BY Bob Sherwin 05:25PM 01/05/2011

Overton, Thomas expected to fill the Gaddy gap

UW point guard injures his leg and is lost for the season

The UW basketball team lost point guard Abdul Gaddy to a knee injury. (Drew McKenzie/Sportspress Northwest)

Washington is a team of quality depth. That’s how the Huskies have been characterized through the first 13 games this season. That depth just got a little thinner Wednesday with more demands on it after it was learned that starting point guard Abdul Gaddy will miss the rest of the season with a torn ligament in his left leg.

All of a sudden, reserves become starters and role players have a larger slice of the action.

Gaddy tore his anterior cruciate ligament on a simple layup just as Tuesday’s practice was finishing. He wasn’t hit. He didn’t land on anything. He did it as he was lifting.

“I took a long hard step and I think I stepped too hard,” said a somber Gaddy before his teammates took the practice floor at Hec Ed today. “I heard a little pop in it. It hurt real bad. I went to the ground. My first reaction was trying to get back up, but couldn’t extend my leg.”

He got the news in the UW training room this morning. Jonathan Drezner, part of UW’s medical team, told Gaddy that he would need surgery within the next couple weeks. He was finished for the season. He was told, however, that he should be 100 percent for next season. Small comfort.

Gaddy was devastated. UW Coach Lorenzo Romar, who was with him, was momentarily speechless.

“When something like that happens, it’s tough,” Romar said. “It’s tough to sit there in front of him and the doctor and watch him hear the news that he’s not going to play basketball anymore this year.

“It’s hard for everyone. It’s hard for me as a coach to go through that. He worked so hard during the off season to get to where he was having a really good year. He was really helping this basketball team. He was having fun, doing something that he loved. It has been temporarily put on hold because of that injury.”

That’s where Romar centered himself, as the emotional support for a heartbroken 19-year-old. His concern was not so much on his team’s future. As he would say later, “it may be panic for the rest of the world, I’m not panicked. I’m concerned for Abdul.

“Fortunately, we have a lot of depth of this team. Guys will step up. You just hate to see someone go down like that and not be able to play. You feel bad for him.”

It is not time to panic, despite the fact that Gaddy, a 6-3 sophomore, started every game, averaged 8.5 points and 3.8 assists and his assist-to-turnover ratio was 49/16. His replacements actually will be more experienced and offer different skills.

Senior guard Venoy Overton, who is just about 100 percent after a series of early-season ailments, should start for Gaddy. He may not be as good a ball-handler as Gaddy but has shown he can hit the big shot and is tenacious defender.

Junior guard Isaiah Thomas also will be the team’s rock and steadying force.

“Those two (Thomas, Overton) will probably be out there on the floor at all times,” Romar said. “I think over the years you guys have seen us play with two point guards on the floor and sometimes three. If you look around the country, most teams have one point guard and a backup. We’re just more like normal now.”

Overton said, “You just got to have your hard hat on at all times, and just know that when stuff goes wrong, everybody else has to step it up and pick it back up. Nobody expected this. Everybody’s down, feeling sorry for him. But in the end, we can’t feel sorry for him, we’ve got to just go play.”

Thomas put a load on Overton.

“Venoy’s got to pick it up. That’s the main guy. He’s going to take his position,” Thomas said. “He’s got to pick it up and go off of what Gaddy’s done this year. Gaddy’s been having a good year. We’ve just got to pick it up and everybody’s got to pick it up in the little aspects of what they do.”

Yet no matter who might be Gaddy’s replacement, really it comes down to Thomas, especially at crunch time. Overton also may be in there and play a significant role but expect Thomas to be the court leader when it matters. He’s indispensable.

He showed that last week. Even with a healthy Gaddy, Thomas handled the ball over the final eight minutes against UCLA. He made the critical choices. He distributed the ball – or took the shot. Thomas had a hand – scored or assist – in the final 17 points last Friday against the Bruins in a 74-63 victory.

He played 36 of the 40 minutes against UCLA. He played 39 minutes two nights earlier in the Huskies 73-67 overtime victory over USC.

Thomas will take this on. He will fill the Gaddy gap, with Overton’s assistance.

What the Huskies will miss is Overton’s energy off the bench.

“Just the fact I’ve been coming off the bench and people say I do good, it’s just like, if I’ve got to start I’ve got to get my mind frame right to just start off the game right,” Overton said. “Can’t really think about what’s been going on in the past. I’ve just got to think about what’s best to help my team. If I have to start and get us off to the right start, that’s what I have to do.”

Then it’s a matter of filling in, and this is where the depth will be challenged. Thomas and Overton will increase their minutes but they’ll need a third guard in the rotation to spell them. That guy could be Scott Suggs, C.J. Wilcox or Terrence Ross.

All three can shoot the ball. All three are 6-5 or taller so they present a mismatch for the defense. All three have been pushing for more playing time. It’s now available.

As Romar said Tuesday, before the injury, “They’ve all been contributing. I feel one or two of them is going to play at a higher level.”

Romar had an embarrassment of riches with as much as a 10-player rotation. Instead of the rotation naturally shrinking as conference play began, it remained the same. Now everyone moves up one. He had been looking to play those players more along with forward Darnell Gant. They now all have the opportunity.

The timing of the injury also might favor the Huskies. It comes early in conference play, not right before the NCAA Tournament. They have time to rehearse. They have time to sort out roles. They have time show their values.

They also are at home Thursday against perhaps the conference worst team, the Oregon Ducks. They will test the Huskies’ new look but it’s better the Ducks than the Cougars or the Wildcats.

This is a blow, mainly to Abdul Gaddy. He could have helped this team this season. He was enormously improved and more confident in his play than last season. But it’s not a major hit to the team. The Huskies’ experience and their depth will allow this team not only to cover for the loss but to potentially be even better.