C.J. Wilcox wants to finish his Washington basketball career in the NCAA tournament
Senior guard C.J. Wilcox is the key player for Huskies as they attempt to return to the NCAA tournament after a two-year absence.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Five key questions
Can C.J. Wilcox carry the Huskies?
The fifth-year senior took off most of the summer to recuperate from May 17 foot surgery that fixed a stress fracture, which bothered him the second half of the season. The Huskies need scoring from the 6-foot-5 guard who averaged 16.8 points last season. But they also need him to become an all-around dominant player who defends, rebounds, makes plays for others and provides leadership. That’s not asking too much is it?
Is Washington’s high-post offense broken?
Something went wrong last year when the Huskies implemented the high-post offense. In the previous nine years, Washington averaged 79.7 points while relying on a dribble-drive, up-tempo motion offense. Last season, the Huskies averaged 67.9 points, which was the fewest since the 2000-01 season.
Who’s running the show?
Four-year starter Abdul Gaddy graduated in June. His job will go to sophomore Andrew Andrews or touted freshman Nigel Williams-Goss. Andrews appeared in 31 of 34 games last season, averaging 7.8 points, 3.0 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.8 turnovers. Williams-Goss has prestigious high-school accolades similar to Gaddy’s when he arrived as a freshman.
Is Perris Blackwell ready for the Pac-12?
Fifth-year senior sat out last season after transferring from San Francisco, where he averaged 11.7 points during his last two years with the Dons. He’s going to replace 7-foot center Aziz N’Diaye. At 6-9, he’s somewhat undersized in the Pac-12, where six teams are expected to start a center who is at least 7 feet tall.
Will one of the role players emerge into a star?
When asked which players are ready for a breakout season, coach Lorenzo Romar identified forwards Jernard Jarreau and Shawn Kemp Jr., and Andrews. It’s essential for the Huskies that one, two or all three make vast improvement from last season, when they were solid, but often unspectacular role players.
Nov. 10, vs. Seattle U: Season opener matches rivals who began series in 1953. Huskies hold a 24-4 edge and have won the past five games since series resumed in 2009.
Nov. 21-22, 2K Sports Classic: The Huskies face Big Ten powerhouse Indiana in the first of two games at New York’s Madison Square Garden.
Dec. 22, vs. Connecticut: Battle of the Huskies is UW’s best home nonconference game.
Jan. 2, at Arizona State: Huskies open the conference schedule in Arizona. Due to the Pac-12’s unbalanced schedule, UW misses road games at UCLA and USC and will not host Arizona and Arizona State.
Jan. 8, vs. Utah: The Pac-12 home opener.
Feb. 1, Feb. 28, vs. Washington State: The Huskies travel to WSU on Feb. 1, then host the Cougars at the end of the month.
March 12-15, Pac-12 tournament: After a thrilling Las Vegas debut last season, the tournament returns to the MGM Grand Arena.
C.J. Wilcox arrived a few minutes early for a Monday morning photo shoot inside a near empty Alaska Airlines Arena.
Having earned a sociology degree at Washington, the fifth-year senior is required to take a few graduate classes to retain his NCAA eligibility.
But mostly he fills his days with hours of basketball, including shooting drills in the morning, weight lifting and conditioning in the afternoon, followed by practice with the Huskies later in the day.
“I guess this kind of routine will get me ready for the NBA when you don’t have to worry about class and all there is is basketball,” he said, jokingly.
Wilcox considered entering the NBA draft in June, but returned to school partly because of a bothersome stress fracture in his left foot that required surgery in May and months of rehabilitation.
It might seem as if Wilcox has one eye on a future professional playing career, but less than a week before Sunday’s season opener against Seattle University he swears he’s focused on his final season at Washington.
“This is my team,” he said. “I have to make sure I get these guys back to the NCAA tournament and we can try to do some special things.
“We have captains, but I feel like everyone is looking at me to be that lone leader. If we lose a game, it’s going to be on me. If we win a game, it’ll be because I did this or did that. More of the pressure and more of the blame will be put on me, so I feel like I need to take more responsibility.”
After years of reluctance, Wilcox is finally ready to claim ownership of the Huskies.
Admittedly, he’s been more comfortable in an ensemble cast that has included future NBA players Isaiah Thomas, Terrence Ross, Tony Wroten Jr. and Justin Holiday.
But now they’re gone and Wilcox is the lone holdover to the Huskies’ last great run when they made three straight trips to the NCAA tournament.
“He is a guy that can definitely point the way because he knows what it took for those teams to be successful,” UW coach Lorenzo Romar said. “When you’re on your way out as a fifth-year senior, there’s a certain way you want to leave. And he wants to leave the right way.”
Wilcox, who turns 23 in December, almost sounds nostalgic when he talks about Washington’s last NCAA tournament appearance in 2011.
“It’s just so exciting,” he said. “It’s an experience I feel every college basketball player should experience. It’s just a lot of fun. It’s really what you work all year for and to not be able to make it these last couple of years — some of the guys don’t know what it’s like.
“They want to get there, but they don’t know what it’s like to be there. I want to make sure everyone gets a chance to play in that tournament.”
To return to the Big Dance, Washington, which finished 18-16 last season, will need to overcome modest expectations. The Huskies were picked to finish eighth in the Pac-12 in a preseason media poll.
Romar likens Wilcox to former Huskies great Jon Brockman, who made the NCAA tournament as a freshman and senior.
“I remember how Jon felt and it was like he said, ‘No one is going to mess this up for me,’ ” Romar said. “That’s how C.J. is approaching this year.”
Romar said he believes Wilcox has quietly positioned himself for a breakout season.
“C.J. Wilcox is under the radar. ... I don’t think people understand how good of a basketball player he is,” Romar said. “The last time you heard me say that was about Brandon Roy going into his senior year.”
Maybe so, but Wilcox surely isn’t sneaking up on anyone.
The 6-foot-5 shooting guard averaged 16.8 points last season, which ranked sixth in the Pac-12. He led Washington in average minutes played (34.8), three-pointers (201), free throws (93) and steals (37). He was second in blocked shots (35) and third in assists (65).
Washington added fifth-year senior Perris Blackwell, a 6-9, 275-pound forward who transferred from San Francisco, where he averaged 12.7 points and 6.1 rebounds as an All-West Coast Conference honorable-mention selection in the 2011-12 season.
“A lot of guys just don’t know how good Perris is because he sat out last year,” Wilcox said. “He’s the X-factor for me. He’s big. He can run the floor. He’s quick. He has good hands. He can pass it out. He can step out and shoot. He’s just a really good player.”
Touted freshman Nigel Williams-Goss and redshirt sophomore Andrew Andrews will likely start alongside Wilcox in the backcourt while redshirt sophomore Jernard Jarreau and junior Desmond Simmons are competing for the final open spot in the lineup.
Shawn Kemp Jr., who started the final 14 games last season, is expected to back up Blackwell and newcomers Mike Anderson and Darin Johnson should make early contributions.
“Overall I like what we have,” Wilcox said. “We have more of an attack mentality this year. We’re picking up full court, staying in the lanes and trying to play fast. We have what it takes to surprise some people.”
Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @percyallen.