If you go through the history of Washington’s one-and-dones, the emphasis is going to be on the done.
Markelle Fultz was there three seasons ago and ended up going No. 1 in the NBA draft, but the Huskies went 9-22 overall and 2-16 in conference.
Dejounte Murray and Marquese Chriss were there the season before that, and each was drafted in the first round — but the Huskies went 9-9 in the Pac-12 and had to settle for the NIT. In the 2011-12 season, they had Tony Wroten, who also went in the first round, and though the Huskies won the conference that year, they missed the NCAA tournament after making it for three straight seasons.
This year? They have freshmen Isaiah Stewart and Jaden McDaniels, both of whom are projected first-rounders … but the team’s once sky-high expectations have dipped below sea level.
So can this Freshman Phenom formula ever prove to be a winning one for Washington?
It’s worth pointing out that the Huskies (12-9, 2-6) have lost seven of their eight games in which the outcome was decided by six points or less. With a few lucky bounces, made free throws or beneficial calls, they would be well-positioned for another NCAA tournament appearance.
It’s also worth noting that, with averages of 18.2 points (sixth in the Pac-12), 8.9 rebounds (fourth) and 2.2 blocks (third), Stewart has been one of, if not the most dominant player in the conference.
It seems virtually impossible to turn down the kind of talent scouts have credited Stewart and McDaniels with — and the fact that Washington coach Mike Hopkins landed them tells you how well he and his staff can connect to players. But is this the way to win?
Colorado coach Tad Boyle certainly doesn’t think so. Boyle’s Buffaloes are ranked No. 20 in the country and a half-game behind Oregon in the Pac-12 standings. He also doesn’t have any freshmen who seem NBA-bound (although junior Tyler Bey is a projected second-rounder) — and based on a quote from earlier this year, plans to keep it that way.
“Having a chip on your shoulder — there’s something to be said about that. The five-star (recruits) — they are renting uniforms,” Boyle said. “I don’t want guys renting our jersey, I want them owning the Colorado jersey.”
The best team the Huskies have had since 2010-11 came last year, when four of the five highest minute-getters were seniors. They finished with 27 wins, a conference title and an NCAA tournament victory. The season before that, they won 21 games with four of their top five minute-getters all being juniors.
This isn’t to suggest that they would be better without Stewart and McDaniels, but at this point, it’s doubtful they’ll be better off having signed them. The duo will likely leave for the pros and UW will be without two players that could have been developed had they not been as heralded.
So barring a miraculous turnaround this season, what do you do if you’re UW? Do you chalk this up to an off year, when starting point guard Quade Green was unexpectedly ruled academically ineligible and McDaniels was just a bad fit?
Or do you change up your recruiting strategy and try to emulate the Michigan States of the world, where Final Fours are the result of four-year guys?
It’s a legitimate predicament.
Former Huskies such as Jaylen Nowell, Matisse Thybulle, David Crisp and Noah Dickerson all improved under Hopkins. Same is true of junior Nahziah Carter, who has been popping up on draft boards for a while now.
Are the Huskies best off developing stars instead of simply watching them pass through? Maybe, given what we’ve seen over the past few years, jersey-owners are better than jersey-renters.