By Scott M. Johnson Herald Writer
SEATTLE — The University of Washington men’s basketball team is taller, and deeper, up front this season, and a new offense should get the ball in the hands of the big men more often than ever before.
But that doesn’t mean a trio of perimeter players is expecting to stand in the shadows. Not this time.
After spending most of their UW careers providing complimentary scoring on Husky teams loaded with NBA talent, role players like C.J. Wilcox, Scott Suggs and Abdul Gaddy are ready to carry the offensive load this season.
“We feel like we’re going to have a breakout year,” said Wilcox, who scored at a 14.6-points-per-game clip as a reserve last season and ranks as the only returning player to average in double figures last season.
With underclassmen Terrence Ross and Tony Wroten Jr. taking their games to the NBA, a non-existent recruiting class after the sudden departure of juco transfer Mark McLaughlin and a deep-but-raw frontcourt that will help distribute the ball in UW’s new high-post offense, the Huskies are in the market for go-to scorers however they can find them.
Wilcox is the most obvious candidate, although most of his career points have come as a spot-up shooter while Wroten, Ross and Isaiah Thomas carried most of the scoring load. Now a fourth-year junior, Wilcox is ready to take on a bigger scoring load and intends to be more aggressive taking the ball to the basket.
But he doesn’t necessarily see himself as the Huskies’ next go-to guy.
“I don’t really feel that way,” the 6-foot-5 wing player said Friday afternoon, when the Huskies held their annual media day preceding the first official practice of the season. “We’ve got Suggs back (from a redshirt year), Abdul can be more of a scorer. There’s a little more pressure, but not as much as people are making it out to be.”
Suggs has never averaged more than 7.1 points per game in his UW career, but he was strictly a part-time player trying to find minutes in some crowded backcourts. He broke his foot at the beginning of fall practices last season, then decided midway through the year to take a medical redshirt because the Huskies already had plenty of perimeter players in the rotation.
“I’m starting all over again,” said Suggs, a 6-5 wing who has thrived as a 3-point shooter at UW but has never really gotten a chance to show off his full repertoire. “It’s exciting for me. I’ve been ready since I came back (for practices) last year. I’m definitely excited for the season.”
Gaddy, a senior point guard, should also take on a bigger role this season — and not just in terms of scoring. The point guard is even more important in the high-post offense, and he’ll probably get more opportunities to get open away from the ball to help improve on his 8.1-points-per-game scoring average last season.
“I’m looking forward to being more aggressive and scoring more points,” Gaddy said Friday. “But my main thing is still running the team.”
Coach Lorenzo Romar said he expects Gaddy to have a breakout year.
“Abdul Gaddy, I think, is going to have his best year as a Husky — by far,” Romar said Friday.
With Wroten and Ross now playing in the NBA, and UW’s recruiting efforts failing to land a single scholarship player who’ll be eligible this season, Romar is looking at this year’s Huskies as a veteran group that knows how to play together. The addition of Suggs, along with fellow redshirts Andrew Andrews and Jernard Jarreau, gives him a rotation that could go 10 players deep — and all of them practiced together for all or part of last season.
Add in the 10 practices the Huskies got before an August exhibition trip to Europe and Africa, and Romar feels as prepared for the start of the season as he ever has before.
“If we had to play a game tonight,” he said Friday afternoon, “we’d be functional. I’ve never felt like that before a first practice.”
Romar added that the lack of eligible newcomers will help on-court chemistry from the start.
“Not many (UW teams) have been more close-knit, and had the special chemistry, of this team,” Romar said.
The six-game exhibition trip didn’t answer many questions for UW fans, as the Huskies too often struggled to score while Wilcox struggled to find his shot. On Friday, Wilcox said that European balls were a factor in his subpar overseas shooting, and the Huskies don’t appear worried about him filling the scoring role this season.
“C.J. averaged 14 points per game last year, and he once scored 24 in a half,” Romar said. “So he’s impacted games for us. But his role will increase. He’s a guy we’ll look at to shoulder the load. Scott Suggs is a guy who will have to emerge.
“This is going to be done by committee.”
UW’s official roster includes 6-6 forward Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who is currently playing for the football team. Seferian-Jenkins joined the UW basketball team in January and finished the 2011-12 season with the Huskies, but Romar said Friday that he still is uncertain whether he’ll play both sports this time around. … Romar’s reshuffled coaching staff, which now includes new assistants Brad Jackson (from Western Washington) and Lamont Smith (from Arizona State) will leave nine-year assistant Jim Shaw in a recruiting-only role for the time being, Romar said Friday.