If Dejounte Murray and Marquese Chriss had decided to return to Washington for their sophomore seasons, the Huskies might have been one of the preseason favorites to contend for next year’s Pac-12 men’s basketball championship.
Instead, two days after the conclusion of the 2015-16 season, they will now begin the task of trying to compensate for the departure of the talented freshmen.
Chriss and Murray, UW’s second- and third-leading scorers this season, each announced on Wednesday that they will enter this summer’s NBA draft and will not return to Washington next season. Both will hire representation, UW announced, effectively ending their collegiate careers.
It’s a significant blow to the Huskies’ 2016-17 roster, though not an entirely unexpected one. Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar said Tuesday during an interview with Sports Radio KJR 950-AM that he had received feedback from NBA personnel indicating that Chriss and Murray would each be first-round picks if they declared for the draft this season.
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Twenty-four hours later, both players simultaneously announced their departure on their Twitter accounts.
Murray wrote: “I would like to thank Coach Romar, Udubb [sic] and everyone else who helped put me in this position. I am excited for the journey ahead and feel truly blessed.”
And Chriss: “This journey has been more than I ever could of [sic] expected! I love all my brothers and wouldn’t have wanted to go to war with anyone else, Washington and Coach Romar believed in me before anyone else and I am forever grateful to them for that.”
Murray, a 6-foot-4 guard from Seattle’s Rainier Beach High School, averaged 16.1 points, 6.0 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game, one of the finest statistical seasons by a freshman in UW history.
Chriss, a 6-9 forward from Sacramento, struggled with foul trouble and totaled 15 disqualifications in 34 games but still averaged 13.7 points and 5.4 rebounds. He frequently displayed his athleticism with ferocious slam dunks and acrobatic blocks, highlights that more than hinted at his potential.
“Those guys had great individual seasons, and they contributed to us going back in the right direction,” Romar said Wednesday. “They helped create a buzz for our program again, and it sounds like they both have opportunities to be drafted high, and it’s something they decided they wanted to do.”
Romar said that while he could tell Chriss was still raw during preseason workouts, he knew his combination of size, athleticism and skill would eventually catch the eye of NBA evaluators. And with both Chriss and Murray excelling in the middle of the season, “all of a sudden (NBA personnel) were coming to more of our practices, they were coming to all of our games, they were asking questions. So you could see it was coming.”
Both were part of the seven-player freshman class that signed with Washington in 2015, and they had been expected to lead the Huskies as sophomores in 2016-17. But each showed enough promise as freshmen that their names began ascending NBA draft projections, including those of ESPN analyst Chad Ford, who ranks Chriss the No. 9 prospect in the draft class and projects Murray as a first-rounder, too.
“I think right now,” Romar said, “a lot of what the NBA drafts on is potential. And I don’t think there’s anyone that wouldn’t agree they have great potential.”
Only two other players under Romar at UW have declared for the draft after just one season — Tony Wroten in 2012 and Spencer Hawes in 2007. Each was selected in the first round.
The departure of Murray and Chriss leaves the Huskies with just 11 players on scholarship heading into next season. They lose outgoing senior guard Andrew Andrews, the Pac-12’s leading scorer, who combined with Murray and Chriss to account for 60.5 percent of UW’s scoring and 42.8 percent of its rebounding.
The Huskies return seven players who played this season and add McDonald’s All American guard Markelle Fultz, New Zealand center Sam Timmins and Auburn transfer Matthew Atewe. Timmins and Atewe are already in the program and have been practicing with the team.
It’s still possible the Huskies could add to their 2016 recruiting class, possibly with a graduate transfer. Romar said if UW does add another player or two, “you try to replace somebody like those guys with someone with a little more experience.”
Romar said that considering the addition of Fultz and Timmins to UW’s core of returning players “all in all, we’re fired up for next year, even though we lost two really good players. We’re still fired up for next year.”