The last few months have not exactly been the friendliest to fans of the Washington Huskies. The Dawgs had a disappointing end to their basketball season right as COVID-19 emerged. A potential championship softball team had their spring campaign halted. The dream of a magical 2021 in-state recruiting class in football isn’t dead but is thoroughly on the ropes. The fall sports slate in the Pac-12 was cancelled including football and at least the non-conference portion of the basketball season.
And now Paolo Banchero has committed to Duke.
For anyone who decided to follow UW men’s basketball recruiting right now, Banchero had about as many ties to a program as you can have outside of your dad being the coach. His dad was a member of the UW football team while his mom is one of the all-time greats for the women’s basketball team. He grew up a stone’s throw from campus and has been a star for O’Dea high school.
Banchero is a consensus top-3 player in the class of 2021. They aren’t the exact same player but in terms of caliber of recruit he is in a similar class to Isaiah Stewart. Washington got an exemplary season out of Stewart and it would be a shock to everyone if Banchero didn’t have equal or greater success at Duke or any other school he would’ve chosen. Expect him to average numbers close to the 17 and 9 that Stewart produced.
It’s definitely not out of the question that Banchero never winds up setting foot on Duke’s campus. Unfortunately for the Huskies (and quite reasonably for Paolo) he has been an extreme pragmatist when it comes to his basketball future. The hometown hero angle never hit home with Banchero. He knows that he has the chance to be a star in the NBA and setting his playing career and his brand up is the top priority. It’s tough to argue that going to Duke or opting for the G-league for an instant pay day isn’t the best option if those are his priorities.
When Mike Hopkins became the head coach at Washington he knew that recruiting Western Washington was near the top of the list of keys to success. He retained Husky legend Will Conroy as an assistant and brought in Cameron Dollar who has been intimately involved on the Seattle basketball season for decades. Those moves were intended to build a fence around the city.
There have been plenty of successes. The Dawgs held onto Jaylen Nowell before Hop’s first year. Despite missing out originally they were able to bring back J’Raan Brooks, Erik Stevenson, and Cole Bajema as transfers in the last 12+ months. Nate Pryor came home to make good on his Husky pledge after a few years at a JUCO. Jaden McDaniels was a top-ten overall recruit who chose to stay near home and RaeQuan Battle and Marcus Tsohonis both also played for Seattle Rotary in AAU. Jackson Grant is still committed as the #55 ranked player in 2021.
8 of the 11 players projected to be on scholarship in 2021 right now either are from the state of Washington or Portland. If the Huskies were to enter the 2021 season with the following roster it would be a challenger for the Pac-12 title:
PG: Quade Green, Nate Pryor
SG: Erik Stevenson, Marcus Tsohonis
SF: Jamal Bey, RaeQuan Battle, Cole Bajema
PF: J’Raan Brooks, Jackson Grant
C: Nate Roberts, Riley Sorn
Washington would have 5 upperclassmen (assuming there’s a 2020 season and they expend a year of eligibility) starting plus another few coming off the bench. This is the kind of lineup that could be pushed over the edge by the addition of a Paolo Banchero. Or a Peyton Watson who committed to UCLA over the Huskies since the last recruiting update.
The biggest potential weakness with that roster is at PG if Quade Green decides to turn pro after this next year (a likely assumption) and the only remaining target, Nolan Hickman, transferred out of state for his senior year of high school. The class of 2022 has PG Koren Johnson coming out of Garfield but otherwise is light on premium local talent. If the Dawgs should strike out on Koren then we’re looking at the 3 year recruiting dirge that led to the beginning of the end for the Lorenzo Romar era.
Of course, that’s the nega-Dawg view. We’re moving into the freedom of movement era in college basketball. Hopkins has brought in Green, Brooks, Stevenson, and Bajema via transfer. I would prefer to build a program on the strength of high school recruiting but it’s a lot easier to patch holes these days via the transfer. Even if Washington isn’t a favorite in the Pac-12 over the next two seasons they’ve raised the floor to at least middle of the conference with decent player availability luck.
And every time Washington has gone all-in on a 5* elite player it has seemingly come back to bite them in the butt. However, with a veteran roster ready to go around Paolo it did seem like if there was ever a time for it to work out it would be in 2021. With a player who would be Husky royalty if they made it to Montlake. And now that chance has finally slipped away.
Hang in there Dawg fans.