With Matthew-Bryan Amaning, Justin Holiday and Venoy Overton having played their final games as Huskies, the 2011-12 team projects as strong at guards and wings, but with 7-foot Aziz N’Diaye and Darnell Gant as the only experienced frontcourt players.
Of course, any projection of how good that team might be depends on whether leading scorer/assists provider Isaiah Thomas returns or makes himself available to the NBA. He gave a variety of answers on the topic after North Carolina ended UW’s season Sunday, but it seems more likely than not that he will be back. (Here’s my take on the just-completed season and an early look at the one ahead.)
Thomas ended his junior season fourth on the school scoring list (1,721 points), and he tied Will Conroy for most assists in a season (217).
If Thomas returns, the 2011-12 Huskies senior class with consist of Thomas, Scott Suggs and Gant, while underclassmen such as Terrence Ross, C.J. Wilcox and N’Diaye will return with more experience.
Point guard Abdul Gaddy is expected to be healthy by the start of fall camp. And redshirt freshman Desmond Simmons will become available, along with the incoming class of point guards Tony Wroten of Seattle and Andrew Andrews of Portland, combo guard Hikeem Stewart of Seattle and tall, thin forward Jernard Jarreau of New Orleans, who will probably need some time to grow into college ball.
Thomas would open the season once again as a Pac-10 player of the year candidate. And late-season performances indicate at least one guy from the Ross/Wilcox/Suggs trifecta could develop into all-conference quality. N’Diaye and Gant should be counted on for stead interior defense and rebounding, but there is no obvious replacement for inside-point-producer MBA nor leader/versatile/lockdown defender Holiday.
As far as their conference competition, UCLA, Arizona and WSU (next if Klay Thompson returns) probably project as the top Pac-10 contenders next season. UW might show up on the next level, with maybe Cal, Oregon and USC.
It is, however, a long way to November … to say nothing of March 2012.