Was Sweet 16 just a blip?

  • KIRBY ARNOLD / Herald Writer
  • Sunday, November 19, 2000 9:00pm
  • Sports


Herald Writer

SEATTLE – The past doesn’t scare coach Bob Bender, and neither does the future.

Bender and his University of Washington men’s basketball team are living only in the moment, that four-month opportunity between now and mid-March when they can kill a few old demons and silence some new detractors.

A few stinging numbers, 10-20 (last season’s final record) and ninth (where many experts expect UW to finish in the Pacific-10 Conference this season) serve only as motivation for a program that just two years ago was wallowing in the glory of the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16.

“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with your motivation coming from adversity,” Bender said. “You come off a 10-20, your pride should be tested every day during the offseason. You have to have it in the back of your mind and carry it sort of as a chip on your shoulder.”

And, lest anyone remind Bender and his five seniors what life might be like if there’s a repeat of last season, the coach faces that prospect head-on.

“For myself and for the seniors, I hope that we all develop a mentality that every time we step on the floor, we think, ‘This is one game closer to the end of my career.’ You look at every game as incredibly important.

“Don’t look to the future. Don’t think about if I’m a junior I’ve got another year. If I’m a sophomore, I’ve got two years. When you’re a freshman you think you’ve got all the time in the world., but it goes quickly. We don’t want to do that.”

Bender, in fact, says the Huskies can be the surprise team of the conference, maybe the nation.

“Every year there’s always a team that emerges from low expectations and no preseason predictions of doing that,” he said. “That is who I want us to be. That is who I want the kids to believe they can be.”

Bender arrived at the UW in 1993 and endured two losing seasons, 5-22 in ‘93-94 and 10-17 the next season, before a four-year run of success that peaked with a 20-10 record in ‘97-98 and a trip three rounds deep in the NCAA Tournament. The Dawgs went 17-12 the following season, then plummeted last year.

It doesn’t have to continue this way, Bender said.

“It took us two years to rebuild to winning,” he said of his arrival in Seattle. “We don’t want to go through that. With experience and pride, with the seniors leading us, we don’t have to look at it as a rebuilding year. We want to win. Where it takes us, we’ll see. But going in, there is a sense of urgency now.”

This is a team without a shining star, and that’s OK with Bender.

He’ll start four of his five seniors – Will Perkins and Greg Clark (or Thalo Green when he returns early this season from knee surgery) at forwards, Michael Johnson and Bryan Brown at guards – around two juniors who have split time at center, David Dixon and Marlon Shelton. And, as the season progresses, look for Bender to weave in two promising freshman guards, C.J. Massingale of Tahoma High School and Curtis Allen of Wilson.

“We’re a team that has to do it in the right priorities,” Bender said. “First on the defensive end, second by doing it with great execution on the offensive end and, third, by doing it together. Not one person is expected to carry us. We’ve got to do it all together.”

If the Huskies can improve this season, they’ll go into 2001-02 with even greater hope. Doug Wrenn, a 6-foot-6 forward who was considered one of the nation’s top 25 prospects out of O’Dea High School, has transferred to the UW from Connecticut and will be eligible next season.

Until then, here’s a look at the players who may have the biggest impact on this season (asterisk denotes probable starter):

  • Bryan Brown*, 6-3 senior: Has made the tough switch from shooting guard to point guard, replacing talented but unhappy Senque Carey, who transferred to New Mexico. Brown, son of former Seattle SuperSonics star Fred Brown, has dedicated his past year to the adjustment from scorer to floor leader. Bender says his knowledge of the game will help make the transition easier. Brown lost 23 pounds in the offseason and now weighs in at 205.

  • Michael Johnson*, 6-4 senior: He’s a shooter/slasher/driver who Bender needs to be a scorer. “He’s got to be aggressive in looking to score, especially in creating his own shot,” Bender said. Johnson is the top returning scorer from last season, when he averaged 9.9 points per game.

  • Curtis Allen, 6-0 freshman: Averaged 25.2 points for Wilson High School and was named last season’s Class 4A Washington state high school player of the year. Expected to see considerable playing time and possibly start. Bender loves Allen’s potential as a scorer, but says he needs to improve on the defensive end.

  • C.J. Massingale, 6-3 freshman: Another who should see plenty of playing time and possibly start at point guard as he becomes more comfortable with the UW’s motion offense. Massingale was a two-time MVP of the Narrows League at Tahoma, where he averaged 22 points, eight rebounds and six assists as a senior. He’s a defensive specialist who Bender won’t hesitate to use against opponents’ point guards.

  • David Dixon*, 6-11 junior: Dixon, who arrived out of shape and weighing more than 300 pounds last season, averaged just 1.6 points and 1.8 rebounds. The Huskies can’t afford a repeat, and Dixon supposedly has eliminated those second trips through the buffet line. “He knows our future is directly linked to what he is able to do … and what physical shape he comes into the season in,” Bender said. If not, Marlon Shelton could get more of the minutes at center. Dixon and Shelton are splitting time almost evenly as it is.

  • Marlon Shelton, 6-10 junior: He continued to evolve from an awkward freshman and, as a result, could become the starter if Dixon falters. “The improvement wasn’t just from his freshman year to the beginning of his sophomore year,” Bender said. “What he did at the end of last season was the most exciting thing. He now believes he can play at this level and knows he can be more than just a role player.” Shelton, son of former Sonic Lonnie Shelton, attended Pete Newell’s Big Man Camp in August and hopes to improve on last year’s averages, 2.0 points and 2.3 rebounds.

  • Will Perkins*, 6-8 senior: At 195 pounds, he won’t go underneath and bang on opponents for rebounds. Still, his athleticism made him the Huskies’ top rebounder last season with 5.9 per game, and he had scoring spurts (20 at Stanford) that give Bender hope he can improve his consistency this season and become an every-day offensive threat.

  • Greg Clark*, 6-7 senior: Clark is a defensive specialist who usually goes against the opponent’s top scorer on the perimeter. Bender would like Clark (3.2 points last season) to become a bigger offensive presence. Clark is the younger brother of Detroit Tigers star Tony Clark, who played basketball at Arizona.

  • Thalo Green, 6-7 senior: Will miss the first two weeks of the season because of knee surgery, but could replace Clark in the starting lineup once he returns to full speed. Green can score inside over bigger opponents and also pull defenders out on the perimeter and use his passing skills to find open teammates.

  • Grant Leep, 6-7 junior: This is a season of unfinished business for the former Mount Vernon High School star. On his way to his best game as a collegian last season with 10 points in 25 minutes at New Mexico State, Leep tore a ligament in his right knee and missed the final 19 games. He’s capable of playing inside and outside, and Bender plans to use him more on the perimeter. “He’s our most consistent 3-point shooter,” Bender said.

  • Ben Coffee, 6-5 sophomore: Coffee’s playing time will be dictated by his aggressiveness. He’s a strong rebounder who the Huskies sorely need. “He is a very, very good athlete, the kind of athlete you have to have in the Pac-10 to compete,” Bender said. “His tentativeness many times didn’t allow him to show that.”

  • DeMarcus Williams, 6-9 freshman: At 270 pounds, Williams has the beef to help the Huskies improve their rebounding problems of a year ago. That could be his ticket to a fair number of minutes.

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