In seven of their nine losses, the Huskies simply didn’t measure up both literally and figuratively.
Their lack of size, particularly on the front line, was no more obvious than Sunday’s 81-59 loss to North Carolina in the second round of the NCAA tournament when the Tar Heels collected twice as many rebounds (48-24) while outscoring Washington in the paint (38-24) and on second-chance points (17-4).
UW’s size deficiency also played a role in defeats against Auburn, Gonzaga, Virginia Tech, Oregon and Arizona State.
On Wednesday, coach Mike Hopkins expressed his admiration and gratitude for UW’s four departing seniors, but admitted that the veteran team he inherited two years ago didn’t necessarily meet the ideal height requirements of the 2-3 zone defense he brought with him from Syracuse.
But all of changes next season.
“Next year we could hold hands sideline to sideline,” Hopkins said. “That’s a big difference when you’re maybe 6-3 at the back of the zone and your center is 6-7.
“It’s David and Goliath. There’s just different battles. We’re going to have a lot of size. That was one our weaknesses the year before. We played our veterans. (Now) we got good size. We got improved athleticism in a lot of different ways, but we’re going to be new. And they’re going to be in new roles.”
The Huskies will certainly be bigger, but it remains to be seen if they can better their 27-9 record that included a Pac-12 regular-season championship.
Washington is losing seniors Noah Dickerson, a 6-foot-8 forward and guards Dominic Green, Matisse Thybulle and David Crisp who are 6-6, 6-5 and 6 feet.
Hopkins also expects Pac-12 player of the year Jaylen Nowell, a 6-4 sophomore guard, to enter the NBA draft and it’s uncertain if he’ll return.
Washington could potentially lose 80 percent of its scoring and five of its top six scorers next season.
Alternatively, the Huskies welcome the return of freshmen Bryan Penn-Johnson, a 7-foot center, and Nate Roberts, a 6-10 forward, who both redshirted this season.
“People forget that we have Bryan Penn –Johnson who was a top 100 player who played maybe a total of three minutes,” Hopkins said. “You got Nate Roberts … They were able to get a year under their belt without actually losing a year, which is huge for the sustainability of our program.
“Just really exciting moving forward. It’s still going to hard because there’s going to be a lot of new guys at a lot of new positions, but I really believe they are really talented.”
None more so than Isaiah Stewart, a 6-9 and 245-pound forward from Rochester, N.Y. who verbally committed to the Huskies and is expected to sign with UW on April 17.
The five-star prospect, who declined offers from Duke, Michigan State, Kentucky and Syracuse, is the No. 5 overall recruit in the nation according to ESPN and is projected to be a lottery pick in next year’s NBA draft.
“Seattle is a great city,” Stewart told PrepCircuit.com in Atlanta this week where he participated in the McDonald’s All-American game. “On the court, I’m looking forward to being different.
“We all know the schools that recruited me and I definitely took a different path. I’m ready to light that place on fire and have fun and go win some games.”
Next season, Stewart figures to be the centerpiece at Washington or potentially the co-headliner alongside Federal Way High star Jaden McDaniels, who is reportedly considering UW, Kentucky, San Diego State, Texas and UCLA.
“There is nothing like being at home,” McDaniels said about Washington during an interview this week with Rivals.com. “It is just right up the road. Coach (Will) Conroy and Hop, they are always on me and always checking in and seeing what I am up to. I have known Conroy for a long time and they are kind of like family to me.”
Like Stewart, McDaniels is a 5-star prospect, McDonald’s All-American and a projected lottery pick in next year’s NBA draft.
This week, Stewart has talked about possibly teaming up next season with the McDaniels, a 6-10 forward.
“He has been on me about U-Dub,” McDaniels said. “Let’s go there together and make it happen.”
With or without Nowell and McDaniels, the Huskies are expecting sophomore guard Nahziah Carter, who averaged 8.1 points off the bench, to emerge as a leader.
Hopkins also noted forwards Hameir Wright and Sam Timmins, backup freshmen guards Jamal Bey and Elijah Hardy, and Quade Green, a Kentucky transfer, will assume larger roles.
“The plan is to get back after it on April 15,” Hopkins said. “That’s the first day back like when we first got the job. It’s a new group of guys. Just keep trying to raise the bar.
“You have your systems in place and you’re trying to make your systems better. … If you’re not evolving, you’re dying. You got to keep getting better. Try to be on the cutting edge. Keep moving forward.”
— Hopkins said the Huskies are finalizing plans to take an international exhibition trip this summer before preseason practice.
— San Diego State redshirt sophomore Jalen McDaniels, who is the older brother of UW recruiting target Jaden, has declared for the NBA draft. Both starred at Federal Way High.