Monday, July 11, 2011

Shawn Kemp, Jr. To Washington: What It Means

Getting from high school to college has been a circuitous process for Shawn Kemp, Jr. After originally signing with Alabama for their 2009 recruiting class, he failed to qualify academically. He then switched to Auburn, and joined their 2010 class, but failed to qualify academically again. Now he's signed with Washington, for their 2011 class. And he's already being criticized as being overweight and out of shape, and he'll have to work himself into playing shape over the next few months. Even his father was in the NBA for quite a few years before falling too badly out of shape.

I don't think anybody expects Kemp to be a star right off the bat, but he will be useful as an athletic body in the paint, and as depth. Washington returns Darnell Grant and Aziz N'Diaye, who were two of their three best rebounders last season, and two of the three regular players over 6'6" (Matthew Bryan-Amaning, who graduated, was the other).

Lorenzo Romar had already inked two bigs to his 2011 recruiting class - Jernard Jarreau and Martin Breunig - but both are seen as raw projects, and I don't think it's fair to expect too much from either one right away. And that's where Kemp comes in, because I think he should be able to play 15-20 minutes per game, playing a big role on the boards and in the paint.

Washington's strength next year will, of course, be in the backcourt. Abdul Gaddy, who was regarded by some as the top point guard in the 2009 class (you might remember the other top point guard in that class: John Wall), will be back from injury, and between he and 2011 superstar recruit Tony Wroten, Jr. the team should be in good shape at the point. And at the 2 and 3 spots the team is loaded with athletic scorers: Terrence Ross, CJ Wilcox, Scott Suggs and 2011 recruit Hikeem Stewart being the best. The Huskies rarely run much of their offense through the paint, but an athlete like Kemp could be key.

Washington has been supremely talented throughout almost all of Lorenzo Romar's tenure, and the question has always been why the team seems to always underperform the sum of its parts. And that's particularly going to be an issue this coming season when I no longer think Washington will be the most talented team in the Pac-12. In my view, Arizona is clearly more talented (and is a dark horse Final Four threat), and I think I'd also take UCLA's roster over Washington. In my 2011-12 Pac-12 preview I picked Washington State to finish third in the final standings, dropping the Huskies to fourth. I have Washington making the NCAA Tournament, but just barely.

In my opinion, the Kemp signing potentially pushes Washington into third place in the Pac-12, and it puts just a little bit more space between them and the NIT. I'll be surprised if they're not still on the bubble when we enter March, but I do think that in the end they'll be back to the Dance.

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