John McGrath: Huskies' Blackwell pretty spry for a big guy

Staff WriterDecember 15, 2013 

Washington Huskies forward Perris Blackwell (2) shoots the ball over Idaho State Bengals guard Justin Smith (32) on Saturday during the first half at Alaska Airlines Arena at Hec Edmundson Pavili.


At 6-foot-9, Perris Blackwell is not the tallest player on the Washington Huskies basketball team. At 275 pounds, he’s obviously not the fastest.

The senior forward has neither C.J. Wilcox’s supple touch as a shooter, nor Nigel Williams-Goss’ flash as a passer.

And yet, despite not dominating any phase of the game, Blackwell offers skills that defy the hulk-in-the-low-post stereotype. Take his stat-sheet line from the Huskies’ 85-66 victory Saturday over Idaho State at Hec Edmundson Pavilion: 20 points, seven rebounds, two steals, a blocked shot and two assists.

While the rebounds were expected – Blackwell began the game as the Pac-12 leader in offensive rebounds – the assists were indicative of an athlete any coach in any sport covets: a big guy with the coordination to be called nimble.

Blackwell’s second dish, midway through the second half, found him hustling down the floor on a well-defended fastbreak. Instead of forcing the issue underneath the basket, Blackwell noticed Williams-Goss open along the right baseline.

On an afternoon when Idaho State’s 1-3-1 zone forced the Huskies into a patient, plodding pace, Blackwell’s ability to dash the length of the court and set up a teammate’s easy layup can be interpreted as a highlight.

“Perris is a good passer,” coach Lorenzo Romar said. “He runs the floor. That’s not the first time he’s run ahead of the defense, and that’s not the first time he’s made good passes and set up his teammates.

“For a big guy, he’s pretty skilled, pretty crafty. He’s got good footwork. He knows how to handle himself in almost any situation.”

The visitors’ quirky defense – the Huskies’ first look at a sustained 1-3-1 this season, and likely their last – qualified as an unusual situation.

“I just wanted to make the extra passes,” Blackwell said, “because they were collapsing on me in the second half.”

That the Bengals identified Blackwell as Washington’s most viable inside scoring threat is not surprising, for he’s pretty much been Washington’s lone inside scoring threat.

That’s not by design. Blackwell, who sat out last season after transferring from the University of San Francisco, was envisioned as part of quintet of forwards that included 6-10 sophomore Jernard Jarreau, 6-7 junior Desmond Simmons, and 6-9 junior Shawn Kemp, Jr.

But soon after a comprehensively impressive performance against Central Washington in a Nov. 6 exhibition, Jarreau suffered a season-ending knee injury. Then Simmons was lost to a less serious knee injury – he’s expected to return by the end of the month – just as Kemp was diagnosed with Graves’ Disease, a thyroid condition that put him into the hospital.

Kemp played 16 minutes on Saturday, scoring four points with two rebounds, but his return to full strength is something that must be accomplished in modest increments.

“He’s gonna get stronger each day,” Romar said. “There were a couple of times he got winded, but I thought he had a little more pep than he’s had. Don’t forget, he was in the hospital, bedridden for a considerable amount of time.”

In other words, for another few weeks, the brunt of the Huskies’ low-post chores will belong to Blackwell, who appears in the team photo as if he’s the identical twin of former Kansas Jayhawks and Los Angeles Clippers star Danny Manning.

Before his knees went bad on him, Manning was the prototype of an all-around big man with uncommon versatility. Scoring and rebounding were the foundation – after all, he was 6-10 – but he could also zip passes and block shots and play lock-down defense.

So advanced was Manning as a polished college talent that even before the 1988 national-champion Jayhawks were known as “Danny and the Miracles” they were called Danny and the Juniors,” a reference to the 1950s do-wop group.

Whatever challenges await the Huskies as they cope with injuries, find ways to tighten up on defense and seek an overall identity, it’s doubtful they’ll ever be called “Perris and the Juniors.”

But college basketball rosters these days aren’t exactly teeming with seniors, especially seniors who are 6-9, 275 pounds and capable of both launching a break with an outlet pass and finishing a break with a set-up pass.

Among his coach’s plaudits Saturday, the most flattering to Blackwell had to be the reference about handling any situation. He should keep the thought.

A week from today, after traveling to New Orleans for a game at Tulane, the Huskies will face Connecticut at Hec Ed. The UConn Huskies are 9-0, with a roster boasting five players between 6-9 and 7-0.

Blackwell will have his hands full. If he ever aspires to bear more than a facial resemblance to Danny Manning, next Sunday afternoon will be a prime time to do it.

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