Pac-10 Basketball: Part 5 of ...Will The West Be Best?
In the final segment of this series on Pac-10 basketball for the coming season, we'll take a look at the two "Dubya" schools: Washington and Washington State.
Yes, those two northwest universities are separated by more than just the Cascade mountains.
University of Washington
Since Coach Lorenzo Romar has been at the helm of Husky basketball, there have been high hopes for the team's success. Most of those hopes have been fulfilled prior to this past season.
Last year, the Huskies finished eighth in the Pac-10 and had a disappointing record of 16-17. A high-powered offense wasn't enough for Coach Romar's troops.
He seems to lean toward running opponents off the court. That's worked well for the Dawgs in the past, but with the conference featuring three of the best defensive teams in the country (WSU, UCLA, ASU), that didn't work out last year.
So what will turn things around for Washington?
For beginners, Coach Romar has a lot of frontline talent coming back. Jon Brockman is, simply put, a force. The senior will continue to set the tone for his team with his leadership.
Along with his immense talents, the Huskies have a couple of athletic players in Matthew Bryan-Amaning and Quincy Pondexter. That's a fine trio of forwards.
Artem Wallace is a nice player at center, but he won't turn many heads because of his play. The one thing that is a real plus for Wallace is he won't hurt the team. The guy rarely makes mistakes.
There were only a couple of seniors on the team last year. One of those will be sorely missed. Ryan Appleby put fear in the hearts of opposing teams because of his tremendous range.
Appleby was famous for going off with three-point bombs in clusters. On a team that is built around offense, his skills will be missed.
It's likely that Coach Romar is counting on significant guard play from his incoming class of recruits. He might just get scoring from the diminutive Isaiah Thomas from Connecticut.
Thomas has shown he can put up staggering numbers at the high school level, averaging 40 points in the state tournament.
At only 5-feet-7, he might remind some of Nate Robinson. In terms of body strength, Thomas is no Robinson. No matter.
Elston Turner is a nice looking guard who might see some significant playing time if he can score. Scott Suggs might be one of the best high school players in Missouri with a boatload of skills. These three freshmen will be the key to a better future for Husky basketball.
Unfortunately, there isn't a logical reason to suggest Washington will rise up into the top half of the Pac-10 next year. Aside from a terrific coach and one of the top players in the conference, the Huskies are just a "good" team.
When UCLA, USC and ASU are elite teams in the same conference, being good isn't quite good enough. But make no mistake, Husky basketball will be better next season, giving fans plenty to cheer about.
Washington State University
Alphabetically, last is the only thing about Coach Tony Bennett and the Cougars that will be at the bottom of the Pac-10 next year.
The Cougars are coming off their second consecutive NCAA tournament appearance, making it to the Sweet 16.
Were the last two seasons for WSU a fluke? That's what many experts are saying.
Why not? After decades of lame teams, who wouldn't expect the Cougs to revert to previous form after losing starters Kyle Weaver, Derrick Lowe and Robbie Cowgill? Weaver will be a NBA first-round pick.
Coach Bennett has proven that he can bring out the best in good high school players. Weaver and Lowe are prime examples of that assertion.
Before you agree with the experts and banish the Cougs to the bottom half of the Pac-10, consider this. Coach Bennett will have a couple of elite high school players joining the program next season.
Michael Harthun is cut from the same mold as Derrick Lowe and is rated as one of the top guards in high school last year. This kid knocks down treys whether he's open or not.
DeAngelo Casto was the best high school player in the state of Washington last year. Casto will bring a shot-blocking presence to Bennett's front line.
Klay Thompson brings the complete package to Washington State. The son of a #1 NBA draft pick, Thompson led his team to a high school championship last season by playing big when it counted.
Coach Bennett and his staff have assembled the most talented class of recruits in the history of Washington State basketball. Okay, I know. We're talking WSU, not UCLA.
Here's the reason for Cougar Nation to be justified in their eternal optimism. Coach Bennett has some great talent yet to see significant playing time.
Up front, Aron Baynes returns as not just one of the best centers in the Pac-10, but one of the best in the country.
Caleb Forrest is a solid player who bangs the boards, has an excellent mid-range jumper and plays smothering defense. The task of leading the offense will remain in the capable hands of Taylor Rochestie.
So who are the mystery players?
Charlie Enquist and Fabian Boeke will make Cougar fans quickly forget the solid play for four years by Cowgill. Both kids are more athletic and have terrific skill sets.
Then there's another player on the Cougs from Down Under who looks like an impact player, Thomas Abercrombie. The 6'6" guard held his own against Weaver in practice all last year. Sure practice isn't the same as game time, but Weaver is a special player.
Returning to the role of underdog means nothing to Coach Bennett. He couldn't care less what others project. That attitude comes from confidence built on solid results and fundamentals.
The Cougs won't fall back toward the bottom of the Pac-10. They will be in the mix for a conference championship. Sure, things will have to go their way to have that happen, but it's hardly a longshot.
So there it is, folks. The Pac-10 is looking good next season. I can't make a case that it will be as strong as last year, but there's potential.
I don't know about you, but I'm ready for the opening tipoff!
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