The last week has been a whirlwind for the Washington men’s basketball program. Things kicked off last weekend with the resignation of assistant coach Cameron Dollar and have only picked up from there. As of right now 5 Huskies have entered the transfer portal: Erik Stevenson, Marcus Tsohonis, Nate Pryor, RaeQuan Battle and J’Raan Brooks. All of them started at least 1 game this season although Pryor, Battle, and Brooks fell out of the rotation by the end of the year.
The result when combined with the expected graduation of Quade Green and Hameir Wright (both are technically eligible to return for one more year due to the rule change with the pandemic) is that 4 of Washington’s top-5 scorers appear headed out the door including everyone on the roster shorter than 6’6 and both stretch 4 options.
And there could be further departures. The status of assistant coach Dave Rice continues to be in doubt. There have been conflicting rumors about Nate Roberts’ potential transfer status as well but he seems more likely to stay than not at this point.
Still, the Huskies have taken strides to begin the rebuild. After yesterday there are now 4 new Dawgs ready to take the place of some of the departures. That’s a somewhat liberal use of new since PG Dominiq Penn joined the team midseason but he has yet to play a minute for the team so I’ll allow it. Joining Penn as an option at point guard is Terrell Brown Jr. who had 2 phenomenal seasons at Seattle and then a pretty good one in a reduced role for Arizona last year. Brown is completely capable of being the starter but given that Penn is a complete unknown you would expect Washington to want to bring in at least one more ball handling option.
Meanwhile, the Huskies will be adding 6’10 Jackson Grant and 6’8 Samuel Ariyibi to the class of 2021 as incoming freshmen. Grant looks to be an almost 1:1 replacement for Hameir Wright. He’s capable of playing center but is agile enough to also play one of the corner spots in the zone. And while Wright always wanted to be a shooter it appears Grant should be able to fulfill that offensive promise. Ariyibi is still mostly an unknown coming from NBA Academy Africa but has a reputation as a tenacious, athletic defender at 6’8 who would play a corner spot in the zone but wouldn’t help stretch the floor.
They should help bolster the rotation at the forward spots but it wouldn’t hurt to have another body in that regard. Washington also needs an upgrade in play at the center spot. Maybe Nate Roberts takes a massive leap this summer and that is what helps but if the team wants to improve drastically it would help to bring in a clear-cut starter at center and let Roberts and Sorn battle for backup minutes.
So with 5 open spots at the moment the Huskies could use: 2 ball handlers (PG/SG), 1 smaller wing (SG/SF), 1 larger wing (SF/PF), and 1 center. Oh, is that all? If Hopkins manages to get an upgrade in at least 3 of those spots then Washington could not just be better (which is a low bar) but substantially so. With that said let’s take a look at some of the potential targets both of guys who are already in the portal and those who aren’t but who have ties to the program and would be under heavy consideration should they enter.
CURRENTLY IN THE PORTAL
PG Xavier Johnson (Pittsburgh)- 6’3, 200 lbs, Jr.
Per game averages- 14.2 pts, 3.4 reb, 5.7 ast, 42.6% FG, 32.1% 3pt, 78.1% FT
Johnson had the Huskies among his finalists coming out of high school but Elijah Hardy took his spot by committing before Johnson had a chance to take an official visit. He ended up at Pitt and scored in double figures all 3 seasons there. This year he finished 4th in the nation in assist rate while taking a big leap in his 2-pt efficiency. Unfortunately he didn’t play in Pitt’s final 4 games and was called out publicly by coach Capel for consistently complaining to the refs and earning late game technical fouls in consecutive games. If Hopkins is trying to clean up the culture at UW and increase accountability then Johnson may not be the guy to bring in but he has an impressive on court track record.
SF Emmitt Matthews (West Virginia)- 6’7, 215 lbs, Jr.
Per game averages- 7.8 pts, 4.0 reb, 0.6 stl, 40.9% FG, 30.0% 3pt, 76.9% FT
Matthews is from Tacoma and so if he’s looking to get closer to home it would seem clear for him to strongly consider Washington. He has started all but 5 games since the last month of his freshman year for West Virginia which earned a #3 seed in the NCAA tournament before losing in the 2nd round to Syracuse. Matthews’ frame looks like he should be a 3 and D player but his defensive metrics have been average at best and he’s a career 28.2% 3-pt shooter. He’s around average at just about everything but not exceptional at anything. That might be an upgrade for UW but if Matthews ends up a Husky he shouldn’t be counted on to become an instant star.
PF Tari Eason (Cincinnati)- 6’8, 215 lbs, Fr.
Per game averages- 7.3 pts, 5.9 reb, 1.3 blk, 46.2% FG, 24.1% 3pt, 57.4% FT
Eason attended both Garfield and Federal Way in high school and it was always perplexing that Washington never seriously recruited him. The Huskies will have to work hard to mend that hurt after Eason jumped ship along with most of the Bearcat roster and the school is now going through an independent investigation because of allegations leading to the exodus.
Eason views himself as a small forward rather than a big but there’s no question he’s a defensive dynamo. As a true freshman he finished in the top-100 nationally in offensive rebound %, steal %, and block %. Even Zion Williamson didn’t pull off that feat. It’s possible Eason’s more valuable as a big that can switch in a man defense but he could still be an elite weakside shot blocker/rebounder from the corner of the zone. Playing him at the 3 on offense would really hurt spacing but with his clear defensive prowess you get him in the boat if possible and figure out the offense later.
C Myles Johnson (Rutgers)- 6’11, 255 lbs, Jr.
Per game averages- 8.0 pts, 8.5 reb, 2.4 blk, 62.8% FG, 43.5% FT
We now come to 3 potential upgrades at the center spot and Johnson would be my pick if I had one. Johnson is from California and pursuing electrical engineering graduate programs. In a recent interview after entering the portal he noted Stanford, UCLA, and USC as options but with Washington’s academic reputation they should have a shot to enter the mix even if slightly further away from home.
He doesn’t have Isaiah Stewart’s offensive game but he’s just as disruptive on the defensive end and would thrive at the center of UW’s zone. Johnson was top-50 in the country in both offensive and defensive rebound % as well as block %. He would immediately shore up Washington’s interior defensive issues. On offense he can’t shoot worth a lick and doesn’t have a fully developed post-up game although it’s better than either Nate Roberts or Riley Sorn. But if you get him the ball close to the basket he will dunk the heck out of it.
C Qudus Wahab (Georgetown)- 6’11, 237 lbs, So.
Per game averages- 12.7 pts, 8.2 reb, 1.6 blk, 59.1% FG, 67.3% FT
This one is a bit of a stretch but Washington just added one Nigerian in Samuel Ariyibi so why not a 2nd one? Wahab scored at least 7 points in every game this past year for Georgetown and so while he isn’t quite the defensive force that Myles Johnson is, he’s much more skilled on offense. And he isn’t exactly shabby protecting the rim in his own right and would be an upgrade at the center spot for certain.
C Dimon Carrigan (Florida International)- 6’9, 215 lbs, Sr.
Per game averages- 6.8 pts, 6.1 reb, 2.5 blk, 62.3% FG, 49.2% FT
The Huskies recruited Carrigan when he was coming out of high school, as was Syracuse, since he was the best shot blocker in the country. Unfortunately grades were an issue and he went to a JUCO before winding up at Florida International the past 2 years. He is still an absolute shot blocking force and was 7th in the country this year in block % as well as 20th in offensive rebound %. The problem is he’s incredibly foul prone and so even at Florida International only played 43% of the team’s minutes. Since Carrigan only has 1 year of eligibility left, hasn’t proven it at even the high major level, and can’t be relied upon as a full-time starter he seems like a stretch but still worth bringing up if UW strikes out on other targets at that spot.
NOT IN THE PORTAL
PG JaQuori McLaughlin (UC Santa Barbara)- 6’4, 190 lbs, Sr.
Per game averages- 16.0 pts, 3.5 reb, 5.2 ast, 48.8% FG, 40.8% 3pt, 83.2% FT
McLaughlin originally committed to Washington as a 4-star coming out of Peninsula High but instead wound up at Oregon State while the Huskies signed Markelle Fultz as the freshman PG in that class. He started immediately but after a brutal start to his sophomore year transferred to UCSB. McLaughlin put it all together as a senior and led the Gauchos to a #12 seed in the NCAA tournament where they missed out on the upset over Creighton by a single point.
The idea that McLaughlin decides he’d like to come back home for a 6th year of college and try to resurrect Washington seems a little far-fetched to me. But we’ll find out in the coming weeks if it’s message board delusions or if there’s any smoke involved. If McLaughlin somehow ended up on Montlake he’s big enough to play alongside Terrell Brown at the top of the zone and would be at worst a 1-to-1 replacement for the departure of Quade Green if not an outright upgrade.
PF Collin Welp (UC Irvine)- 6’9, 225 lbs, Jr.
Per game averages- 15.1 pts, 7.6 reb, 0.6 blk, 47.8% FG, 33.9% 3pt, 81.6% FT
The connection here should be obvious as Welp’s dad Christian was a Husky legend, Pac-10 player of the year, and 1st round NBA draft pick. Collin didn’t get much recruiting attention coming out of Seattle Prep but did everything this year for an 18-9 UC Irvine squad. His 3-pt shooting numbers fell from 44.4% to 34% but he’s a serious offensive weapon if he can just get to his overall career mark of 38.7%. Welp’s shot blocking isn’t a major part of his game but he’d provide a major offensive boost if Jackson Grant isn’t ready to take on the load in year one.
PF Tanner Groves/SF Jacob Groves (Eastern Washington)- 6’9 Jr. and 6’7 So.
Per game averages Tanner- 17.2 pts, 8.0 reb, 1.1 blk, 56.0% FG, 34.9% 3pt, 77.8% FT
Per game averages Jacob- 9.3 pts, 4.2 reb, 0.9 ast, 55.2% FG, 36.4% 3pt, 75.7% FT
The Groves brothers were two of the stars of the opening weekend of the NCAA tournament when they combined for 58 points and 13 rebounds for the #13 seed against Kansas. EWU’s head coach Shantay Legans immediately left for Portland after the loss so it’s not crazy to think the Groves brothers could leave also rather than play for the new head man. The pedigree isn’t there as neither was recruited by any other school coming out of Spokane but the chance to stay in-state and upgrade to the Pac-12. Eastern played 5 games against top-100 opponents this year and both Groves brothers put up numbers close to or exceeding their season averages so it’s not just about the lower level of competition.
EDIT 3/26/21 2:21 pm: Tanner and Jacob Groves are now both in the transfer portal. We’ll see if they want to try to be a package deal. Tanner will have clear national interest so whether he’s a realistic option for UW will depend on whether schools also want Jacob plus if they wants to stay in-state.
CLASS OF 2021
SF MarJon Beauchamp- 6’6, 204 lbs
There are a lot of red flags with Beauchamp. He bounced around to several high schools before ultimately deciding to train for the draft rather than go to college. However, it appears that plan didn’t work out (the pandemic probably didn’t help gain exposure) and so now Beauchamp is trying once again to pick a college. Washington will have to sift through whether Beauchamp’s scattered academics will qualify as well as whether in the last year and a half he took any benefits that would make him ineligible since he didn’t think he’d have to worry about the NCAA again. And on top of all of that there’s the potential issue that his mindset is clearly on getting to the NBA as quickly as possible and that usually doesn’t lend itself to playing well within the team concept.
If Hop, Conroy, and any other new assistant coach decide that there are too many red flags then I’m not going to be upset. But if they talk to MarJon and get the proper assurances and decide it’s worth the risk then he has tremendous upside. Beauchamp was a top-60 prospect in the country 2 years ago and he presumably hasn’t gotten a lot of stiff competition since then but also hasn’t been preoccupied with anything other than training for basketball. He’d provide another long wing option to mix and match with Jamal Bey and Cole Bajema.
WHO DO YOU WANT?
There are 5 openings for the Huskies and there are a few clear options for me. The trio of JaQuori McLaughlin, Tari Eason, and Myles Johnson are my 1a, 1b, and 1c in some order. Eason and Johnson have the chance to instantly turn around a Husky defense that gave up 97+ points twice in the final 4 games and was by far the worst of Hop’s tenure. The guard duo of McLaughlin and Brown would be short-term but instantly would give the Huskies the 2 best pure distributors they’ve had since Markelle Fultz.
With the other 2 openings the Huskies could use some wings that can help stretch the floor. The closest options would be MarJon Beauchamp and Emmitt Matthews. Even if both are likely to shoot ~30-33% from 3-pt range they’d at least threaten from distance and also have the kind of length at the 2/3 the Huskies desperately missed this year to make the zone work.
How would you feel about the following lineup for next year? (positional designations are fluid)
PG- McLaughlin, Penn
SG- Brown, Beauchamp
SF- Bey, Matthews/Bajema
PF- Eason, Grant, Ariyibi
C- M. Johnson, Roberts/Sorn
Obviously the depth chart could change but the Huskies would have pretty clearly upgraded at 3 starting spots while holding steady at 2 and improving their bench depth in this best case scenario. The backline would have 2 elite defenders and the shooting of McLaughlin/Brown/Bey would hopefully be enough to make up for Eason and Johnson’s liabilities on that end.
Of course it’s extremely unlikely that Hopkins with potentially 2 assistant coach openings and potentially entering a lame duck year is able to pull off an immediate rebuild getting every single prime target.
Washington clearly has playing time available and that’s the most attractive attribute for a lot of players. And as of today there are more than 900 names in the transfer portal. The Huskies have generally only landed ones with clear ties to the program the last few years but USC has instituted their turnaround partly with transfers like Drew Peterson who came from Rice (in Texas) and is originally from Illinois. There are plenty of other names that would provide similar boosts for UW that could happen which just aren’t as obvious in the moment.
The optics of losing 5 players to the transfer portal clearly is not particularly helpful, especially coming off a 5-21 season. But 3 of those 5 players couldn’t get on the court for the worst Washington team (by record) ever and despite their recruiting rankings showed little more than flashes. Tsohonis and Stevenson played major minutes but neither exactly showed a willingness to pass the ball very much and were awkward fits for Washington’s base defense.
Stripping the roster down to the studs and rebuilding on the fly may not work to save Hopkins’ job. Washington may be terrible again next year and despite the remaining $9 million buyout Cohen is forced to cut him loose. But it’s got a much better chance of panning out then just running it back and hoping things improve. So here’s to nowhere to go but up...