In mid-November, during Washington's first men's basketball game of the season, Venoy Overton challenged a McNeese State guard so aggressively that the opponent retreated across the center stripe for an over-andback violation.
That was vintage Venoy – the kind of play that created a reputation that grew over his first three seasons as a Husky: quick and confident, sometimes straying across the line to cocky.
However, that kind of play also has become a rare thing over Overton’s senior season, as even he will admit.
“Just maybe because of injuries,” Overton answered when asked why. “That’s all I can say.”
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Yes, “injuries” – plural – one following the other, often just as he was beginning to believe the worst was over.
“I dealt with a hamstring,” he said. “I dealt with a shoulder. I dealt with a knee. I’ve dealt with a lot for just one season.”
Overton said the hamstring tear was the big one. But he also says he is back to feeling “as close to 100 percent as possible” as the final weeks of his college career begin to count down.
Coach Lorenzo Romar said he noticed something like the old Overton beginning to reemerge during Washington’s loss at Oregon early this month.
Now, Overton’s return to health also has the Huskies feeling better as they prepare for a crucial trip that will take them to Arizona State on Thursday and Arizona on Saturday.
“Whenever Venoy is playing the way he’s playing as of late, it changes the dynamics of our team,” Romar said. “It adds a dimension that we can’t manufacture.”
Primarily, that dimension is defense: pesky, in-yourface, match-up defense.
Overton was named to the Pacific-10 Conference 2010 all-defensive team. His 171 steals place him third on the UW career list. And he has at least one steal in 10 of his last 11 games.
However, Overton also contributes on the offensive end.
He is a true point guard, among the fastest players on the team, and the fastest while dribbling. He ranks second in the Pac-10 in assist-to-turnover ratio and 10th in assists per game.
He also averaged 10 points a game last week in helping the Huskies sweep California and Stanford, including a season-high 12 points versus the Cardinal.
“It’s making it a lot easier for everybody,” guard Isaiah Thomas said of Overton’s return to form. “Every time he comes in the game he brings so much energy it hypes us up. He’s back to his old self, disrupting the other guards. He’s just bringing energy. And we need it from him, and he’s doing a good job and it’s helping everybody.”
Overton has done most of that while coming off the bench.
He started three games after point guard Abdul Gaddy went down with a seasonending knee injury. But the 6-foot-3 Overton lost that spot to 6-6 Scott Suggs when Romar said he wanted to go with bigger guards at California. The Huskies won that game, 92-71, and Romar has stayed with that lineup ever since.
However, Overton has started 38 games as a Husky since graduating from Seattle’s Franklin High School. And he admits he’d like to end his UW career back among the starting five.
“It’s my last go-round,” he said. “I kind of think I would feel awkward on Senior Night starting for just that one game. That would kind of feel weird. I definitely want to go out starting. I’m back to 100 percent and clicking so far, going hard in practice, my legs feel all the way there. We’ll see.”
Romar said he knows Overton would like to start. And he says the current starting lineup isn’t necessarily permanent. However, he also said Overton has accepted the reserve role without creating disruptions.
Overton said that is because he has other goals for his last go-round, as well.
“I’d just like to win another Pac-10 title outright and the Pac-10 tournament title, and get in the NCAA tournament and make some noise,” he said. “That’s all achievable.”