SEATTLE – Nigel Williams-Goss doesn’t know where he’ll play basketball next season.
He knows he will have options. The list of pursuers is already forming. UNLV, Texas, Georgetown, Michigan State, Providence, Arkansas, Stanford. And yes, Gonzaga, too.
Washington? Not anymore.
Williams-Goss, the Huskies’ leading scorer in 2014-15, made it official on Friday: he will not return to UW for his junior season, preferring instead to transfer to another Division 1 school, sit out the 2015-16 season and play as a fourth-year junior in 2016-17.
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Oh, and sophomore guard Darin Johnson and junior center Gilles Dierickx, a pair of reserves, are leaving, too. The UW announced that all three players will transfer via a one-sentence press release on Friday morning.
But the loss of Williams-Goss will, without question, hurt the most. A 6-foot-3, 190-pound point guard, Williams-Goss was named second-team all-league after leading the Huskies with 15.6 points and 5.9 assists per game during a disappointing 2014-15 season that ended when UW lost to Stanford in the first round of the Pac-12 tournament.
The Huskies finished the season with a 16-15 overall record – and 5-13 in Pac-12 play, good for 11th in the conference – and missed the NCAA tournament for the fourth consecutive season.
The losing, Williams-Goss told The News Tribune during a telephone interview, was not the sole reason for his decision to leave, though such failure stands in stark contrast to the 124-8 record compiled by his Findlay Prep teams during his four-year career at the prep powerhouse.
Instead, he said the bevy of recent transfers leaving the program – and the departure of assistant coach T.J. Otzelberger, who returned to a similar position at Iowa State – made him yearn for a new opportunity elsewhere.
“I wouldn’t say anything was not good enough or anything like that,” Williams-Goss said. “I have no hard feelings for the program. Just with all the change in the last two years, all the transfers that have left, Coach T.J. leaving the staff, there’s just a lot of change in the program, and I feel like I only have two years of eligibility left, and I’m just kind of looking for a fresh start.”
Williams-Goss, a native of Happy Valley, Oregon, who was a 4-star prospect and a McDonald’s All-American and chose Washington over Harvard, was adamant that his relationship with Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar is “great,” and said he did consider returning to UW.
“We had a great meeting at the end of the season, and even when I made this decision,” Williams-Goss said. “It’s tough to say goodbye to someone who I have such a great relationship with, and I know it’s hard to say goodbye for him as well. … Although it was hard on both of our ends, there was kind of a mutual understanding.”
The NBA draft was also a consideration, he said, but he figured he’d likely be a second-round pick – his 25.6 3-point shooting percentage last season likely didn’t help his stock – and decided to stay in college rather than risk the uncertainty inherent to being drafted that late.
He said he’s fine with sitting out next season, partially because he’s earned enough credits – he carried a 3.74 grade-point average at Washington and was a first-team Pac-12 All-Academic selection – that he can likely complete his undergraduate degree while he redshirts, and then focus more on basketball thereafter.
His departure, along with Johnson and Dierickx, furthers a concerning trend of players exiting the Huskies program. Since the beginning of the 2013-14 season, the Huskies have seen seven players choose to leave – Hikeem Stewart (transfer), Desmond Simmons (transfer), Tristan Etienne (quit basketball), Jahmel Taylor (transfer), Williams-Goss, Johnson and Dierickx – and another, star center Robert Upshaw, was dismissed for a violation of team rules.
The fortunes of next season now rest heavily upon the shoulders of UW’s six-player recruiting class, which was rated by Scout.com as the ninth-best in the country. It’s a balanced group that includes two guards, a small forward and three post players, and is headlined by Rainier Beach star Dejounte Murray.
But Washington returns precious little experience – only four scholarship players – with which to surround its promising young talent. Andrew Andrews, who will be a fifth-year senior, averaged 15.0 points per game last season and will likely slide over to the starting point guard position in place of Williams-Goss.
The other returning players – assuming no more defections, which might be unwise, given the circumstances – are fifth-year senior forward Jernard Jarreau, senior guard Quevyn Winters, and sophomore guard Donaven Dorsey.
With only 10 scholarships filled, UW now has three open spots should Romar choose to pursue a transfer or two.
Williams-Goss said he still thinks Washington could improve next season.
“I definitely think they have some really good pieces to work with this year, with Andrew being a fifth-year senior and a veteran leader on the team,” said Williams-Goss, who plans to finish the current academic quarter at UW. “I think that will help out a lot. I already mentioned the talented incoming freshmen they have will be something they can work with as a program.
“I do think Coach Romar is hungry to turn it around a little bit. It’s not going to be easy in the Pac-12, but they definitely have the pieces and stuff like that to do it.”
But a pretty important one just walked out the door.
Christian Caple can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @ChristianCaple