With one of the quickest and deepest backcourts in the nation, Washington is planning on pushing the pace as it tries to defend its Pac-10 regular-season title.
The 14th-ranked Huskies won’t have to wait long to have their endurance tested.
Washington opens its season Friday night against Wright State, beginning a rare three-game, three-night stretch as it hosts the Athletes In Action Classic.
An impressive regular season didn’t parlay into postseason success for the Huskies (26-9), who lost in the Pac-10 semifinals to Arizona State before falling in the second round of the NCAA tournament to fifth-seeded Purdue.
But there is renewed optimism and a strong preseason ranking in Seattle, even after the loss of leading rebounder Jon Brockman to graduation. While Washington brings back starting forwards Quincy Pondexter and Darnell Gant, the team’s strength is expected to be with its guards, led by 2008-09 Pac-10 freshman of the year Isaiah Thomas.
Despite standing just 5-foot-8, Thomas led the team with 15.5 points per game. He’ll be joined in the backcourt by junior Venoy Overton, who is expected to begin the season as a starter despite the arrival of top recruit Abdul Gaddy.
All three can play point guard, and each will help run a high-speed attack that could improve upon the team’s average of 78.6 points last season, which led the conference and ranked 15th nationally.
“This team happens to be quicker so there is potential for us to be out in transition more because we’re quicker. But we always try and play quick,” Washington coach Lorenzo Romar said.
“Our quickness just affects so many areas of the way we play,” the coach added. “It affects us defensively, on the boards, getting loose balls, getting out in transition and it impacts a lot of areas. I like that.”
Gaddy will start the season on the bench even though he was one of the nation’s top point guards at Bellarmine Prep in Tacoma, Wash. He chose the Huskies after previously committing to Arizona prior to the retirement of Wildcats coach Lute Olson.
“It’s different. It’s hard,” Gaddy said of not starting. “People would ask, ‘why would you do that?’ But I look at it as a positive because they make me better every day in practice. Guarding Isaiah and playing against the defensive pressure of Venoy, they make you better on both sides.”
The Huskies will certainly need their reserves this weekend. After facing Wright State, they host Belmont on Saturday night and Portland State on Sunday night, which could be an especially difficult scenario after Washington lost several days of preseason practice to a team-wide flu bug.
All three opponents are mid-major schools and coming off winning seasons. Belmont nearly beat Duke in the 2008 NCAA tournament, and Portland State is the two-time Big Sky tournament champion.
“It’s going to be tough,” Thomas told Washington’s official athletics Web site, “but, we’ve got the core group of guys that we can do it with - especially for me. We’ve got a lot of guards and I can take breaks when I need to.”
Coming off three straight 20-win seasons under coach Brad Brownell, Wright State (20-13) could potentially pose problems for the Huskies. The Raiders return their top four scorers from a team that reached the Horizon League semifinals before losing 62-57 at then-No. 22 Butler.
Wright State, picked to finish second behind Butler in 2009-10, will be led by conference preseason first-team guards Todd Brown and Vaughn Duggins, but Duggins’ return from a broken finger that forced him to redshirt last season has been delayed.
The junior was suspended for the first three games after being charged with operating a vehicle under the influence this summer.