CHARLOTTE, N.C. - About this time last year, C.J. Wilcox had a great view of the NCAA tournament - from the Washington Huskies' bench.
This season, he’s looking forward to experiencing it from the court.
“That’s a whole other experience – the NCAA tournament,” Wilcox said. “I got to watch it last year, but (playing) will be a totally different experience – a learning experience. Hopefully we can make a deep run.”
Wilcox was redshirting last season when the Huskies reported to San Jose, Calif., for the start of an NCAA tournament run that would take them to the Sweet 16.
Now a sometime-starter, Wilcox is expected to be a key part of the UW rotation Friday, when the seventh-seeded Huskies begin the 2011 tournament against 10th-seeded Georgia.
Wilcox already experienced the difference between watching and playing last week, when he contributed to the Huskies’ defense of their Pacific-10 Conference tournament title. “I was happy for my team last year,” Wilcox said. “But it’s just a completely different feeling knowing that you helped your team. It’s an indescribable feeling.”
Wilcox helped a lot. Over three consecutive starts, he averaged 13 points and was 9-for-21 on 3-pointers, including a tournament-record five made against Washington State. Against Arizona, he hit the 3-pointer that sent the championship game into overtime, where his heroics were overshadowed by Isaiah Thomas’ game-winning buzzer-beater.
That was the kind of sharpshooting Wilcox had provided while averaging 22.2 points per game as a senior at Pleasant Grove High School in Utah, and even as a true freshman at UW when he quickly became known as the best pure shooter on the team.
When the redshirt decision was announced, coach Lorenzo Romar stressed it was not because of any doubts about Wilcox’s ability.
“We think C.J. can be at least an all-conference player – at least,” Romar said at the time.
The move began paying off this season, when Wilcox made six starts, averaged 8.1 points and made 59 3-pointers.
Romar has not committed to a Friday lineup but indicated he is at least considering a return to 7-foot Aziz N’Diaye, which could send either Wilcox or true freshman Terrence Ross to the bench.
Wilcox and Ross combined for 85 points and were 15-for-38 on 3-pointers during the Pac-10 tournament.
Wilcox is one of two players on the current playing roster who has redshirted, along with junior Darnell Gant. True freshman Desmond Simmons is sitting out this season, in part due to a knee injury.
Romar says he leaves the redshirt decision to the players, although he personally believes it would benefit almost any player.
“I go on record again: If I had a son who was good enough and not a (NBA draft) lottery pick, I would demand and insist that he redshirt,” Romar said. “... I just think that guys are so much better prepared to come in and play right away. I’ve never ever had a guy in his fifth year say, ‘Coach, I regretted redshirting.’ Never.”
The Huskies and the other seven teams in Charlotte will meet the media and hold public practices today at Time Warner Cable Arena, where the games will begin Friday. ... Washington arrived Tuesday after traveling the 2,802 miles between Seattle and Charlotte. That’s the longest distance traveled by any team in the tournament.