Washington welcomes back its top seven scorers, including all five starters, from a team that finished second in the Pac-10 and reached the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1999. Add two new key additions to the mix, and this veteran Husky team has the look of a conference champion.
"We've talked about our youth the last two years," said third-year coach Lorenzo Romar. "This year, we're not youthful."
The Huskies received a major boost in the offseason when standout guard Nate Robinson removed his name from the NBA Draft and opted to return to school.
FRONTCOURTBobby Jones, Mike Jensen and Hakeem Rollins will be counted on to boost the inside play with stronger rebounding.
Jones led the team in offensive rebounds last season and has the best all-around game of the three primary frontcourt players. Romar calls Jones "Mr. Intangible" because he does so much more than what shows up on the stat sheet.
Jensen came on strong during the Huskies' late-season surge and will be expected to pick up where he left off. He has the ability to make 3-pointers (24-of-58, 41 percent last year) and could see his scoring average (7.6) increase as he takes on a larger role in the offense.
Rollins, who ranked fifth in the Pac-10 in blocked shots (1.2), will again be one of the first players off the bench.
The Huskies plan to find playing time for newcomers Jamaal Williams and Joel Smith, a pair of talented small forwards. Williams sat out last season after transferring from New Mexico, where he averaged 11.3 points and 5.1 rebounds as a sophomore. He is strong around the glass and should boost Washington's rebounding. Smith, a freshman, has the ability to play right away if Romar can find a spot for him in a deep lineup.
BACKCOURTThe 5-foot-9 Robinson, who came to Washington on a football scholarship, has earned the nickname "Nate the Great" because of his ability to take over games with his scoring, defense and enthusiasm.
"He's a potential All-America candidate," Romar said. "He's a guy our guys feed off of in terms of energy."
Robinson will have plenty of support in the three-guard attack from fellow starters Brandon Roy and Will Conroy and key reserve Tre Simmons.
Roy, a local product, emerged as a consistent scoring threat in his first full season in a Washington uniform. He was second on the team in scoring (12.9 ppg) and led the club in rebounding (5.3 rpg).
"I anticipate him having a big year for us," Romar said. "He'll have the ball in his hands quite a bit."
Though Robinson can, and often does, handle the point, Conroy is the Huskies' primary playmaker. A former walk-on, Conroy has improved each year of his career and has shown the ability to hit key buckets late in games.
Simmons, a former junior college transfer, thrives in transition on a team that loves to get up and down the court.
"He could be our most improved player," Romar said. "He could have a big-time year for us."
Finding enough playing time to keep everyone happy in the backcourt could be a problem, but Romar puts the pressure on the players to figure that out.
"If they produce, they'll tell us who should be playing," Romar said.
FINAL ANALYSISThere has never been this much hype surrounding Husky basketball, a program that usually plays in the shadow of the school's football team. Washington is loaded, and Robinson hopes to be the Jameer Nelson of the 2004-05 season after delaying his entry into the NBA.
The Huskies started 0-5 in conference last year before winning 12 of their next 13, but a slow start shouldn't be a problem this season. Their potent three-guard attack, combined with an improved inside game, should put them in the thick of the Pac-10 title chase all season long.