors. He’s the second-tallest Husky eligible to play this season, and there could be times when Jarreau and 7-foot starter Aziz N’Diaye are on the floor together.
“We felt like, during his redshirt year, he made big strides,” head coach Lorenzo Romar said of Jarreau. “When it finally clicks … I think he’s going to be a really good basketball player. I’m talking about the time when he’s an all-conference player. I don’t know when that’s going to happen, but I’m confident that it’ll happen.”
Romar also has high hopes for Andrews this season.
“Andrew’s a little pit bull,” he said. “… He’s a guy who’s not really intimidated by any situation.”
Both former redshirts are eager to contribute, which is common for players who sit out an entire season.
“There were a lot of games when I felt like that: I wish I could be out there helping my team,” Jarreau said. “But the time kind of flew by, and before I knew it, a new year started. And I think my time will come now.”
Jarreau came into last season expecting to contribute, but he and Romar decided just before the season opened that it would be best to sit out the season and wait before Jarreau’s four-year eligibility clock started ticking. With N’Diaye and Gant back, and with Simmons coming off his redshirt season, and with incoming frontcourt players Shawn Kemp Jr. and Martin Breunig bringing more muscle to the rotation, Jarreau might not have had an opportunity to play much as a true freshman.
“It was one of my tougher decisions, but I don’t regret it at all,” the 6-10, 220-pound center from New Orleans said. “I’m a better player.”
Andrews came to UW without nearly as much optimism when it came to playing as a freshman. He signed before Thomas decided to give up his final year of eligibility, and the signing of Wroten only diminished Andrews’ hopes of playing immediately.
He said it wasn’t all that difficult to sit and wait last season while Gaddy and Wroten carried the point-guard load.
“I would say beneficial,” Andrews said of sitting out his freshman year. “It was a great experience for me to learn and build chemistry with the guys. So I enjoyed it.”
If the redshirt freshmen needed any evidence that patience is a virtue, they didn’t have to look far.
Wilcox sat out the 2009-10 season and became a key contributor the following year, when he averaged 8.1 points per game off the bench. He averaged 14.6 points per game last season and enters the 2012-13 campaign as the team’s leading returning scorer and a likely go-to player.
Simmons redshirted in 2010-11 and joined the rotation last season, when the 6-7 forward started 11 games and played in all 35. He appears like a probable starter this season at the power forward position.
Gant preceded both of them, having accepted a redshirt before becoming a key role player for four years and earning a leadership position as a senior last season. He holds the school record for games played (141), is the first Husky to be involved in 100 career wins and started 79 games.
Perhaps the most important redshirt on this year’s team is fifth-year senior Scott Suggs, who took a medical redshirt last season and is expected to be a go-to player now that his foot has fully healed. Add him into the mix, and five of the first 10 players in UW’s rotation this season could have a redshirt year on their resumes.
For Jarreau and Andrews, they’re just glad to have the redshirt year behind them.
“You’re always eager to play,” Andrews said. “I’m just blessed to be in this position.”
Said Jarreau: “I’m ready. It feels like my time has come. I’m ready for my first college game, and I’m ready for the future.”