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Updated Wednesday, November 7, 2012 at 06:01 PM

Washington men hope one of veterans steps into starring role

By Percy Allen
Seattle Times staff reporter

Aside from the "Washington" on the front of their jerseys, what binds the Huskies' quartet of leaders is more significant than team affiliation.

They share similar stories about overcoming doubt, injuries and heartache.

Each has shown flashes of basketball brilliance, although their successes have been overshadowed by failures and shortcomings that's stunted their development.

But all of that is in the past now because here they are — Abdul Gaddy, Scott Suggs, C.J. Wilcox and Aziz N'Diaye — ready to fill some pretty big shoes before Sunday's season opener against Loyola Maryland.

"To be honest with you, I never thought I'd be here this long," said Gaddy, the former McDonald's and Parade Magazine All-American. "But I don't know my future. I don't predict my future. I take it day by day. I come in the gym. Work hard every day and try to be the best I can be to help my team win."

Perhaps no current Husky has had to deal with carrying the weight of expectations as much as Gaddy, who was rated the No. 2 point guard in the nation when he graduated from Bellarmine Prep in Tacoma in 2009.

He started 29 of 36 games for the Huskies as a 17-year-old freshman and admits it was an "overwhelming" experience.

Torn left knee ligaments ended his sophomore season after 13 games, and he vowed to return better than ever.

Ten months after the injury, Gaddy started the 2011-12 opener. He led the Huskies in minutes played (33.9 per game) and assists (182), while ranking second in the Pac-12 with a 2.4 assists-to-turnover ratio.

No one compares Gaddy to John Wall — the No. 1 high-school prospect in 2009 — anymore. Still, Gaddy, a two-year captain, is happy with where he and the Huskies are.

"For me to make it here today, I feel blessed," said the 6-foot-3, 195-pound senior. "I'm a leader on the team and I gave myself an opportunity to be able to win another Pac-12 title and graduate from school and be able to have a chance to pursue my basketball career even further. Not a lot of people get this opportunity."

For Suggs, this season almost didn't happen.

He contemplated returning last season from surgery to repair a broken foot in December after missing seven games. Instead, he chose to redshirt and give his foot more time to heal and preserve his final UW season.

Turns out it was a smart move because he suffered a setback in January and needed to sit out four weeks.

"(I'm) totally healthy, pain-free. That didn't happen until this summer," Suggs said. "So redshirting last season definitely ended up being a good decision."

Suggs, a 6-6, 195-pound shooting guard, arrived in 2008 as the top prep player from Missouri. He played sparingly the first two years before embracing the role as a spot-up shooter.

Suggs ranked third in the conference in three-point accuracy, shooting 45 percent in 2010-11. He led the team with 49 three-pointers and started 10 of the final 17 games.

"I'm the grandpa on the team," said Suggs, a fifth-year senior who turns 23 on Saturday. "I'm ready for it to start. I've been ready since January.

"There's so much I want to do. But mainly it's about winning games and getting better. We do that, then everything else will take care of itself."

If Washington is going to win and win big, most prognosticators believe Wilcox will need to shake the injuries that dogged him during his career and emerge as a star.

"If the team needs me to do that, then I'm ready," he said. "Although I think we have other guys like Abdul and Scott who can step up and be a leader."

Wilcox, a 6-5, 185-pound junior shooting guard, is Washington's leading returning scorer after averaging 14.2 points last season. He is projected at being drafted late in the first to middle of the second round next summer.

Still, there are questions about a balky left leg that forced him to miss three games as a sophomore and didn't allow him to practice in the second half of the season. No one knows if Wilcox will develop beyond being a three-point specialist.

"We're starting to see him emerge as someone who can do many things on both ends of the court," coach Lorenzo Romar said. "He's added a fake, one-step dribble and pull-up. He's taking it to the hole more than ever.

"The biggest improvement I've seen is in his rebounding. He's so much better on the boards, and that's key for us because we need someone to emerge in that department."

N'Diaye, who was voted to the Pac-12 all-defensive team, led Washington in rebounding, averaging 7.3 boards, and ranks eighth on the school's all-time blocks list with 72. He has struggled to emerge as a scoring threat despite shooting 54.3 percent in his career.

Offseason wrist surgery capped a junior season that began with N'Diaye suffering a concussion that forced him to miss an exhibition. He also sat out two games with a knee injury.

Despite offensive deficiencies — he averages 6.1 points — the Huskies are hoping their 7-foot senior center can emerge as a low-post scoring option to complement their firepower on the perimeter.

Given the loss of Terrence Ross and Tony Wroten Jr. — UW's leading scorers and All-Pac-12 players taken in the first round of NBA draft — it's no wonder the defending-champion Huskies were picked to finish fifth in the conference in a preseason media poll.

"In college sports that's a fact of life," Romar said. "Players leave your program. And sometimes, the good ones leave earlier than you would like.

"But we've dealt with this a few times in the past few years. Jon Brockman leaves, and you wonder how you'll ever replace him. Then Quincy Pondexter comes along. He leaves, and you wonder the same thing. Then Isaiah (Thomas) steps up. Now we're dealing with it again.

"But someone will step up."

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

Sunday

Loyola (Md.) @ Washington, 5 p.m., Pac-12 Networks


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