Man, these guys are long.
That’s the feeling of more than a few observers who watched the Washington men’s basketball team practice Tuesday afternoon at Alaska Airlines Arena.
During one drill, freshman forward Isaiah Stewart and senior center Sam Timmins trapped a guard in the corner to force an errant pass over UW’s 2-3 zone that was intercepted by standout freshman forward Jaden McDaniels.
“Good luck going inside against those guys,” freshman guard RaeQuan Battle said while noting Stewart and McDaniels are 6-foot-9 rim protectors with 7-foot-4 wingspans. “Some of the guards try going inside against those guys, but I haven’t been able to find much success yet.”
Once Stewart and McDaniels took a rest, UW’s second unit stepped on the court led by 7-foot shot-blocker Bryan Penn-Johnson, rugged 6-10 big man Nate Roberts and 6-9 junior Hameir Wright, the team’s lone returning starter.
“The zone is different because you can hold hands and you can go from sideline to sideline,” coach Mike Hopkins said proudly. “That’s a lot of coverage.”
Verizon, AT&T and Sprint wish they had coverage like the Huskies.
“It’s still early and we haven’t played anybody, but what I’m noticing is we’re really big down low, and each of us brings something to the court,” McDaniels said. “We’re all a little different.
“Isaiah is just relentless. So is Nate and Sam. (Hameir) can stretch you out and shoot the three. Even (7-4 walk-on center Riley Sorn) is a problem. … And I just fill in where I can.”
The defending Pac-12 regular-season champions are loaded with eight players 6-9 or taller, and their front-line depth appears to be the strength of a young and inexperienced team that’s seeking a new identity – as well as leaders – after losing four starters and five of its top six scorers.
Hopkins is certain the Huskies have enough talent to contend for another league title and NCAA tournament berth, but it’s still uncertain if the newcomers will make a quick transition to college basketball.
“The length is there, they’re learning it,” he said when asked about UW’s tall front line. “They’re getting more accustomed to it. We’re trying to put them in those situations, but not until you get into that situation are you going to see how they respond and react.
“But that length is a big difference.”
During Hopkins’ first two years, Washington had a shortage of big men and would sometimes need to resort to four-guard lineups due to foul trouble.
That shouldn’t be a problem this season. At issue is finding a cohesive mix and establishing a rotation.
Last season, eight players averaged at least 11 minutes. However, Hopkins is contemplating expanding the rotation to nine or 10.
“It’s a battle every day,” Penn-Johnson said. “If you don’t treat every practice like a game, then you’re going to get exposed and you’re not going to get the minutes that you want to get if you’re not ready to fight for that playing time.
“I feel like that’s what’s setting us apart from other teams right now because we have so many options and so many players that we can go to that everyone is bringing 110 percent because they want to be that guy.”
Hopkins singled out Roberts, who redshirted last season, as one of the Huskies who improved the most during the offseason.
“A guy who brings incredible energy, probably one of the top two or three rebounders on the team, if not the best,” Hopkins said. “Offensive rebounding, he’s all over the place. He’s gotten bigger. He’s 6-10, he looks like Dwight Howard after he gets out of the weight room. Very excited about him.”
Roberts appears to be pushing Timmins for a spot in the lineup.
“It’s nothing to go from purple (starters) to gold (backups) just like that in practice,” Roberts said while snapping his fingers. “Hop will do that at the drop of the dime, No. 1 because he can. And No. 2, he’s trying to make each of us better.
“There are no days off with this group. Every day is a day you have to bring your A-game.”
Washington’s forwards and centers created a group chat in which they stay connected during the day with texts and inspirational messages.
“Just making sure we’re bringing the energy because it falls on our shoulders at the end of the day,” Roberts said. “It’s on us, and we’ve got to make sure that we’re the one bringing the energy and intensity.”
GREEN STILL WAITING
The Huskies are still hoping Quade Green will receive a waiver from the NCAA that would allow him to play immediately. The sophomore point guard who transferred from Kentucky in January is currently scheduled to make his UW debut Dec. 17 against Seattle University.
“We’re still waiting for Quade,” Hopkins said. “We’ve put in the waiver. He’s a heck of a player. Leader, player, shooter, playmaker. Makes others around him better. So obviously if he gets the waiver it’ll be a huge benefit for the program.”
As a freshman in 2017-18, Green started 13 of 34 games when he averaged 9.3 points, 1.8 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.6 turnovers and 25.6 minutes.
In nine games as a backup last season at Kentucky, he averaged 8.0 points, 1.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 2.3 turnovers, 1.0 steals and 17.8 minutes.
— Washington travels to TCU for a closed scrimmage Sunday. The Huskies host Western Washington in an exhibition on Oct. 31, before their Nov. 8 season opener against Baylor in Anchorage, Alaska.
— Senior forward Sam Timmins switched jersey numbers from 33 to 14. Stewart is wearing 33.