SEATTLE — Since March, an unmistakable buzz has followed University of Washington men’s basketball player Terrence Ross.
Sometimes it jingles like a cash register. Other times, it sounds like an oncoming train.
Laid-back and quiet by nature — Ross himself describes his personality as “shy” — the Huskies’ 6-foot-6 sophomore swingman is a lightning rod of attention, often because of his ability to disappear on the floor. His silky-smooth touch, eye-opening skill set and deadly outside accuracy have both tantalized and frustrated UW fans since Ross busted out for 19 points in a NCAA tournament loss to North Carolina 10 months ago.
Ross ranks third on the team and 10th in the Pacific-12 Conference in scoring (14.1 points per game) and has made nearly 40 percent of his 3-point attempts. Yet, he still hasn’t developed into the go-to scorer and NBA lottery-bound player Husky Nation expects him to be.
“I can’t think too much about what people are expecting of me,” he said two days ago. “At the end of the day, if I (try to) live up to their standards, then it would just throw my entire game off. So, I just have to pay attention to the team and what’s best for me.”
While most young scorers are criticized for their unbridled aggressiveness, Ross has brought the other kind of frustration to fans who were expecting him to step into the shoes of recent UW primary scorers like Quincy Pondexter and Isaiah Thomas. By most accounts, Ross seems to be somewhat passive on the offensive end of the floor. The result can be long stretches in which the flashy wing virtually disappears — like when he managed just one shot during the second half of Tuesday’s win over Seattle University.
Ross was mired in foul trouble that game, which has become a pattern in recent weeks as he’s been relied upon to help guard opponents’ main offensive weapons. Ross has played fewer than 30 minutes in four of UW’s past five games.
But he also has been, for UW fans, maddeningly passive at times in the offensive flow. Coach Lorenzo Romar admitted recently that the Huskies have had to call plays for Ross just to get him scoring opportunities.
Ross said he’s just trying to stay in the flow of the offense without forcing shots.
“I’m not trying to go one-on-one and force (isolation) situations, trying to rush things,” he said. “That’s when it gets out of hand. I’m just trying to stay within the framework of the offense. I know they’re trying to create shots for me, and for other players, and I’m just trying to stay patient.
“… If I tried to do everything by myself or whatnot, it would just make the team look bad and make myself look bad. So I’m just trying to work within the confines of what the coaches ask me to do to be successful.”
Romar admits that Ross could be more aggressive on the offensive end of the floor but isn’t necessarily looking for him to have the constant push of, say, a Tony Wroten Jr.
“If he created more situations where he slashed more and put more pressure on the defense, it would make him a better player,” Romar said. “He’s aware of that, and I think he’s working on it.”
If Ross is perceived as something short of an aggressor on the basketball court, it may have something to do with his natural personality. The Portland native is rather quiet and doesn’t appear to be comfortable giving interviews.
In high school, he usually was a secondary scoring option behind NCAA Division I recruits. At Portland’s Jefferson High, Ross played with Terrence Jones (now a Kentucky sophomore) and at Maryland’s Montrose Christian, he had Mouphtaou Yarou (Villanova) and Josh Hairston (Duke) as teammates. He spent last season playing in the shadow of Thomas and Matthew Bryan-Amaning and has mostly given way to Wroten this season.
Ross admits that he hasn’t been asked to be a primary scorer since middle school and early in his high school career, but added that he doesn’t consider himself just a complimentary option.
“I don’t know if you can say (I’m) comfortable with it,” he said of being a secondary scorer. “It’s just something that I work on: to do my role, whatever that role is. But I also try to be a primary scorer on the team.”
There have been stretches of games when Ross can take over, like when he made six 3-pointers in a win over the University of Portland, when he hit some big shots at the end of the recent victory at Utah, and, of course, in the North Carolina game last March.
“If I absolutely need to, if there’s a mismatch on me, then that’s when I’m comfortable,” he said. “If it’s going to be hard for a defender to stop me, that’s when I call for the ball. I’m never trying to monopolize the ball or ball-hog or anything like that. I’m trying to make sure my team is doing what we need to do to win.”
Despite high-profile teammates at every level, Ross has been under the microscope for most of his playing career. He helped lead Jefferson High to an Oregon state title as a sophomore, then transferred to Montrose Christian in Maryland and played a season-and-a-half there before returning to Portland for the second half of his senior season. He was ruled ineligible and didn’t play during that 2009-10 Jefferson season but was still making headlines after backing out of his oral commitment to the University of Maryland.
Ross, who now says he rushed into his original college commitment, weighed offers from Duke, Kansas and Kentucky before deciding to go to UW.
“I definitely think that I made the right decision,” said Ross, who is projected as a mid-first-round pick should he decide to enter the 2012 NBA draft.
Now that he is a Husky, Ross has tantalized and left fans wanting more. While some may be expecting 25 points and 10 rebounds night in and night out, the silky-smooth soph is content with the offense he’s been providing this season.
“It’s not anything that I’m trying to change,” Ross said. “I’m just glad that we’re out here finding ways to win. Whatever it takes for the team to win, I’m just happy to do that.”