Washington’s basketball players filtered in and out of the interview space inside Alaska Airlines Arena, taking turns talking to reporters about a highly anticipated upcoming season.
The Huskies did lose four starters from last year’s team that won the Pac-12 regular season championship and reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament. But UW also added a top-10 recruiting class highlighted by five-stars Isaiah Stewart and Jaden McDaniels. Plus, the Huskies brought in point guard Quade Green, a former five-star who transferred from Kentucky midway through last season.
Those additions join the talent already on the roster, including leading returning scorer Nahziah Carter. An electric athlete, Carter appears primed to take a step forward. He’ll lead the Huskies into a season where they were picked to finish third in the Pac-12 and opened as the first team left out of the preseason AP top 25 poll.
With that in mind, we asked several of the players at media day to answer questions to preview the upcoming season.
Here’s what they said:
What is going to surprise people about this team?
Nahziah Carter (G, Jr.): “We already have our doubters. People have doubted us since Coach Hopkins has been here. Just seeing us play will surprise people. They don’t really have faith in us that much and I don’t understand why. We prove ourselves every year. But just that aspect. Just seeing us play will surprise people.”
Hameir Wright (F, Jr.): “That it’s going to be different people every night whether it’s on the scoreboard or the defensive end. No matter what. That we got so many guys that can do so many different things whether it’s offense, defense, rebounding, passing the ball, being leaders. There’s so many roles that we have that so many people can do.”
Elijah Hardy (G, So.): “I feel like our chemistry will surprise people the more they see us play. I think people don’t think we would do well together because we have too much (talent). But I think the chemistry, you guys will be really surprised about that and how well we play together.”
Nate Roberts (F, RS Fr.): “Although we have the obvious things, I think one thing that’s going to be a surprise is that we’re a competitive team. With the past years, we haven’t really had that competitive nature that everybody expects of us. Even though the Pac-12 has had a bad connotation for so long, I think we’re going to see a real competitive team that really wants to get out there and really wants to win.”
Sam Timmins (C, Sr.): “I think we’ve got a lot of energy and a lot of guys that are eager to prove themselves in this program and to the country. I think there’s going to be a lot of energy on the floor, a lot of hunger.”
RaeQuan Battle (F, Fr.): “How athletic we are. That’s what’s very surprising. We got Jaden (McDaniels) at 6-9, can jump out of the gym. Isaiah, 6-9, can jump out of the gym. Naz Carter, 6-4, 6-5, highest vertical on the team. You got me, I can jump. Elijah Hardy, he’s about 6-1. He can windmill through the legs. We’re athletic and quick. That’s really going to get people, especially on defense.”
Jamal Bey (G, So.): “I think that a lot of people can play different people can play so many different roles on this team. I think that will impress the most, that we can move so many different pieces around and still be the best. I think that’s going to surprise people.”
Isaiah Stewart (F, Fr.): “How hard we’re going to play. We stand for toughness. We’re a family and we’re together. I feel like we’re really going to show that this season.”
Which of your teammates has impressed you the most this offseason?
Carter: “I’d probably say Isaiah (Stewart). Always in the gym. Always getting treatment, working on his body, making sure he’s healthy. Gym rat. … High energy. Sometimes he brings in the huddles at practice and he leads by example.”
Wright: “My guy Nate (Roberts). I’d say he impressed me the most. After redshirting last year he’s coming back this year real focused, works hard on and off the court. It’s great having those guys around to really give you a benchmark for what it means to be a hard worker. … His energy. How hard he works. He never takes plays off. He’s just a great player to have on our team.”
Hardy: “I’d probably have to say my guy right here Nate (Roberts). Nate Roberts and Bryan Penn-Johnson. Nate’s a hard, hard worker and he went through a year of a lot of hard work and putting his mind and his body all in into it. I give my props to him, where he came from. He’s just looking great and he should be a big help to our team.”
Roberts: “A lot of guys, actually. But if a had to pinpoint one: Elijah (Hardy). Elijah, for sure. Just being that he was kind of held back last year due to the minutes and the way the seniority kind of took over. Being able to see him live in action and being able to produce things we all knew he could do, that definitely impressed me a lot. And there was a plethora of other guys that really just put a smile on my face to see how they were producing.”
Timmins: “Nate. Nate Roberts. For me, I just knew how hard it was on him for him to take the redshirt decision last year as it would be for anyone to take that. He took it well. He worked harder than anyone last year and continued to do so throughout the season. To see him one, have such a good trip in Italy and see the way he’s playing and performing in practice this season. It’s easy to see the hard work paying off.”
Battle: “I’d probably have to say Isaiah. I played him last year. He played for City Rocks and we played in the EYBL. I played him back in Atlanta. He dominated still but we lost by two. Just watching him, how big he was last year to how much bigger he got and how much better he got and how easy it is for him to finish around the rim. Honestly, it’s shocking to me. Coming from where I’m from, I’ve never seen anyone that big, that efficient around the rim. I played a big in high school. As big as him, I wouldn’t imagine myself being that good. It’s pretty shocking.”
Bey: “It would probably have to be Isaiah. Coming in, I heard he was a beast and he can do all these things. But actually seeing him and playing with him, it’s unreal. The aggressiveness he has and his touch, it’s amazing.”
Stewart: “I’d say every teammate has at least done one thing to impress me. … I’d say, for me, Hameir (Wright). I’ve been learning a lot from him in the zone just defensively. The way he thinks defensively is really great. He’s a guy that you would hate to play against but you would love to have him on your team before. He’s impressed me a lot. He continues to get better and he’s shooting it really great.”
What did you learn about this team in Italy?
Carter: “I learned that this team can really come together. I learned that we’re going to rebound better. As far as just our family aspect, I feel like this team is really together. We’re going to huddle. Bad games, good games, tight games. We’re going to come together and just make sure everybody’s all right: Mental health, physical health. Literally like a real family. We consider each other siblings.”
Wright: “We’re going to be fun. We just learned how to play basketball together and have fun doing it that we’re going to be good as we want to be.”
Hardy: “I think I would probably say personality-wise, I learned a lot about each other’s personalities. I feel like the people that we thought might not talk as much talk a lot. People are just different and I feel like all our personalities came together and bonded together at once.”
Roberts: “I think the biggest thing I learned is how close we can be. I think the potential on the chemistry side. I think we can be a very, very close team throughout the season. Chemistry-wise, I think that’s probably the biggest thing I learned.”
Timmins: “It’s not so much one specific thing I learned about that but I think … in a college basketball environment with everyone constantly trying to prove themselves and show the coaches that they’re better in their position, it gets pretty tense and a high-pressure environment. I think over in Italy, it was a chance to get better as a team but I think it was a really good chance to step away from the high pressure and have a chance to bond with people. I didn’t so much learn about the team as a whole as much as individual guys and players. We bonded a lot on that trip.”
Battle: “We all get along really easy. I was kind of iffy, cautious coming into UW. I didn’t know anyone really. All I knew was Marcus (Tsohonis), Jaden and then (J’Raan) Brooks and that was pretty much it. As I came in, we kind of formed into a brotherhood in Italy. We were by ourselves in a different country and a lot of us hadn’t been out of the country until then. We were all excited, talking about different things we want to do. We had a lot in common. We’re like brothers.”
Bey: “I learned a lot. I learned that we can be really good sometimes, and really bad. Just depends on how we approach going into it, like if we’re going out there being selfish. We have so many people on the team that can do a lot of things. If we do that, then we’ll lose to good teams. If we got out there and think for each other and just play for each other, I think we’ll be amazing.”
Stewart: “How good we can be as long as we’re all dialed in and just working hard, playing hard.”
What were you focused on improving about your game heading into this season?
Carter: “Being a leader. You know how David (Crisp), Matisse (Thybulle) and Jaylen (Nowell), they had to make sure we were good in tight game situations, controlling the clock and knowing when to do certain stuff. That’s what I put focus on with the coaches. Trying to be a sponge with all that I can learn about the rules and regulations of everything. All the physical attributes and aspects I work on all the time. I’m always in the gym so I don’t like to talk about that part. I like to grind in silence.”
Wright: “Just everything. With the seniors gone, there’s a lot of roles that need to be filled. I pride myself on putting my hat on and being able to do a lot of things on the basketball court. There’s not just one thing I have to work on. I have to work on a bevy of things in order for us to be as good as we should be.”
Hardy: “Just my decision making. I want to be the player that can make the best decisions at all times. That’s really what I’ve been working on. Making the simple plays, keeping everything simple and also playing my game and being confident and trusting my teammates.”
Roberts: “I kind of just wanted to be a better player than I was before I came in. But one thing is defensive-wise and knowing the schemes and knowing what Coach Hop wants from me. Learning that and really perfecting that because I know that’s going to be what’s asked of me when I step on the court.”
Timmins: “Definitely focusing on passing out the post and obviously I can’t really facilitate things from the post but being able to be like vocal and getting our sets and facilitating, too. But also, just being aggressive offensively and crashing the rebounds.”
Battle: “A lot of people say I need to work on my ball-handling and that’s really what I’ve put my mind on. I really want to work on my ball-handling. I’ve been in the gym with the coaches. And then also my defense. That’s what Coach Hopkins is really all about, his defense. So I’ve really been working on getting low, playing D, getting quick on my feet. I’m getting better at it.”
Bey: “Ball-handling, just for myself in my mind. I think overall just confidence. Just going out there and having the confidence to play how I play and play my game, I think.”
Stewart: “Being able to stretch the floor, continue to work on my shot. But also not getting away from what got me here, which was just being a beast down low and my energy, working hard, running the floor.”