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Originally published Wednesday, November 12, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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UW's Jon Brockman ready to make school history

Washington's Jon Brockman enters his senior season just 160 rebounds away from overtaking Doug Smart for the most rebounds in school history. Brockman has 892. Smart, who played from 1956-59, grabbed 1,051.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Nonleague highlights

Opener: @ Portland, Saturday, 8 p.m.

Nov. 24: vs. Kansas, @ Kansas City, Mo.

Nov. 25: vs. Florida or Syracuse, @ Kansas City, Mo.

Dec. 4: vs. Oklahoma State.

Full schedule and roster at seattletimes.com/huskies

5 keys to the season

Isaiah Thomas needs to live up to the hype: The Huskies are counting on the 5-foot-8 guard to breathe life into the program. His 27-point performance in the exhibition win over Western indicated he's right on track. He won't score 27 every game, but he'll be a legitimate threat, giving UW offensive versatility it lacked last season.

The Huskies need to get defensive: There seems little doubt UW will be able to score more frequently than last season. But can the Huskies stop other teams? The Huskies improved gradually in that area last season, finishing fourth in the Pac-10 in field-goal percentage defense. But coaches have expressed concern.

A few more shooters need to emerge: Despite the presence of Ryan Appleby, UW was ninth in the Pac-10 in three-point shooting last season in conference games. Thomas should help fill some of the void as will the improved shooting of Justin Dentmon, now playing shooting guard. But the Huskies might need another shooter or two to prevent opponents from going to zones and packing in the middle.

Quincy Pondexter needs to step up: The junior forward has long been the X-factor on this team. If he can live up to the hype that accompanied his arrival, he'll take pressure off Jon Brockman inside and Thomas on the perimeter.

Free throws, free throws, free throws: It might be overstating the case to say UW could have been an NCAA tournament team if it had shot better from the line. But it certainly would have made things more interesting if the Huskies hadn't been the worst in the nation at 58.6 percent. Early returns, however, indicate a massive upswing thanks to the addition of high-percentage shooters like Thomas and improvement from Brockman and others.

Bob Condotta

Mitch Johnson says it's really easy to describe the secret of success of his pal, Jon Brockman.

"He was born to rebound," said Johnson, now a guard at Stanford but a friend since fifth grade and a longtime teammate during their high school summer basketball days. "He's just always been the best rebounder I've played against or seen."

Washington coach Lorenzo Romar remembers similarly that when he first saw Brockman he thought, "If we get him, he'd be the best rebounder I've ever coached."

And barring injury, Brockman will soon have a tangible title to back it up — leading career rebounder in UW history.

As Brockman enters his senior season he is just 160 rebounds away from overtaking Doug Smart for the most rebounds in school history.

Brockman has 892. Smart, who played from 1956-59, grabbed 1,051.

Smart attained his total in just three seasons while Brockman will need four — Smart averaged a UW record 13.5 per game while Brockman is at 9.2.

But the game is different now and rebounding totals not what they once were — the top 10 averages in Pac-10 history are all from 1974 or earlier.

Aligned in the latter group is Smart, now 72 and spending most of his days on Orcas Island, the rest as a part-time dentist in Northgate.

"It's Apples and Oranges," said Smart, who was about 6-foot-7, 235 pounds in his playing days. "Because every time he goes out there, he's rebounding against eight or nine leapers. When I played, there were usually two or three other guys on the floor who could compete with you. Now you have guards who come in and have 38-inch vertical [leaps]. We didn't deal with that. I'm glad I played 50 years ago."

And while Brockman says he has team goals that would mean a lot more, he admits breaking the rebounding record would be about as meaningful an individual honor as he could get.

"If I had to pick one thing, that would be it," he said. "I love rebounding, going into every game seeing how many rebounds I can get. If I could be remembered for something, that [being UW's leading career rebounder] would probably be it."

And there's some literal truth to Johnson's statement that Brockman was born to rebound.

Brockman's father, Gordy, played center at Seattle Pacific in the mid-1970s, averaging 11.5 points and 5.5 rebounds as a senior. His older brother, Paul, was also a standout high school player and spent some time at SPU.

"He wasn't really that athletic but he had a nose for the ball," Brockman said of his older brother. "I learned a lot from him."

Like them, Brockman was blessed with a body made for the more physical parts of the game — he's listed at 6-7, 255 pounds.

"He's strong, and he's quicker than people think," Romar said, "He's so physical, he just wills his way to get that basketball. And he's got really good hands around the basket."

But it hasn't all come naturally.

Brockman has spent hours watching film of great rebounders, trying to figure out what they know that others don't.

One early role model was Dennis Rodman. The two couldn't be more different in image, but when Brockman watches Rodman he sees a kindred spirit on-court.

"I watched his film and how he rebounded and all his little tricks," Brockman said. "He's unbelievable, the numbers he put up."

Says Romar: "He just studies all those things. I'd like to see him give a clinic someday."

Through his study, Brockman learned, for instance, that 85 percent of rebounds off shots from the corner are likely to bounce to the opposite side.

"So you've got to get to the opposite side when the ball is shot," he said. "It's playing the odds and watching the flight of the ball and getting a feel for wherever the ball will come off."

Learning the nuances became especially meaningful after Brockman's freshman year at UW, when he found the transition to college a little harder than he thought — he didn't get more than four rebounds in any of the team's three NCAA tournament games, and averaged 6.5 for the season.

"[In high school] I was so much bigger than everyone, I didn't have to worry about boxing out," he said. "I could just go after the ball. When I came to college, I had to learn that there are times when you can just go to get the ball, but there are times when you are playing against someone who is taller than you and when you leave and don't seal him off, he's just going to reach over you and grab it, things like that."

He's increased his averages to 9.6 and 11.6 the past two seasons, each leading the Pac-10, and last year he was third in the nation.

But Brockman is about more than rebounding.

He enters the season 18th on the school's career scoring list with 1,299 points and with another season similar to last year could move as far as No. 2 (Chris Welp is the leader with 2,073 — Brockman would need to average 25 points to pass Welp).

Scoring mostly around the basket — close-in shots or rebound putbacks — early in his career, he has gradually expanded his offensive game, admitting he knows he'll need to show a lot more in that area to have an NBA career.

"He's much better on the block now," Romar said. "So much more efficient. Before, when he scored, he just overpowered people. Now he's got a step-back [shot]. He can shoot the little jumper. He's got a jump hook."

Brockman says much of his offseason work on his offense was motivated by a desire to improve the biggest weakness in his game — free-throw shooting. He hit just 51.9 percent last season, and as the one who attempted more free throws than any other Husky, was the biggest contributor to the team's NCAA-low 58.6 percent average as a team.

It was a shocking drop-off for Brockman, who had hit 66 percent his first two seasons.

A constant memory for Brockman were the two free throws he missed with 4.7 seconds left that cost UW a chance to beat Valparaiso in the first round of the College Basketball Invitational. Most fans likely forgot about the CBI the minute it ended. But for Brockman, it was a memory that lasted all summer.

"That's something I think about still," he said. "My biggest focus [this offseason] was free throws and doing that helped my outside shot tremendously. I know I am going to be at the free-throw line a lot and just knowing that it was like, 'All right, this is something I've got to get better at.'"

Washington fans should expect Brockman to revert to previous form, however. After all, if there's one thing he's proven he can do, it's rebound.

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or bcondotta@seattletimes.com.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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