SEATTLE (AP) — In many ways, Lorenzo Romar is starting from scratch, similar to when he first arrived at Washington in 2002.
It’s the result of massive turnover on a Huskies roster that features more new faces than returning known commodities and is coming off a season where an 11-0 start devolved into an 11th place finish in Pac-12 Conference play.
And it leaves the Huskies as one of the great unknowns for the upcoming season. Will all these new, young, talented faces meld into a team that can end Washington’s NCAA Tournament drought? Or will the unfamiliarity and lack of experienced veterans extend the Huskies’ NCAA Tournament absence another year and increase the heat on Romar to solve what’s gone wrong with Washington’s program?
“We have some fun pieces in place to coach, I know that,” Romar said. “And probably the most exciting thing to me is we now have the personnel to go back to playing the way we want to play. And then everything else takes care of itself.”
Washington’s overhaul featured nine newcomers to go along with a handful of departures. Gone is Nigel Williams-Goss. Gone are Shawn Kemp Jr. and Mike Anderson. The only experienced returnee is senior guard Andrew Andrews, who averaged 15 points per game last season and is tasked this season with providing scoring punch from the perimeter while also teaching the youngsters how to play at the collegiate level.
“He’s positive, he’s vocal and he just really guides all the freshmen,” freshman Marquese Chriss said. “He helps us with the little things. He’ll talk to you positively, I’ve never heard him get on anyone negatively. He’s a positive reinforcement like another coach on the team.”
Chriss is one of the seven freshmen who will be counted on immediately, starting with the Huskies’ unique opener against Texas in Shanghai. Dejounte Murray is at the top of the freshman class, one of the top recruits in the country after averaging 25 points and 12 rebounds as a senior at nearby Rainier Beach High School.
But just as important will be the youngsters on the interior, where the Huskies lost most of their size. Freshmen Noah Dickerson (6-foot-8), Devenir Duruisseau (6-8), Chriss (6-9) and junior college transfer Malik Dime (6-9) will have to contribute immediately.
“I think having nine freshmen, it gives coaches different flavors, different things to work on,” Duruisseau said. “I think nine freshmen is good. I don’t think we should be overlooked at all, I think we should be just as competitive as anybody else, or even more competitive.”
Other things to watch as the Huskies try to rebound from last season:
DEFENSE FIRST: Romar can’t wait to see the Huskies’ athleticism on display.
Not offensively, but at the defensive end.
“I think we have the ability to pressure the basketball more than we have in the last two or three years. I think we will do a better job with that,” Romar said.
Once known for its pressure defense, forcing turnovers and pushing the pace, Washington has been passive in recent years and more reactionary at the defensive end. That should change because of the athleticism and depth of the roster. Washington forced just 11.2 turnovers per game last season, the fewest of Romar’s tenure.
FIND SCORERS: Andrews was Washington’s second-leading scorer last season, but the Huskies averaged just 68.6 points per game. That was second-lowest with Romar in charge and ninth in the Pac-12. The ability to push tempo should help the Huskies get more shots but finding another scorer to go along with Andrews is critical.
SEATTLE CONNECTION: Washington’s best success under Romar has come with Seattle-area players at the core. There’s a definite Seattle presence on this roster with six scholarship players from the area.
EARLY CHALLENGES: Washington’s youngsters get tested right away playing Texas in the first regular-season college basketball game in China. But the schedule doesn’t get any easier for the Huskies from there. They’ll play in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament during Thanksgiving week, opening the tournament against in-state rival Gonzaga, the first meeting with the Bulldogs since 2006.
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