Isaiah Thomas just became the most important person on the Washington basketball team heading into the Pac-10 Tournament.
This after coach Lorenzo Romar announced that he had suspended guard Venoy Overton for the conference tournament after he was charged with serving alcohol to 16-year-old girls, a gross misdemeanor.
Washington was already without former starting guard Abdul Gaddy, who was lost to an ACL tear in January.
Thomas is the only scholarship point guard on the squad and coach Lorenzo Romar hinted that Thomas could play extra minutes in the Huskies Pac-10 Tournament opener against Washington State on Thursday.
But Thomas and Romar wouldn't have been put in this position if it wasn't for Overton's irresponsibility.
There are two schools of thought regarding Overton's suspension, which Romar said would be lifted if the Huskies reach the NCAA Tournament. Overton is the team's toughest on-ball defender, but injuries have limited his energy and intensity and at times he's fallen flat as a defensive catalyst. Still, he's the Pac-10 active leader in assists (387) and steals (176) and adds much-needed depth to an already depleted team.
On the other side, however, Overton's antics have been a distraction. According to Seattle Times columnist Jerry Brewer, Overton was involved in a Jan. 8 incident in which he allegedly had sex with two 16-year-olds, one of whom accused him of sexual assault. No charges were filed, but the case loomed over the team much of the season and Romar said it took its toll.
From Brewer's column:
Romar finally admitted that this case has contributed to a difficult season. Said the coach: "This has been the toughest year since I've been a coach here, for me," Romar said. "You have a certain vision, and you work hard for your program to be a certain way. You also want the best for your guys, and if something goes wrong and a guy makes a mistake, it's always a setback. You always hate to see that happen. You make mistakes, and there are consequences to deal with that."
In other words, this is not what Romar's program is about. Overton has damaged the program's reputation. The Huskies will recover, but this is about the worst situation that a well-intentioned coach like Romar could encounter.
The Huskies also could be without senior forward Justin Holiday, who suffered a concussion last Saturday, and didn't practice on Tuesday. Holiday will be re-evaluated prior to Thursday's game.
"Those are two guys that can create havoc defensively," Romar told the Seattle Times. "That puts us with a seven-man rotation not counting (walk-ons) Brendan (Sherrer) and Antoine Hosley. So I'd say that's a setback."
Washington is 20-10 heading into the Pac-10 Tournament and has been a mainstay in most of the mock brackets because of its tough schedule. But the Huskies have lost six of their last 11 games, including two losses to rival Washington State, and another loss to the Cougars could have them sweating it out until Selection Sunday.