Beach's Bits - Exhibition Thoughts

How did the young pups do Wednesday? (Dawgman.com)

SEATTLE - As exhibition games go, the Huskies' 2013 debut pretty much went as expected. After a sluggish start, Washington methodically dismantled the smaller Central Wildcats 95-65 Wednesday night, and revealed some exciting new wrinkles long absent with the program.

The Huskies revamped lineup, marked the debut of six new players. Two of them started: Freshman Nigel Williams-Goss and senior transfer Perris Blackwell, while sophomore transfer Gilles Dierickx, junior college transfer Mike Anderson and freshman Darin Johnson all entered the game within the first five minutes. While it will be weeks or even months before we can begin to assess the newcomers' true impact, it didn't take long for Blackwell and Williams-Goss to show just how potent they can be.

After shaking off some early jitters, the Huskies quickly pulled away behind the superb play of Perris Blackwell, who lived up to every ounce of his pre-season billing. The hulking senior quickly racked up eight points before heading to the sidelines, ending the evening with a team-high 21 points. But that was expected - the coaching staff has been raving about his offensive abilities for 18 months.

Blackwell was as good as advertised, but it was the play of the other front court players that really raised eyebrows.

Jernard Jerreau affirmed the coaching staff's decision to insert him into the starting lineup with his eye opening play. The slender forward was a stat sheet stuffer, tallying 17 points, nine boards, five assists, three blocks and a steal. Most encouragingly, he did the bulk of his damage in the paint, using his length and athleticism, combined with a soft touch, for easy buckets and emphatic dunks. His interior passing was equally impressive, finding slashing teammates for easy baskets. He also competently brought the ball up the floor on multiple occasions, drawing on his experience running the point as a youngster growing up in Louisiana.

Junior Shawn Kemp Jr, who is recovering from an undisclosed illness that caused him to lose over 20 pounds, contributed nine points, including a couple of emphatic put-back dunks.

Dierickx was another welcome surprise. The wiry 6-foot-11 sophomore showcased an impressive array of skills, including some crafty interior passing, solid post moves, impressive shot-blocking instincts and a refreshingly polished free throw stroke. He also buried a jumper from the top of the key and appeared confident and composed at both ends of the floor. His stat line of four points, four rebounds, three assists and three blocks are hopefully a harbinger of things to come after it was revealed that junkyard dawg Desmond Simmons will miss most of non-conference play due to a knee injury.

The backcourt was more of a mixed bag, and truth be told, the best guard on the floor wasn't wearing a Husky uniform. That honor belonged to the Wildcats' Mark McLaughlin, who absolutely torched the Washington defenders at every turn, scoring a game high 30 points.

C.J. Wilcox looked much the same as last year, slowly shaking off the rust from an off-season recovering from foot surgery. He had a average shooting night him, connecting on 7-14 from the field and finishing with 16 points, but should thrive this season with an improved front court taking some of the defenders' attention away from him.

Williams-Goss didn't disappoint in his Husky debut. After a slow start, the former McDonald's All American steadily improved as the game progressed, canning his first three-point attempt while quietly working his way to 16 points. The touted freshman was also the team's vocal leader on the floor, enthusiastically barking orders and directing traffic in an efficient 20 minutes of play.

Sophomore Andrew Andrews didn't have nearly the same success, enduring a rough first half where he struggled with finishing at the cup and generally made poor decisions with the ball in his hands. He settled down as the game progressed, and did an admirable job staying in front of the speedy Wildcat guards, but never got untracked offensively, scoring just five points on the night on 2-8 shooting.

Junior Hikeem Stewart played well in limited minutes, especially on the defensive end and in transition, though it didn't translate to the box score.

Not surprisingly, the other newcomers struggled at times. Anderson was a physical presence but consistently got lost on both ends of the floor. In 18 minutes of work, he scored five points but did manage to grab six rebounds as the Huskies outrebounded Central 52-33. With Simmons out for a while, Anderson will probably be guaranteed minutes if he continues to rebound like he did Wednesday.

In true freshman fashion, Johnson struggled offensively but made up for it on the defensive end, where he wasn't nearly the disaster some had predicted. He's athletic and can get to the basket, but needs to finish once he gets there.

Fellow freshmen Jahmel Taylor misfired on his two shot attempts but put his quickness to good use on defense.

Generally you can't put much stock in this exhibition game. It was Central Washington after all, but there are a number of conclusions that can be drawn from the game.

First off, the front court is dramatically improved. The impact of Blackwell can't be understated. His addition should give the Huskies their most productive front court since the dynamic duo of Spencer Hawes and Jon Brockman in 2007. Jerreau's productivity was equally impressive, though maybe not as easy to replicate. He may not put up those kind of numbers every night against D1 forwards, 12 and six a game seems like a reasonable expectation and would far surpass the productivity from that position in recent years.

The play of the back-ups was just as encouraging. Kemp's scoring prowess is no secret and should continue to grow as he recovers physically. Dierickx, on the other hand, gives the Huskies a new layer of skilled depth at the forward position they haven't had before.

Guard depth was a huge problem last season, and early indications are that they'll be improved in that regard, even if its going to take some time. There's talent and athleticism off the bench, but it's raw, undisciplined and not quite ready for prime time. While the Huskies appear to be in good hands with Williams-Goss and Wilcox, Andrews didn't do anything to indicate he's ready to take the leap between year one and year two the Husky coaching staff would expect. And they need him.

Based on this performance, Stewart would seem to be the most ready to contribute off the bench, though his offensive upside is still very limited. The maturation of Anderson and Johnson will be absolutely critical to the team's growth.

The Huskies were completely overwhelmed by McLaughlin. He's good, but not that good, and the Dawgs will face a steady stream of standout guards just like him throughout the season. If they can't do a better job of staying in front of bigger wings, they're going to be in trouble. The Pac-12 is loaded with them.

The new defensive rules turned out to be much ado about nothing. Other than Johnson, who was whistled for two hand-checking fouls, the free throw shooters never materialized. That may change Sunday in the season opener against Seattle University, but based on Wednesday night's game it wasn't a factor.

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