The addition of 7-footer Robert Upshaw, a return from injury of forward Jernard Jarreau and emergence of point guard Nigel Williams-Goss have the Huskies optimistic about 2014.
Washington’s 2013-14 basketball season was over before it ever really started.
In the opening minutes of the season opener against Seattle U, 6-foot-10 forward Jernard Jarreau tore the ACL in his right knee on a breakaway lay-up, and that was that. The Huskies were down an expected frontcourt contributor the rest of the season, forced to a four-guard lineup that couldn’t handle the rigors of the Pac-12 Conference.
Yes, they had 31.99 games remaining, but UW was never whole again. The Huskies finished 17-15 (9-9 Pac-12) and missed out on postseason play for the first time since 2007.
A year later, Jarreau, a skilled redshirt junior from New Orleans, is healthy and UW is hopeful a new frontcourt combination can return it to the Pac-12’s upper echelon.
Fresno State transfer Robert Upshaw, a 7-foot center who had to sit last season because of NCAA transfer rules, should add depth and a shot-blocking presence. Senior forward Shawn Kemp Jr. played limited minutes in 2013 because of an ongoing bout with Graves disease, but is projected to start alongside Jarreau, Mike Anderson, Andrew Andrews and Nigel Williams-Goss when the Huskies open the regular season Friday night against South Carolina State (7 p.m, Pac-12 Networks).
The Huskies haven’t made the NCAA Tournament since 2011.
“For the past few years, Washington basketball hasn’t really been succeeding to what we want, so I just think this year everybody is committed,” Jarreau told gohuskies.com “We bought into one another. We’re holding each other accountable for things.”
The Huskies have three of five starters returning from last season, but it’s hardly that straightforward. They must account for the loss of shooting guard C.J. Wilcox, the school’s second all-time leading scorer. Wilcox carried UW’s offense as a redshirt senior last season, leading the Huskies with 18.3 points per game. It earned him a second-team All-Pac-12 selection before the LA Clippers took him with the 28th pick in the NBA draft. They other starter lost to graduation: Forward Perris Blackwell.
The burden of replacing Wilcox’s production will go primarily to some combination of Andrews, Anderson and Darin Johnson, who showed glimpses of promise as a freshman while averaging 5.9 points per game. The loss of Jarreau last season forced Anderson, a lanky shooting guard, to play the four (high post). He’ll move back to guard this year.
“They’ve all really improved their games,” Williams-Goss told gohuskies. “I think you’ll see a whole new outlook.”
Williams-Goss, a sophomore, will need to build on a year in which he led Pac-12 freshmen in scoring (13.8 points) and assists (4.4). The production earned him a spot on the conference All-Freshman team, while his leadership on and off the court prompted coach Lorenzo Romar to name him co-captain alongside Andrews.
“Nigel is one of those guys that has no choice — he doesn’t know any other way but to lead. I think you put him right now in any situation, he’ll sit back and assess the situation, before you know it, he’ll be trying to lead,” Romar said at Pac-12 media day. “He was a leader last year in a lot of ways, but wasn’t officially named captain. We just felt it was a natural for him because he already is a tremendous leader.”
In late October, the preseason media poll picked the Huskies to finish sixth in the Pac-12. That would likely do little to appease the growing number of alumni disenfranchised with a program that missed out on the postseason last season after NIT appearances the previous two. In 2011-12, the Huskies actually won the Pac-12 regular season title but were denied an NCAA Tournament berth because of a weak conference.
“You do hear it, but it’s outside noise,” Romar said of the criticism Thursday during an interview with CBS 1090 The Fan. “No one wants to do better than those that are here. We work here, we’re with this program every day. We live it. Drink it. Sleep it. We want to do really well.
For the first time since Romar arrived at Montlake, players stayed over the summer to participate in a conditioning program that lasted eight weeks. Led by strength and conditioning coach Daniel Shapiro, it helped Jarreau put on 25 pounds — from 220 to 245 — and Anderson put on 10 — from 195 to 205.
Jarreau said it’s now just a matter of the team meshing.
“Our main goal is to make it to the tournament this year. That was our main focus throughout the spring, throughout the summer. We know we have the pieces to do it, it’s just everybody committing their talents together as a team.”