RTC 2009-10 Impact Players – Northwest RegionPosted by rtmsf on November 3rd, 2009
Ed. Note: the previous posts in this series (Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Atlantic South, Deep South, Mid-South, Lower Midwest, Upper Midwest, Mountains and Southwest) are located here.
It’s time for the tenth and final installment of our RTC 2009-10 Impact Players series, the group of cool, wet Pacific states known as the Northwest Region. Each week we’ll pick a geographic area of the country and break down the five players who we feel will have the most impact on their teams (and by the transitive property, college basketball) this season. Our criteria is once again subjective – there are so many good players in every region of the country that it’s difficult to narrow them down to only five in each – but we feel at the end of this exercise that we’ll have discussed nearly every player of major impact in the nation. Just to be fair and to make this not too high-major-centric, we’re also going to pick a mid-major impact player in each region as our sixth man. We welcome you guys, our faithful and very knowledgeable readers, to critique us in the comments where we left players off. The only request is that you provide an argument – why will your choice be more influential this season than those we chose?
Northwest Region (AK, WA, OR, northern CA)
- Matt Bouldin – G, Sr – Gonzaga. As anyone in Spokane or among Gonzaga’s growing national fan base can tell you, most of the talk about Gonzaga this off-season has concerned itself with what the Bulldogs have lost. Understandable, as the excellent Zag firm of Daye, Heytvelt, Pargo, and Downs are a tough bunch to replace, to say the least. Consider also that Gonzaga is bringing in something like 37 freshmen onto this year’s squad, and one can easily conclude that Mark Few finds himself with his most interesting coaching predicament yet. With such an inexperienced squad, what’s the one thing Few needs most? A savvy, intelligent senior leader. Enter Matt Bouldin, a 2010 preseason Wooden Award nominee to absolutely nobody’s surprise. Check these stats from last year: 49.1% from the field, 42.3% from three-point range…but only 13.6 PPG. Even with several other offensive options on his team, you’d expect a shooting guard with those percentages to average more than 13.6 PPG. But, this means that when Bouldin does shoot, it’s usually a good shot in terms of shot selection, something coaches will tell you is one of the real keys to winning at this level, and an incredibly difficult thing to teach. Mind you, those percentages are up from his sophomore season even though he registered more attempts as a junior. Without a doubt, Bouldin’s touches and minutes will increase this season, despite leading last year’s team with 31.7 minutes a game. He might need to get to the line a little more this year, but with his ability to take care of the ball, Coach Few should have no apprehension adding this to Bouldin’s responsibilites, if he chooses. Bouldin’s 2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio was third in the conference (behind two of his teammates!) and is exceptional for a shooting guard. So go ahead, feel sorry for Gonzaga if you must. We know what they lost, and we know Portland might be a fun pick in the WCC. But with a coach like Few, a leader like Bouldin, and a non-conference pressure-cooker like the one Gonzaga has in store, if Portland so much as twitches, Gonzaga will take them down. And look at their NCAA Tournament history. Except for 2007, Gonzaga does best when they get a 10-12 seed and nobody’s looking. Mark Few is spectacular when it comes to keeping numerous talented players happy and, perhaps better than anyone in the country, instilling in all of his players an immense pride in the name on the front of the jersey as compared with the one on the back. When you watch Few’s Gonzaga teams, you can almost feel the love the players have for that uniform. Matt Bouldin possesses this pride just as much as any of his Wooden-list predecessors like Morrison or Dickau. We guarantee you — he will not go quietly.
- Patrick Christopher – G/F, Sr – California. The man with two first names enters his senior season at Cal as the 24th-ranked scorer in the history of Bears basketball. In fact, if Cal plays 35 games this season and Christopher averages 16.0 PPG, he’ll leave Berkeley as the #2 scorer behind only Sean Lampley’s 1,776 points (and quite possibly, his teammate Jerome Randle). Not bad for a lightly-regarded recruit from southern California who arrived on campus as a string-bean under the former administration of Ben Braun. Christopher really hit his stride last season in the first year under new coach Mike Montgomery, contributing 14.5 PPG, 3,8 RPG, and 2.1 APG in just over thirty minutes per game. But it was on the defensive end where Christopher met Monty’s challenge and performed exceptionally well last season, as he upped his steals per game average from 0.5 to 2.1, and was ultimately recognized for his all-around effort on both ends by being voted to the all-conference first team. Like another 6’4ish shooting guard of recent vintage, he also finds time to write poetry, but the only symbolism that Christopher and fellow seniors Jamal Boykin and Jerome Randle are worried about right now is one that involves winning the Pac-10 and going deep into the NCAA Tournament. Despite a very successful 22-win year in 2008-09, Cal fans were left wanting more after losing unceremoniously to Maryland in an ugly shooting first-round matchup (PC was 0-7 from three, and Cal, the best long-range team in America last year, went 7-24 from distance). Christopher briefly toyed with the idea of going pro after his junior year, but he quickly decided to return and Pac-10 foes are not pleased. If he can continue to improve his shot to get it as consistent as it could be (35.8% from three in 09, but the stroke is there), then Cal could absolutely be ready to make its first postseason run since an era where Jason Kidd and Tony Gonzalez were last spotted around Sather Gate.
- Abdul Gaddy – G, Fr – Washington. Abdul Gaddy, a former Arizona commit before the Lute Olson situation exploded, fell into the lap of head coach Lorenzo Romar in Washington. The Huskies were coming off two consecutive disappointing seasons and the program badly needed a spark or change was necessary. The stunning commitment of Gaddy, the Thomas/Brockman inside-outside duo reinvigorating a stalled program and last year’s Pac-10 title all played into Romar keeping his job and the passion of Huskies basketball currently being stronger than ever. These purple-clad diehards are very excited for the first look at their latest gem in the backcourt this season in Gaddy. One of the elite high school guards in the nation, the McDonalds All-American has a feel for the point guard position that is simply unteachable. His decision-making and court vision are those of experienced, four-year guards that have been through the trials and tribulations of a college season. His ability to create shot opportunities should also prove beneficial for Washington and take plenty of scoring pressure off his backcourt buddy Isaiah Thomas. This duo has Washington fans salivating at the possibilities of reaching the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament for the first time since UConn crushed their dreams in Washington, DC, in 2006. The two Tacoma natives, coupled with improving inside play in the absence of Brockman, will determine the Huskies’ fate in 2009-10. Gaddy will start from day one out west and should immediately form one of the strongest backcourts that college basketball can provide this season.
- Jerome Randle – G, Sr – California. Jerome Randle had one of those seasons last year that, if you weren’t a follower of Cal or the Pac-10, you probably hardly even knew about. The 5’10 point guard put up great stats in all the major categories — 18.3 PPG, 5.0 APG, 3.0 RPG — but it was his off-the-charts efficiency stats that really set him apart. He played over 35 minutes per game, hardly ever fouled (2.0 per contest), and scorched the nets from all over the floor — 53.4% from two, 46.3% from three, and 86.3% from the line. Considering that Randle is a sub-six-foot guard without hops that make your ACLs hurt, his shooting percentages in the paint are phenomenal. Ask Nic Wise, the Arizona PG also on this list whom he torched for 31/5; or Derek Glasser, the ASU point whom he lit up for 26/10 — guaranteed that they’ve heard of this blur of a kid from the south side of Chicago. It’s funny how Randle has been fighting for recognition since coming out of high school (he was not rated in the Rivals top 150 players in the class of 2006). Yet here he is, going into his senior season as the lead guard on a Pac-10 favorite, and getting national and regional love in the form of the Wooden and Naismith lists, Pac-10 media and good ol’ RTC. It’s not like anybody could see this coming, either. Randle had serviceable freshman and sophomore years in Berkeley, but what is particularly notable is that his shooting percentages went through the stratosphere in his first year with Mike Montgomery (+7% on both FG% and 3FG%). If Randle can bottle whatever he was feeling last year and bring it back for another round of excellent leadership and scoring efficiency, Cal might just be the team to beat in the balanced Pac-10 this year. More importantly, Randle and his fellow seniors could be primed to make a run into the elusive Sweet Sixteen that no Cal player has experienced since 1997.
- Isaiah Thomas – G, Soph – Washington. The hype surrounding Isaiah Thomas was a result of more than just a distinct basketball name. His electric freshman season reclaimed the glory surrounding Washington basketball that went missing since the departure of Brandon Roy and Nate Robinson earlier this decade. The 5’8 speedster took the reins from the first day of practice in Seattle as the driver of the bus behind Washington’s emergence as a Pac-10 threat and the guy most responsible for saving Lorenzo Romar’s job. Did anyone expect a Pac-10 title? Not at all. In fact, expectations were limited to some sort of noticeable postseason play after their season ended in the Pac-10 Tournament in 06-07 and in the CBI in 07-08. Behind Thomas, Washington miraculously won the conference title and Thomas was crowned Pac-10 Freshman of the Year. The sky’s the limit for the fireball sophomore guard that averaged 15.5 PPG in his debut season at the helm of the Huskies’ offensive attack. While incoming stud Abdul Gaddy may push Thomas to the 2-guard on some occasions, Isaiah still should be the center of their scoring output with highly productive big man Jon Brockman no longer donning the purple. You can’t expect freshmen to be perfect, though, as Thomas only shot 29% from three and averaged a measly 2.6 APG while playing over 28 minutes per contest. It’s entirely possible Thomas could average 20 PPG this season if opposing defenders must respect his outside shooting game and allow penetration opportunities for him, since he’s fast enough to be pondering a walk-on role with the UW football program. Lorenzo Romar would rather Thomas stick to helping his basketball team win back-to-back Pac-10 titles and taking home a new trophy: conference player of the year.
- Dior Lowhorn (MM) – F, Sr – San Francisco. And now, your college basketball trivia question for the day: who is considered to be the only college basketball player in Division I history to have played for two coaches who each have at least 800 coaching victories? None other than our mid-major representative for this region, University of San Francisco senior forward Dior Lowhorn. After a high school career as a Bay Area standout, this gentleman played his freshman season at Texas Tech under a certain Robert M. Knight. He then decided to come back to USF, sat out his NCAA-mandated transfer season, then found himself playing for Eddie Sutton when the coach took the reins at USF in his quest to get over the 800-win mark. He’s now in his second year under former Kansas Jayhawk Rex Walters, still trying to help push USF into the upper reaches of the WCC. The lowdown on Lowhorn is that he’s as potent an inside scorer as you’ll find in the conference, having averaged 20.5 and 20.1 PPG in his sophomore and junior years, respectively. He tried to extend his skill set outwards last season and went from shooting 25.7% from beyond the 3-point arc as a sophpmore to 43.2% last year despite more than doubling his attempts. He’s scored in double-figures in 60 of his 61 games as a Don and, just like legendary USF alum Bill Russell (it would be sacrilege to talk about USF without mentioning Bill Russell at least once), made it to the 1,000-point mark in a mere 49 games, obviously a school record. Scoring, then, is certainly no problem for Lowhorn, to say nothing of his 7.2 RPG he’s averaged at USF. Will we see him at the next level? That depends on whether or not Lowhorn can continue to improve his perimeter play as both a shooter and a defender. At 6’7 and 230 pounds, Lowhorn falls into the dreaded “tweener” category. So, while continuing to play within the team framework and do his best for USF, if he’s going to make the jump to the NBA he has to somehow show that he has the outside shot and the foot speed to hang with lightning-fast NBA guards, since he’s too short to play the four at that level. No matter what happens, USF sure is glad he came home and the program’s chances of breaking out of the WCC doldrums start with him.
Honorable Mention. TJ Campbell, Portland. Landry Fields, Stanford. Kevin Foster, Santa Clara. Steven Gray, Gonzaga. Joe Harden, UC Davis. Calvin Haynes, Oregon St. Adrian Oliver, San Jose St. Quincy Pondexter, Washington. Tajuan Porter, Oregon. Nik Raivio, Portland. Theo Robertson, California. Omar Samhan, St. Mary’s. Roeland Schaftenaar, Oregon St. Robin Smeulders, Portland. Jared Stohl, Portland. Klay Thompson, Washington St. CJ Webster, San Jose St.