With basketball practice already underway, Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar met with reporters on Thursday to discuss the 2014-15 season. As usual, Romar went into considerable depth on a number of topics -- most of them personnel-related -- during a nearly 30-minute press conference.
Of note: Jernard Jarreau still has some practice limitations, but Romar expects him to be close to full-go by the end of next week.
(Opening statement) “I’m excited that we’re able to start practice a little early with the new rule, like last year. We get 42 days before our opener, and we have to decide which 30 days we want to use. We’ve started now, which is a little early than in the past, but this was a year as far as I’m concerned, where it’s perfect timing. Can’t wait to get started here.”
(What’s different about this year’s team?) “This year’s team, even though we have a lot of new players, seems to have more of an idea of what we want and what our culture is about. I would say that would be a little different maybe than last year. I think the captains – Nigel Williams-Goss and Andrew Andrews – have done a really good job right now of leading this team. I think Daniel Shapiro in the weight room through spring, summer, now, has done a fantastic job with our guys reinforcing the same things that we want. And then the fact that our guys stayed here the entire summer. For eight weeks they were committed to going to school and working out and getting better. I think it allowed us to be more on the same page earlier. We’ll see when we get going, but that’s the feel that I get right now when you talk about a little different from last year this time to now. Those are some of the things I see.”
(How much does the Seattle basketball culture help?) “I don’t know how much of an advantage it gives over anyone else, but I know here it’s pretty special to know that when we’re here in the summer it’s not just former UW players in the Seattle community, but a lot of them, the majority of them, are former UW basketball players that have gone on to play in the league and are playing in the league now. Some aren’t playing in the league now but they are still here playing and working out…it’s pretty special. I think those older guys have made it a point to kind of take the young guys and take ‘em under their wing and show ‘em the ropes. Our guys respect that and have been very receptive that they have a family, so to speak – a Husky family. I think it’s pretty unique.”
(Can you talk about having a whole new frontcourt this year?) “At this time last year we had a big new front court and then they all got hurt. Something happened, one by one, we were depleted. My hope is that we can be healthy and we can get out there on the floor and if that happens it gives us an entirely different look from the look that we had last year with our group.”
(If they stay healthy, have you ever had this much athleticism and size in the front court?) “Combination of athleticism and size, I would say when we had Matthew Bryan-Amaning and Aziz (N’Diaye), those two, and Darnell Gant, that’s probably the closest that we’ve come to this. But this particular group probably would surpass that in terms of size and athleticism.”
(Is Jernard Jarreau 100 percent to go? Any restrictions to start?) “He has restrictions right now as of today, but I would say by the end of next week he’ll be close to not having any. He’s practicing with us every day and he can do the majority of what we’re doing. They’re just being a little cautious right now in terms of five-on-five full court. He can do no contact things full court. But it won’t be long. He’s getting close to cleared all the way.”
(Certain rust to his game?) “There’s no doubt early on he’s going to have to get the kinks out. There’s no doubt about that. He will. They’ve done a remarkable job with him in bringing him along at a really good pace for him to get stronger and be confident. You come back from an ACL a lot of times confidence is the last thing you attain. But he seems pretty confident in his movements. Just the touch, hand-eye coordination with the ball, the feel, all of the those things are the things he’s going to have to…while he’s fatigued, now still being able to knock that shot down - all those things he was able to do without thinking before, it may take a little time. How much time? I don’t know.”
(Still capable of the same type of improvement you expected last year from him?) “Yeah. Where he may lack early on in timing he’s going to gain, no pun intended, in terms of his weight now. He is about 245 right now and you can just see, he gets the ball inside and he’s not going up and guessing. He’s going up with a plan now because he feels confident he can go in there and bang bodies and still make an effective play. When he puts the ball on the floor and goes to the basket, it’s a little harder to knock him off his path going to the rim. That would be a plus for him.”
(How has the loss of Tristan Etienne affected you guys? Was he going to factor into the frontcourt at all?) “I think the way he was playing he was going to have an opportunity to help us. I will say the way we play it maybe gives some other guys an opportunity to…like when we play with four guards. We’ve done that over the years. Teams that won big, Sweet Sixteen teams, we’ve played with four guards, teams that have been very successful, we’ve been able to do that. We can go that route more than maybe we would have now.”
(Did that decision come out of the blue?) “It wasn’t something we saw that was coming down the pike. I only want to say that he’s a fine, fine young man and a fine, fine student. He didn’t do anything remotely wrong. This is a decision him and his family made and we respect his decision.”
(Is there a chance he could come back?) “There would have to be a change of mind on his part, but he hasn’t given us any indication that…this is how I feel now but let’s revisit it later…that discussion hasn’t taken place. As of right now, he’s decided to do it this way.”
(Where has Nigel improved over the off-season?) “How many of you have seen Nigel in the last three weeks? If you haven’t seen him, the first thing you’re going to notice is that he’s a little more compact. His body has changed. His jersey is a little fuller now than it was in the past. He was probably more wiry last year but now he has more definition. That’s the first thing you’ll see. You can see even in his neck area…you watch some of the football players when they come in as freshmen and after their redshirt year you look at them and you can just tell that they’ve gotten stronger - and that’s what you’ll notice. But he is more in command of what he wants to do. He’s more of an efficient basketball player right now. He’s getting to that point where good players get; they know how to get you in the area they want to get you in. He knows how to get to the place that’s going to butter his bread, so to speak. Some players want to get there but don’t know how to get there; he knows how to get in those positions to create plays. He’s gotten so much better at that.”
(Enough firepower to replace C.J. Wilcox?) “Committee. Has to be done by committee. C.J. was a hired gun and a very special basketball player. We know that. People tend to forget how good he was on defense as well. He was the second-leading shot blocker last year. He might have even finished first, I don’t remember. But he brought a lot to the table. But I do think we have other guys that have grown over the summer that after a year in our system … they’re going to be better basketball players, also.”
(On Shawn Kemp Jr. and his health) “You would never know anything’s wrong with Shawn at all. I think Shawn right now is physically probably the strongest guy on our team, and he’s playing with a lot of confidence right now. He’s doing a good job early on for us.”
(On the frontcourt) “I think they complement each other really well. I would say Jernard is probably the most versatile. If we go and play with four guards, you’re talking about a guy – Donaven Dorsey, Quevyn Winters. Those guys, you’re playing with four guards, that gives you the ultimate amount of versatility right there. A guy like Quevyn Winters, Donaven Dorsey, we don’t see it as one of them is playing the “big” spot. It’s four guards. You’ve got four guards on the floor, and all four will play like guards. And both of those guys, Donaven and Quevyn, can really shoot the basketball, so they become a player that can stretch the defense, another player out there on the floor. Aside from that, when you talk about in terms of size, Jernard is 6-foot-10 and he’s 245 (pounds). He can pass the ball. He can put the ball on the floor and make a play. He’s developed a nice little 17-foot shot. Gilles Dierickx can step outside and shoot the ball. He’s feeling a little bit more comfortable right now. He doesn’t have an array of moves with his back to the basket, but he’s a 7-footer and he can be a defensive presence out there because of his length. Shawn (Kemp), we talked about earlier. Shawn has a very good knack of just putting the ball in the basket. Without even thinking, he can get that ball up there and make baskets up there. He’s the strongest post that we have. Robert Upshaw is a very, very good shot-blocker. He has really, really good timing. Coach (Raphael) Chillious made an observation – he’s the type of shot blocker that waits until the ball leaves your hand. He has that type of timing where he can wait. Yeah, you can get him to leave his feet at times, but he’s pretty good at being patient and waiting, and then he goes and gets it. And he also has good hands, so it makes him a good rebounder. He is not limited offensively, though. I don’t want to paint the picture that all he does is play defense. He can get the ball around the basket, he’s so long, he’s a pretty good finisher.”
(On Upshaw as a mystery player) “When you talk about a mystery guy, I can see (that) because there’s been a lot of talk about him and his ability and his size and his athleticism, but then you look at his freshman year (and he averaged) 4.8 points per game. So who is he? Which guy is he? We’re about to find out.”
(Does Upshaw project as the starting center?) “Guys are going to earn that in practice. We’re not projecting him as the starting center. We have to wait and see how he practices, how he and the other guys practice. The five best players that make the best team at the beginning of the game are going to be the starters.”
(How has Upshaw looked in practice and how does he fit in?) “Again, he helps you because he’s so good at protecting the rim, and that’s a great luxury to have. A lot of people don’t have that. He’s a guy that the ball goes up, as a defensive rebounder, he’s really good. He has good timing. He has good hands. He’s long and athletic. He’s just a good rebounder that way. So that helps us. We didn’t have that element last year.”
(Is the potential there for Darin Johnson to make a big jump this year?) “Darin has immense potential. We have several guys on the team – you look at a guy like Mike Anderson and wonder how much upside he has. Well, in this system, based on what he did last year where he kind of had to play out of position. And it wasn’t a situation – like I said, it’s four guards, but he didn’t have as much confidence shooting the basketball last year, so that made him play more like an inside guy. That’s different than when we play with four guards this year. When we do that, all those guys can shoot, have confidence to make the shot. Darin’s talent – we saw what he did in the last game. Darin learned a lot last year. He’s come in this year with not only a better focus, but a better understanding. You need to have some sort of understanding to be able to – I don’t know which one comes first, the focus or the understanding. Well, last year, maybe he didn’t have as much understanding, lost his focus at times. This year, both areas have improved, which is, in my opinion, going to make him a much improved player.”
(Anyone take advantage of new summer workout rules like you guys did?) “I would say I would doubt if there’s any that didn’t take advantage of the rule.
“But back to improving – one guy on our team did something that resembles some players in the past for us. Quincy Pondexter came in as a freshman, preseason was tearing it up. I think he was our leading scorer. End of his freshman year, fell off a little bit. Sophomore year, up and down. The end of his junior year, he showed you what he was going to be able to do his senior year. Matthew Bryan-Amaning and Justin Holiday I think did the same thing. Andrew Andrews is a guy this year that finished the last six games – not counting the Utah game in the Pac-12 tournament where he was very sick and had food poisoning the night before – he averaged 17 points a game and six or seven rebounds over that period in league play. And he looks like he’s ready to continue to do the things he did at the end of the year.”
(Andrews' trip to China) "You can't help but feel a little better about yourself if you're invited to go and participate in something like that. I don't know if that did it or whatever happened - call it maturation or whatever it is - I think Andrew has come back overall just a much better leader and much more focused on the right things. I think that's going to help him and our ball club."
(Who stands out as the leaders?) "Nigel and Andrews are our captain and they're doing a good job of leading right now. But you have other guys like Mike Anderson. Mike Anderson, Quevyn Winters and Jernard those guys now are men. They are not the captains, but they go about their business the right way.)
(On Winters) "It's interesting. Quevyn played for a team that pressed the entire game and they rotated 9-10 guys every game. The numbers don't really reflect what he's capable of doing playing on that team although he was very effective. He certainly can shoot the basketball. One thing we tend to forget about Quevyn is that he has played Division I basketball. He played for Duquesne in the Atlantic 10 and averaged double digits. He is already an experienced basketball player. Now he goes to community college last year and develops his skills a little more. But we've been practicing now in terms of individual workouts and all of that going back to the summer for quite some time (and) I've never talked to him or the team where he wasn't looking me in the eye. That usually says someone is pretty focused and they're trying to learn. They're trying to be their best. When guys are always looking around and they're not paying attention you just always wonder what they're really getting. If he's looking you in the eye the entire time and that reflects what he's doing on the floor. Even if he doesn't get it in the beginning, he wants to get it. He's dialed in. He's always dialed in. And he brings a certain level of toughness to our team as well."
(Does Winters have a scorer's mentality?) "Oh yeah. He has a scorer's mentality. He does."
(Is it harder to project who is going to lead the team in scoring than past years?) "I don't know. Right now Andrew and Nigel, those are returning double-digit guys. So you would think they're going to do well. And I mentioned earlier how Andrew finished the year. But there's some other guys that could step up and do that."
(Is there an identity that's starting to emerge?) "I think this team has a better toughness about itself. I think that's what we've seen. When we went away for a couple of days in training camp. There's a little more toughness about this team. We have more guys that can make plays also."
(How much of the toughness relates to coach Shapiro?) "I think a lot of it has to do with coach Shapiro. Just in the weight room guys being diligent. But I also think we have a blend - even though there's a lot of new faces - of guys that are older and a little more mature. When you look at our team photo, you say okay there's some more men on this team. Sometimes you look and it doesn't quite look like that."
(Team in the weight room more?) "Yeah. That's what I mean. This team looks more like men than some of our other teams."
(Defensively do you go back to the way you played your early years or what you played last season?) "We tweaked a little bit of what we tweaked last season. Last year we were kind of surviving. We were playing as safe as we could possibly play. We were playing conservative because the other way just wasn't getting it done. So I think we're playing more probably like what we did last year except we're still going to put ourselves in position where we're going to be more aggressive certain ways that we play in terms of trapping and that sort of thing."
(Is that because of the new NCAA rules or the personnel?) "A little combination of both. Our personnel is better I think defensively. But I don't know if we have that personnel to really, really go out and extend all the way and keep the ball in front of us. So we're kind of going in between. But I also know the rules do play a factor in how we want to play. But it will be an interesting way to defend. I'm looking forward - I'm excited to see how we're going to defend this year because if you looked at how we played defense last year you might say how's it going to be any different. I think you might be surprised at how it might look."
(Is it more difficult to play a four-guard lineup considering it seems as if Pac-12 teams have gotten bigger?) "It all depends on the fifth guy. If the fifth guy can hold his own, it's no problem."
(Can your fifth guy hold his own?) "I think we have people in our personnel that can do that. Last year we played a lot with four guards, but as good a player Perris (Blackwell) was there was only so much that he could do at 6-8. Perris wasn't overly athletic so it was a little harder. I think we have more size so that when we do play four guards then we're still able to function. I think this team allows us the versatility to do it all though. We can go big or small."
(What's your level of anticipation?) "I'd say chomping at the bit. Every year you're ready to go. Like I said, I think we're a tougher team, we have more versatility and we have more players that can make plays. I'm just anxious and excited to get out there and see what we can do with this group."
(How much of the high post offense will we see this year?) "We'll still run the high post, but we'll run it a little differently. I think we're going to really push that basketball and try to get it into flow. When we're in the half court, we'll probably do more of that then. But it'll still be in our offense."