The basketball season has barely gotten underway and Washington's new faces seem to have stolen our attention. We've seen Ryan Appleby and his silky smooth three-point shot, We know what a pest Justin Dentmonbe on defense, screaming at his opponents as they attempt to bring the ball across mid-court, and it's hard not to be impressed with the strength and tenacious athleticism of Jon Brockman in the paint.
But don't sleep on Husky forward Hans Gasser. Gasser still has a lot of work to do if he hopes to play more minutes, but the potential for him to do so is there and he seems to have earned some of the confidence of head coach Lorenzo Romar who said of Hans, "The main thing is he's produced."
With Mike Jensen injured and the recent announcement that freshman Joe Wolfinger will be red-shirting, Gasser could have a breakout year providing some much-needed depth to the Huskies' frontcourt. "I know I still need to improve my defense and rebounding," said Gasser, "I spent most of the off-season working on those areas."
When Hans spent most of the first two years of his career on the bench, after some poor showings on the boards and defensively in his freshman year, it would have been understandable if he would have transferred to another school. Not only was there significant talent at UW, but the style seemed to favor smaller, quicker, more athletic players.
Good things come to those that don't give up and Hans never did. When he was too thin as a freshman, he vowed to put on weight and built himself up in the weight room to over 250 lbs., going into his sophomore year. The added weight didn't work either, as Hans was too slow and he also seemed a bit uncomfortable and looked as if he was pressing.
The 6-foot-9 inch junior forward from Issaquah, Wash, played sparingly last season appearing in 15 games off the bench for the Huskies but played some important minutes when an injury caused former Husky Hakeem Rollins to miss four games. Gasser ended the season averaging 8.3 minutes, 1.3 points and 2.0 rebounds per game. "Last year was frustrating," said Gasser. "I didn't play much. "I played a lot more when Hakeem was injured but I kind of expected that as he got healthy, I'd play less."
So far this year Hans looks much more comfortable and mature on the court. He has shot the ball with much greater confidence and had a career high against Morgan State in the opening game of the BCA Classic of 14 points on 7-10 from the field. Although Gasser did not score in Washington's 114-48 victory over Simon Fraser in the exhibition game before that, he did grab six rebounds in only 10 minutes of play and seemed stronger than last year.
He is in the best shape of his Husky career at 225 lbs. and at his height and with a nice shooting touch, seems to fit in better in this current style of team that has more of a post game on offense, plus is in need of perimeter shooters after that loss of Tre Simmons and Nate Robinson.
His maturity is also a factor as he was brought in for key reserve minutes ahead of highly touted freshman Artem Wallace, because of his familiarity with the type of offense that was being run by Air Force, with all of the back door cuts and high screens which could have confused the freshman. Though he didn't score big points, he made the only 2 shots he took in his comfort range, which can be adequately described as mid-range. He missed one that was nearly a three point attempt.
It was a performance that impressed me because this was not a team that UW was going to roll over. Coach Romar was obviously using him, not because he needed to give everyone some minutes at garbage time, to reward him for showing up for practice everyday, but because he thought Hans was one of the players that would help to win the game.
Gasser is hoping the new season brings increased opportunity and said being in shape has made the biggest difference in his ability to perform well in practice. "I've gotten in a lot better shape with my conditioning", said Gasser. When you're not tired you can rebound better and crash the boards. It seems like much less of a task than it did last season."
"To his credit, he put it on himself to come back in shape. Hans is certainly hungry for playing time," said Romar. "He's still not as far along as I'd like him to be, but he's making good progress."
Even when he doesn't score much, he scores when he's left open in that 12-20 foot range, which has led his team mates to call him the "Mid-range Marvel". He also brings quality, solid minutes to the court and energy, which is a lot of what you want from a good bench player. It takes good supporting players who know their roles to make a good film and the same can be said about the basketball court.
He currently is 2nd on the team in FG% to Jon Brockman at 71.4%, which is a great number considering that all of his attempts have been from the outside. If he can be that dependable to sneak in and knock down 2-4 shots, at a rate of 65-75% to help work a zone, this will be a very large contribution to this team, even if he only scores at around the 6-7 PPG rate he is at currently.
If he can improve his range over the next year, he could be a mature and experienced piece of what could be one of the top front courts in the country, with Spencer Hawes, Joe, Artem and Jon.
"I just want to be more of a contributor and do whatever I can to help the team," said Gasser before the game. "I can't really worry about playing time. All I can do is play hard and things will work out." Not giving up doesn't hurt either.