BY Todd Dybas 07:32AM 04/06/2011

Huskies hoops about to do an about face

Thomas’ departure leaves a massive leadership void.

Isaiah Thomas takes more than points and assists away with him / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

Gone is the spokesperson, the face, the weight-bearer for the Washington basketball program.

Isaiah Thomas’ premature declaration last week he was entering the NBA Draft sucked the guts out of the Huskies.

Physical stature was always a question for Thomas. Depth of soul was not. Sizzled into memory is him diving and disappearing in the corner to save the ball against Arizona in Hec Ed this season, exemplifying his will.

On the road, Thomas was taunted by chants of “Gary Coleman” and other height-related platitudes. He winked at opposing student sections. Often silently hushed them with a finger to the lips. Passed out glares to certain groups.

He could take derision; invited it in fact. Thomas was a student of invention. Not so much with new moves, but new motivation. Someone did something to him. The media, fans, some buffoon on Twitter.

Prior to a road trip, he claimed the team’s back was against the wall. Whole world against them. Other cliches.

Prior to a prominent game at home? The same.

Thomas always used “we” or “our” when stating who was theoretically held down. But it was just him who was convinced of the restriction.

So departing with his points and assists is his assassin’s heart. This leaves Washington faceless and perhaps feckless next season in a rebooted Pac-10.

Replacement options come with deficiencies.

Scott Suggs and Darnell Gant are the only seniors. Neither conducts himself with the on-court ferocity of Thomas.

Suggs is generally quiet, particularly last season when it would have been fair for him to wonder about his minutes.

Gant is a ham. When reporters were backdropped by clowning teammates in the cramped lockerroom of Charlotte’s Time Warner Cable Arena, Gant informed that he was able to keep his laughter stalled because he’s “an actor.” One fitted for a supporting role.

Both should be starters. Neither are leaders.

That leaves a lot in the lap of Abdul Gaddy.

Prior to tearing his left anterior cruciate ligament in January, Gaddy was a player the team leaned on. His stonefaced ways were a nice counter to Thomas’ exuberance.

Before he can lead, he needs to heal. If Thomas were to return, Gaddy could ease back from the bench with Thomas running the point.

That scenario left with Thomas. Gaddy will likely start, forcing him to work back to game speed while in a prominent position.

That doesn’t mean Gaddy’s chance to be the face of the team is out of the question. It’s just reduced.

Gaddy will be a junior and spent his injured time examining the game. Washington head coach Lorenzo Romar pointed out nuances for Gaddy to watch for from the bench. The point guard told Sportspress Northwest he could now see the lulls in teammates or their spots of preference.

Then there’s Tony Wroten.

Clashes and camaraderie between Wroten and Thomas were anticipated next season. Now, Wroten is staring at an early chance to have strong influence on the mental edge of the team. It’s doubtful he, like most freshman, will be able to do so.

His athleticism will dazzle at times. As often, his decision-making will baffle. Romar will have to wrestle with what’s inside Wroten’s skull. One longtime observer claimed Wroten’s ego was equivalent to that of Nate Robinson, Will Conroy, and Thomas combined. That’s hyperbole, but is indicative of the level of challenge managing Wroten and his expansive local brood will present to Romar.

Past successions were clear and anticipated. Jon Brockman was supplanted by Quincy Pondexter, with Thomas trailing just behind. Pondexter took much of the duty, at least with the media, and Thomas was a powerful secondary influence. Then it was Thomas’ turn.

Prior to this year’s NCAA Tournament first-round game against Georgia in Charlotte, Thomas did the formal media session on the dais. When he returned to the lockerroom, he was again horseshoed by the media.

Justin Holiday left his cramped locker space and crawled on the floor, positioning his head just behind the calves of the questioners. He produced a variety of faces, similar to former Indiana coach Bobby Knight trying to display what a “game face” may be.

Thomas per usual gave supreme effort. He ignored Holiday the best he could. Answered questions he already answered.

Once other players began to dance inappropriately, and, in some cases, poorly, behind the floor-bound Holiday, Thomas finally broke. He busted out laughing.

Thomas was in the middle of it all. On, off, around the court. His expansive efforts came with histrionics and spotlight, but also trickled through the lifeline of the team.

There is always a revolving of the leader in college sports. The door is open at Washington. Line forms to the left.


YourThoughts

  • Brett

    I’m already sensing built in excuses for next year’s team because of IT’s departure. To me, there are none. Next year’s team should be at least as good, if not better than this year’s team. Even without IT, this team is stacked at guard. I have no doubt that Gaddy will be able to take the reins and become the face of the team. I always felt that Abdul would not be able to reach his full potential until Isaiah left. He’s always been a natural leader, and now he’ll have a chance to break out from under IT’s shadow and blossom. You neglected to mention Ross and Wilcox. Those two will be another year better, and I believe Ross will be ready from the start to be the team’s go-to scorer. Wroten will be the most talented freshman in the conference and is a clear upgrade over Venoy. Aziz will be much better in his second year coming off knee surgery. Gant showed an ability to mix it up on the boards at the end of this season. Sure, there will probably be some growing pains at the start of the year, but by March this team should easily be equipped to make a deep run, provided they stay healthy.

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  • Greg

    Losing I.T. hurts , but the real problem has always been no real power forward who’s a threat in the paint …

    The two seniors on next years team are role players at best – I don’t see Gant or Suggs leading us to the promised land . This team is now a very young team , and the new leaders are/will be Ross and Wroten . I’m not sure what to think of Gaddy yet , other than it’s tragic he was hurt this year ; it’s possible he could emerge as a leader but we haven’t had the chance to see that yet .

    Once again we’re a guard-happy team with no real power forward anywhere on the roster . That has to end sometime soon if this team is ever truly going to make a deep run in the Tourney ; with no low-post threat we’re a one-dimensional team who can be exploited by the zone , as we all saw this year . The team never really worked that out this season and opponents will once again play zone against the Dawgs next season as well .

    Romar needs to get someone on his staff that’ll help him recruit some bigs from out of the area . You can’t hope to find another Brockman in your backyard every year , and he seems focused on recruiting elite guards . Terrence Jones was one-and-done anyway ; we need a big guy that’s going to stick around longer than one year and help this team go deeper in the Big Dance .