New day, new way

UW basketball: Huskies hope high-post offense, team approach will help ease loss of stars Ross, Wroten to NBA

todd.dybas@thenewstribune.comNovember 8, 2012 

final highlight video was queued and dispatched at Pacific-12 Conference media day in San Francisco last week.

Washington point guard Abdul Gaddy and coach Lorenzo Romar were the last of the day to walk onto the stage under glaring television lights in the conference’s studios while the video played on adjacent flat screens. The highlights were limited and the reason was simple: All of Terrence Ross’ jams and Tony Wroten’s athletic moves from last year’s Huskies team were off limits, leaving video editors to choose from this year’s roster.

Contending with Ross and Wroten leaving the UW early for the NBA has been an adjustment for the Huskies prior to Sunday’s start of the 2012-13 season. Washington also altered its coaching staff and changed its offense. Those shifts make this a year unlike any of Romar’s 10 previous seasons at Washington. It will be a grand experiment.

The personnel, staff and offensive philosophy changes are interwoven. Wroten and Ross were breakdown offensive players that were both drafted in the first round. Wroten, in particular, relied on dribble-drives to the basket, eschewing his unreliable jump shot. Ross shot a lot of jumpers, but could be put in isolation settings to get them.

This year’s new high-post offense is designed to benefit jump shooters C.J. Wilcox and Scott Suggs, who each shot more than 40 percent from 3-point range in their previous full season. The changes are also intended to take advantage of Gaddy’s decision-making. Romar met with former UCLA coach Jim Harrick to discuss the high-post attack that was developed by legendary Bruins coach John Wooden. Harrick also ran it when Romar was an assistant with him in Los Angeles.

That philosophical change, one Romar said he had been wanting to do but felt he didn’t have the right personnel in the past to do it, is one of the reasons new assistant coach Brad Jackson is with the Huskies. Jackson was the coach at Western Washington for 27 years, where he also ran the high-post offense.

Washington will try to become a more efficient halfcourt offense that is less dependent on providing one-on-one opportunities. The singular Super-Man approach was the crux of the motion offense used the past several years. It was the basis for almost everything Wroten did on his way to being named Pac-12 freshman of the year, a title not all agreed with.

Wroten was the Huskies’ second-leading scorer but also set the school record for turnovers. His defensive lapses, such as when he failed to foul against Nevada when Washington was trying to preserve a three-point lead in the closing seconds, were crucial. Nevada ended up hitting a 3-pointer and Washington lost in overtime.

“He was the most overrated player in our conference,” one Pac-12 coach told The News Tribune. “I was sad he left (early for the NBA).”

Gone with Wroten and Ross are 32 points per game. Also departed are questions about any player leaving early for the NBA. Wilcox has a distant shot to do so, but it’s so unlikely, he’s never been asked about it this preseason.

That in part explains why players have repeatedly said the chemistry on this year’s team is better. Romar says it may be the best of any team he’s had at UW. Coaches felt in recent years that not all players bought in. The staff has said in the past some players seemed more concerned about their shots than the team’s welfare. Washington claims that’s not the case this year.

“The face of the team is the team,” Gaddy said.

Hand-wringing about the points departed should be limited. Washington was second in scoring in the Pac-12 last season and second-to-last in points allowed. Points allowed is a statistic that should be viewed in context. The Huskies’ uptempo style created more possessions and subsequently more scoring chances for opponents.

But last season, Washington’s defense was insufficient by almost any measure. The Huskies were sixth in field-goal percentage defense in the conference. They communicated poorly. They often appeared to lack effort. Romar said the team just “never got it” on the defensive end. It’s the prime reason Washington became the first team to win the regular-season Pac-12 title and be left out of the NCAA tournament.

Enter new assistant Lamont Smith. He was known as a defensive player during his time at San Diego. He learned Romar’s defense as a graduate assistant under Romar at Saint Louis. Randy Bennett, also then an assistant at Saint Louis, left to become the head coach at Saint Mary’s. Smith went with him. They continued to run Romar’s defensive system. Washington’s hiring of a defensive-minded coach who also recruits is not a coincidence following the departure of assistant Raphael Chillious to Villanova.

All of which leaves Romar taking his season shaken and stirred, providing a maximum reboot. The changes are intended to lead Washington to a fifth consecutive piece of the conference title, either in the regular season or at the tournament.

Whether the new ingredients provide a winning mix is the question.

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