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Originally published Tuesday, October 11, 2011 at 8:00 PM

Expectations lower, number of questions higher this season for Washington men's basketball team

The Washington Huskies' 15-player men's basketball roster includes eight freshmen.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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A year ago Washington was the runaway favorite to win the Pac-10 conference championship, and the prevailing question was if the Huskies would finally burst the Sweet 16 bubble and advance to the NCAA tournament Elite Eight for the first time under coach Lorenzo Romar.

With practice set to begin Friday, expectations are considerably lower and the number of questions significantly higher this season.

"Nobody picks us to be in the top three (in the Pac-12), and I feel like we can potentially be in the top three," senior co-captain Darnell Gant said. "Everything that people are thinking we can't do, I believe we can do.

"So I'm just taking it as motivation to reach our potential and do the best we can."

There's plenty of uncertainty surrounding Washington, which lost four upperclassmen, including its top three scorers — all starters — from a team that finished 24-11 overall and 11-7 in the Pac-10, won the conference tournament title and advanced to the third round of the NCAA tournament.

Not only did the Huskies lose 58 percent of their scoring, they lost their leader and team MVP Isaiah Thomas, who chose to forgo his senior season and declare for the NBA draft, where he was the last player taken.

None of the returning UW players averaged more than 8.5 points last season, although Romar said there are plenty of candidates to replace Thomas and the three departing seniors.

"Those things tend to sort themselves out," Romar said.

Still there's much to be decided before the Nov. 12 season opener against Georgia State.

Is sophomore guard Terrence Ross, who has been projected as a lottery pick in next year's NBA draft, ready to take over the scoring duties? Will junior co-captain Abdul Gaddy return to form after undergoing right knee surgery in January? How will Washington incorporate touted freshman guard Tony Wroten Jr. into a crowded backcourt?

The Huskies begin solving those questions this week when they depart after Friday's first practice for a three-day training camp at The Evergreen State College in Olympia.

"We've got a lot of potential," senior co-captain Scott Suggs said. "The goal every year is to win the Pac-(12) title, make the tournament and go as far as we can.

"Not too many people think we can do it, so that's different than before. ... Being the favorites, we had a bull's-eye on us. Everybody was giving us their best game. Now another team is the favorite, I think Arizona. But for us it's no different. We're going to go hard every night regardless."

With seven returning lettermen, seven incoming freshmen and a redshirt freshman, Romar has his second-youngest team at Washington.

"Half of our team has played in (conference) championship games and NCAA tournament games and road games, and the other half hasn't played at all because they're all freshmen," he said. "It's a unique mix. We'll have more freshmen this year than any year we've been here. So we all will be very, very busy trying to get everyone on the same page."

The Huskies are also the tallest team in the Romar era. The average player's height is 6-foot-6 ½ and no one on the roster is shorter than 6-2 freshman Hikeem Stewart and Andrew Andrews.

Romar declined to announce starters, but Washington could start a lineup with 6-5 and 6-6 guards, 6-6 and 6-8 forwards and a 7-foot center.

"Already in some of the drills that we're doing it's a little more difficult to complete passes in practice," Romar said. "We always pride ourselves on pressure defense and you can see already just because of our size and length that deflections are happening more."

If the Huskies return to the NCAA tournament, it will be their fourth straight trip and set a program record for consecutive appearances.

"My motivation is to have fun and to go out with a bang," Gant said. "Just be motivated for greatness."

Notes

• Andrews is going to redshirt, while the other freshmen are expected to play this season, Romar said.

• The Huskies announced start times and the television schedule for the season. Washington will make at least 25 appearances on TV. ROOT Sports will televise the Nov. 4 exhibition against Seattle Pacific.

Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or pallen@seattletimes.com

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