Tell me where you’ve heard this one before.
Coming off an NCAA run that ended in the 2nd round with a loss to North Carolina, the 2011-12 Washington Huskies were led by a pair of 1st round NBA draft picks, Tony Wroten and Terrence Ross, to the NIT. A disappointing result given the talent on the team as Wroten put up good counting stats but was inefficient on offense and may have been a net negative on that end of the floor. Coming off of that season Lorenzo Romar added 0 players via their next recruiting class as it was a down year for talent in the state of Washington and they couldn’t gain traction throughout the rest of the region. But no matter since the 2013 class offered a potential gold mine.
Washington had ties to a pair of top-5 prospects in Aaron Gordon and Jabari Parker and both showed the potential to carry a team to the NCAA tournament nearly by themselves. Unfortunately, Gordon went to Arizona and Parker chose Duke. The Huskies did manage to land 5-star point guard Nigel Williams-Goss but the other 2 members of the class, Darin Johnson and Jahmel Taylor, never produced and all 3 would transfer by the end of their sophomore season. The Huskies never again made an NCAA tournament under Lorenzo Romar and that stretch of empty seasons would contribute to his firing.
It doesn’t take an expert sleuth to see some of the parallels emerging between that period and where the Huskies find themselves now. Isaiah Stewart and Jaden McDaniels will almost certainly leave and be 1st round picks in the NBA draft at the conclusion of this season. At 2-6 in conference despite strong computer numbers and without Quade Green it will take a miracle for the Huskies to make the tournament at this point. McDaniels has struggled to fit within the offense all season and his inefficient play at that end of the court played a large role in him getting benched in Washington’s loss to Colorado.
Immediate help does not appear to be forthcoming. Barring a reclassification it looks like the Dawgs are sitting out the 2020 recruiting class after striking out with several 5-star targets and deciding to hold their powder for the 2021 class which is rich with high level in-state talent. Legacy recruit and top-3 player nationally Paolo Banchero is the crown jewel target in 2021 but there are also 4 other top-200 uncommitted prospects in the Seattle area.
It’s not a stretch by any means to suggest that Washington finds itself at essentially the same point it was in the spring of 2012. Coming off a season which could/should have resulted in an NCAA tournament berth with a few breaks and facing the prospect of one immediate down year during which it hopes for some development by younger players before a new talent infusion the following season.
Things turned out about as poorly as could have been expected last time. C.J Wilcox emerged as a star but the senior trio of Abdul Gaddy, Aziz N’Diaye, and Scott Suggs couldn’t raise their game to a level capable of taking the team any higher than the NIT. Then the long awaited 2013 class resulted in one very good college player and two bench players who all transferred in 1-2 years.
It’s possible that the Huskies end up in a similar spot. If Quade Green decides to move on rather than seek to renew his academic eligibility and if Naz Carter makes a hasty decision to declare for the draft then it’s possible this team loses its top 4 scorers (by points per game) off an NIT team with only a transfer in of J’Raan Brooks as an addition for next year. Maybe Banchero heads to Duke or Kentucky (or the biggest kick in the groin possible, Gonzaga) and a class of say Jackson Grant, Shane Nowell, and John Christofilis winds up underperforming due to injury or mis-evaluation. Suddenly the promise of the Mike Hopkins era sputters out in a hurry.
Of course that’s the worst case scenario. Realistically Naz Carter has shown he’s not ready to make a jump and should come back for another year if he wants to get drafted. Quade Green is still attending games and seemingly keeping open the option of returning next season. A starting lineup of Green, Battle, Carter, Wright, and Roberts with some combination of Tsohonis, Bey, Brooks, and BPJ coming off the bench has a shot at an NCAA berth even if its ceiling is lower than where the Huskies appeared to be in mid-December this season.
Jackson Grant is already committed for 2021 and looks like the 3 and D stretch power forward we all hoped Hameir Wright would turn into. It’s still possible for the Huskies to reel in Banchero over the national powers and even if they do miss out on him a class of Grant, Hickman, Nowell, and potentially Peyton Watson out of California seems likely to be a top-10 class in the country without relying on surefire one and done players. Washington is at least in heavy contention if not the favorites with all of them. If 2 or 3 of the current underclassmen develop as you’d hope then it would set the Huskies up for success for the next several seasons.
In 2023 we’ll be able to look back and either lament the Quade Green ineligibility announcement as the downfall of a promising era of Husky basketball or see it as an unfortunate blip on the climb up the mountain. Neither scenario is necessarily that much more likely than the other to occur. And events will almost certainly play out somewhere in the middle rather than at either extreme.
But Washington basketball fans have been down this road before and it’s not unreasonable for them to look ahead at this familiar future and have their collective imaginations fill in the blanks with the scars of their past experiences.