Which among the following is not a Washington Husky:
a. Dominic Crisp
b. Marquese Thybulle
c. David Green
d. Matisse Dime
If you didn't say "none of those guys are Huskies" you a) failed the pop quiz and b) are in the same boat as just about every Husky fan that does not count themselves amongst the "hard core" crowd.
The Washington Huskies open up their 2015-2016 season with a completely revamped roster and one that will start four true freshman tonight against the Texas Longhorns. Only three players - PG Andrew Andres, G Dan Kingma and F Donaven Dorsey return from a Husky team that finished last season 16-15 after opening up to a remarkable 11-0 start. It resulted in the fourth straight season that the Dawgs missed the NCAA tournament and prompted many skeptics to question the job performance of head coach Lorenzo Romar.
Even when the Huskies were on their 11-game winning streak, there was an uneasy feeling hovering over the UW fan base. That iteration of the Huskies was a defensive-oriented team that depended greatly on the rim protection provided by dismissed C Robert Upshaw and the mid-range game of PG Nigel Williams-Goss. The dependence of the team on those two talents - players who are not overly athletic and were largely unable to play the style of pressure defense that Lorenzo Romar prefers - forced UW to play a conservative brand of basketball and exposed them to the ups and downs of their two stars. Fans were watching players wearing UW jerseys play basketball, but they were not watching anything that remotely resembled Husky basketball.
At his best, Lorenzo Romar was leading groups of players that meshed well together. He favored rosters and schemes where no single player dominated the basketball, where guards could mix and match in terms of what role they played on any given trip down the floor and where full court defense was not a desperation tactic but a team identity. It was a style of play that spanned multiple rosters and spawned the emergence of a multitude of stars like Nate Robinson, Brandon Roy, Will Conroy, Isaiah Thomas, Quincy Pondexter, Matthew Bryan-Amaning, Justin Holiday, Tre Simmons and Jon Brockman.
After a few years of struggling with an awkward mix of talents and a clumsy combination of playing styles, Lorenzo Romar took the unusual step of clearing out his roster and recruiting in a brand new group of incoming players from a diversity of backgrounds and experiences. Picking up a mix of local players, flipped recruits from other major programs and role players from the JC ranks, Romar will unveil tonight a roster of players whose names and faces will not be familiar to Husky fans, but whose athletic style of play will be.
The backcourt will feature a group of players who each can handle the ball and who complement each other with their abilities to pass, penetrate and shoot. Andrews is the leader. He will have the ball in his hands a lot as he helps direct his young teammates in the half court offense and controls the offense. Dejounte Murray, nicknamed "Baby Boy", is the future star of the group. He can run, shoot and slash at an elite level and looks like the one player in the backcourt most able to create his own shot by getting to the rim even in 1:1 and 1:2 situations. David Crisp, Dominic Green and Kingma are the rotational depth. Each has the ability to shoot with Crisp and Green both flashing very sweet strokes and the athleticism to provide "instant offense" when the Dawgs need it.
The frontcourt is a total makeover situation. Marquese Chriss from Sacramento and Noah Dickerson, formerly committed to Florida, will provide the muscle for the team. Chriss is the dasher of the two. He's a 6'9" 225 athlete who can play high above rim and run the floor. Dickerson is more the banger and will be leaned on to provide a lot of UW's rebounding. Husky fans will be very impressed with both his ability to run the floor and to play with his back to the basket. Matisse Thybulle and Dorsey will each play more of the small forward role and swing between the 2 and 3 spots. JC transfer Malik Dime and the raw Devenir Duruisseau will provide the depth. These guys will all be asked to run the court and will be rotated liberally. Where they might have disadvantages in terms of girth and shot blocking abilities, they will have advantages in how they run and can space the floor.
At their best, Lorenzo Romar and his teams were always up-and-down kinds of teams that lived off the feast-or-famine nature of the pressure defense and running offense. With four freshmen starters and a team that has just one senior on the entire roster, it should be expected that the Huskies will be even more streaky. This young iteration of the Dawgs will be just as likely to drop a close one in a game against Montana as they would be to pull off an upset over Gonzaga. It could be a maddening season.
But it will also be a return to form of a style of play that is uniquely Husky. The players finally fit the system, even in their youth and inexperience. That, alone, is worth the price of admission.
Enjoy the return of Husky Basketball.