All eyes on Fultz as Washington seeks NCAA tourney return
SEATTLE (AP) For the second straight season, all the attention for Washington is on a freshman.
Unlike last year when it was a group of freshmen Washington relied on, this season it's a singular freshman that could end up being the reason the Huskies get back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2011.
No pressure Markelle Fultz.
''In the country, I think he's one of the best (freshmen) coming in,'' Washington coach Lorenzo Romar said.
How far Washington goes this season will largely depend on Fultz, regarded as the most talented freshman to ever walk onto the Washington campus. He comes with buzz and expectations that he'll be a potential top five pick if he decides to pursue the NBA after his freshman season. He's a 6-foot-4 guard with the handle and vision to be a point guard, but the scoring savvy to carry a team offensively.
Fultz is entering a unique situation with the Huskies. They are five years removed from their last NCAA trip with increased heat on Romar for the lengthy absence despite a continued pipeline of talent that last season included Marquese Chriss and Dejounte Murray, who both left after their freshman seasons to become first-round NBA picks.
Talent is not Washington's problem. Molding that talent into a unit able to find enough success on the court has been.
That's what Fultz steps into. There are expectations for him to prove he's worthy of the hype. And there are expectations that he will help his team return to the NCAAs.
''I don't even think about the NBA,'' Fultz said. ''I think when people play like they already made it, they don't play as hard as they can possibly play. They just think everybody is supposed to respect them, they don't have to play defense, stuff like that. I play to win, each play, each possession. I hate losing.''
Surrounding Fultz will be a talented lineup but one devoid of true stars. The loss of Murray, Chriss and senior Andrew Andrews took away 50.7 points per game from last season. Fultz will fill some of that, but others like Matisse Thybulle, Dominic Green, Noah Dickerson and Malik Dime need to transition from being role players into legitimate scorers.
Here's what else to watch with the Huskies, who open Nov. 11 versus Yale:
DO IT ALL: Thybulle was an athlete as a freshman, asked to play defense, grab rebounds and occasionally contribute offensively. His defense will continue to be the priority because of his length and quickness that make him a challenging matchup for most guards. But the scoring will need to increase. Thybulle was Washington's second-best 3-point shooter last season, hitting 36.6 percent.
FRESHMAN WALL: Learning the college game was a struggle for Dickerson. At times he was an unorthodox force underneath, giving the Huskies a needed inside presence. At other times, he was lost and confused defensively, often finding himself on the bench in foul trouble.
Dickerson has dropped between 15 and 20 pounds from last season and hopes to have improved quickness that'll help keep him out of foul trouble.
GREEN MACHINE: No one received more offseason praise for improvement than Green. He showed scoring potential off the bench at times as a freshman, but also a penchant for poor shot selection and shaky defense. That must improve this season with Green being counted on as a likely starter on the wing.
NEW TO TOWN: Among Washington's newcomers, the most help should come on the front line. Junior transfer Matthew Atewe and freshman Sam Timmins are not new to the program. Atewe sat out last season after transferring from Auburn, while Timmons enrolled in school last winter but did not play. Both bring size and depth to the Huskies frontcourt.
SCHEDULING: Washington does not face the most strenuous non-conference schedule, meaning the Huskies must make the most of their few marquee games. Most notable is a Dec. 7 showdown at Gonzaga, the resumption of a four-year series between the in-state foes.