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Originally published October 16, 2011 at 5:58 PM | Page modified October 17, 2011 at 7:28 PM

Washington men's basketball counting on breakout year from Terrence Ross

Former Husky standout Isaiah Thomas tabbed the 6-foot-6, and 195-pound sophomore guard the next big thing on Montlake.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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A tweet from Isaiah Thomas to Husky fans this summer started everything.

"Ima tell yall now ur only gonna have Terrence Ross ONE more yr that boy is official!!"

And Thomas, departing leader of the Washington men's basketball team, wasn't done campaigning for Ross.

He later tabbed the 6-foot-6, 195-pound sophomore guard the next big thing on Montlake during an online chat.

"Terrence Ross is the most talented player I've played with during my time at the UW," said Thomas, who shared the court with future NBA players Jon Brockman and Quincy Pondexter.

That statement echoed for weeks around Edmundson Pavilion, a virtual passing of the baton.

Thomas' endorsement said as much about Ross' ability as it did the cadre of candidates vying to replace Thomas, Matthew Bryan-Amaning and Justin Holiday, Washington's top three scorers from last season.

"You try not to pay too much attention to things like that, but when it's coming from somebody like Isaiah it means something," Ross said. "It was nice to hear. Very flattering. It just makes me want to work that much harder."

Fall practice began Friday and the Nov. 12 season opener is still more than three weeks away, but it's never too early to handicap who will replace Thomas as UW's top scorer.

Ross is the runaway favorite, according to Seattle Times poll last week in which 71 percent of voters said he would lead the team in scoring.

Despite starting just four games and averaging 8.0 points as a freshman, Ross has been projected as a Pac-12 MVP candidate and a lottery pick in next year's NBA draft.

It's considerable praise considering he has also been wildly erratic defensively, to the point where he was a liability at times last season.

Yet Ross' amazing array of offensive exploits — high-flying putback dunks in traffic, a deft step-back midrange jumper, and a quick first step to blow by defenders en route to the rim — have overshadowed his defensive limitations.

"What makes him special is his ability to go out and just get you a bucket and the fashion that he does it," coach Lorenzo Romar said. "You can count on one or two hands guys around the country that can really shoot the ball from the perimeter, but yet have the type of athleticism that they can go in the middle and finish on anyone.

"There's not a lot of guys like that, and Terrence is one of those guys. It's just eye-popping."

Take, for instance, Ross' career-high 25-point performance that led the Huskies to an 87-69 win at home over Oregon in January. After the game, Romar likened Ross to pair of Husky greats.

"In terms of just his talent alone, he's right up there with Brandon Roy," Romar said. "Spencer Hawes is really talented to be able to do what he does at 6-11. The way he passes and shoots and all that, he's really talented. Terrence is up there. He's up there in the top couple (of the most talented Romar has coached)."

In the Huskies' last game, Ross sank 7 of 10 shots for 19 points in the 86-83 loss to North Carolina in the NCAA tournament.

He was equally brilliant during the Pac-10 Tournament, averaging 15.3 points and shooting 52.8 percent from the field in his first starts of the season.

The Huskies won the Pac-10 tourney title, and Ross was named to the all-tournament team.

That's the Ross the Huskies hope to see this year, not the newcomer who struggled with consistency last season.

"Early on, he wasn't in the type of condition that he is right now to allow him to (be consistent)," Romar said. "It was just a new world for him in that regard. Offensively, there's not a game where he can't come in and flourish. But defensively — which is what allows you to be very, very successful — that's where he's taken a big step forward. That's where we would expect him to take that step and be a defensive stopper for us."

Admittedly, Ross has plenty to learn on the defensive end.

"I'm working on what the coaches are trying to teach me," he said. "I'm trying to become a complete player and not just somebody who can score.

"So I think you'll see a different type of game from me. I learned how to be more consistent and what that means. It means playing hard every possession, which isn't easy. But it's something I'm ready to do."

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

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