It's not very often that a uniquely talented individual that stands 6-foot-6 gets overlooked. But that has been the case for Brandon Roy. Partially obscured last year behind seniors Will Conroy and Tre Simmons and the NBA dunk champ-to-be Nate Robinson, Roy was slowed by a knee injury that limited his numbers and his preseason buzz. But with his second consecutive Pac-10 Player of the Week award, the Garfield grad is finally getting his due. The senior guard will play at Edmundson Pavilion for the final time this weekend as the conference title and Player of the Year vote hang in the balance.
As in previous campaigns, Roy played a complementary role to begin the season as the Huskies broke in two freshmen starters and his fellow seniors adjusted to new roles. Bobby Jones had to find his way from a more perimeter place, Jamaal Williams was a first-time starter at the UW, and Mike Jensen's shoulder was in a sling. Roy had worn a number of hats in his first three years, but now he found himself in the role of big brother, trying to build the team's confidence with a pass-first approach. In the first 10 non-conference games, the Sportscenter junkie created highlights for others by leading the team in assists six times.
"Brandon is such a servant (to the team's needs)," coach Lorenzo Romar said Tuesday. "He wants to make sure everyone is doing okay. I think that's why we haven't seen him take over like this in the past because there were others capable of doing big things and he deferred to others at times. Well, this year he now understands that it's his turn to assume a bigger role. He knows that this is what we need him to do."
Roy gave notice to those who may have overlooked his pre-injury production with an eye-popping performance the first weekend of the conference schedule. He displayed his improved range by hitting 5-of-5 3-pointers and posting a career-high 35 points versus Arizona State. Two days later against Arizona, the defending conference champions, Roy riffled in another 35 points, with 4-for-6 shooting from behind the arc, on top of 11 rebounds and four assists. But he made the most lasting impression with two dramatic, circus-worthy treys to force the first AND second overtimes. The 96-95 loss, in which he and three other Huskies fouled out, was the only thing that prevented him from taking home the Player of the Week honor for the first time this season.
"I've always felt like since we've been here that he's been our best player," said Romar, in his fourth year as the Husky head coach. "Regardless of who's been on the team, since we've been here Brandon has been our most talented player, our most complete player. And it's just now happening that this year the nation is beginning to see how good a player he is. I don't even know if here locally everyone understood how good a player Brandon Roy was."
Two months into the conference schedule, Roy has scored 19 or more points in 12 of 14 Pac-10 games as the Huskies have rebounded from the three-game slide to move into third place, a game behind the leaders. His points have come from every angle, on drives and dunks, post moves and long bombs. Yet scoring is just the start of the story. He's averaged more than seven rebounds over the last five games and led the Huskies in assists the last three contests. He also leads the team in blocked shots and is second in steals.
In the victory over No. 13 UCLA on Feb. 11, Roy forced the Bruins to stop him and when their best option was to foul him, he hit 13-of-16 free throws. But his biggest impact was in forcing Jordan Farmar into a seven-turnover, 2-of-13 afternoon—one of several instances when Roy has cancelled the opposition's catalyst. He fed Jon Brockman for a last-minute dunk and put an exclamation on the win by rejecting Farmar's game-tying attempt at the buzzer.
With a couple of days to recover from the setback, UCLA coach Ben Howland gave BRoy a glowing review, insisting that the UW guard should be considered for several honors.
"I absolutely love him. I tell all the pro guys how good he is," Howland said on Valentine's Day. "He does it all. He's really improved his shot. He's a great defender, outstanding passer, has a great game facing the basket and off the bounce, and is a great post-up player.
"He could be playing for the Sonics right now as much as playing for the Huskies."
Last Saturday's near triple-double at Oregon State (25 points, eight rebounds, nine assists) placed Roy in the thick of Pac-10 Player of the Year race, if not in a slight lead. Two challengers come to town this weekend in the form of Stanford's Matt Haryasz, the Player of the Week twice in January, and Leon Powe, the Cal forward who has a slight lead over Roy in the season-long scoring numbers (20.1 to 19.5). The Stanford center's stock has faded slightly as the Cardinal has lost three of the last four games, while Powe hung tough with 30 points and 10 rebounds in Cal's defeat of Arizona. The Bears' bruiser had 23 and 10 as Cal was upset by ASU in Berkeley last Saturday.
While Powe's power numbers are impressive—he leads the conference in rebounding (10.5 rpg)—Roy's versatility gives him an advantage. In Pac-10 games, Roy leads the conference in scoring (22.6 to Powe's 19.9) and assist/turnover ratio (2.03). The UW guard is also ninth in rebounding (6.1), fifth in steals (1.36), and seventh in FG percentage (.507) and 3-point FG percentage (.438). Powe doesn't rank in the top 10 in any category other than points and boards.
"He's just having a phenomenal year, not just in one or two areas, but all across the board," said Romar, who used a Magic Johnson analogy last week to illustrate the variety of ways BRoy can beat you.
Romar acknowledged that the scoring numbers of J.J. Redick and Adam Morrison, not to mention the records of Duke and Gonzaga, will be hard to overcome in the national Player of the Year voting. But he reiterated the merit of his selfless star for All-America consideration.
"Brandon Roy is as complete a player as anyone in the country, in my opinion," Romar remarked. "When I say that, I don't feel that I'm being biased. When we talk about who out there in the country—at 6-foot-6 now, not 6-11—rebounds at a high level, scores at a high level, passes at high level, defends at a high level, there aren't a whole lot of those guys out there. He's a tough cover for the opposition."
Using only numbers to measure Roy's impact on the Huskies is like describing the Sistine Chapel by simply mentioning the number of colors Michelangelo used. His coach has praised him for his insight and tutoring, as well as his calming effect on the team. His teammates have praised his positive nature and encouragement, especially after the losses at Cal and Stanford. Williams, who has the added perspective of playing in two programs, believes Roy has answered any skeptics, including himself.
"Coming into the season, I would have questioned whether or not he was vocal enough to be a leader and take charge of this team the way Will Conroy did," said Williams, the team's second leading scorer. "He's been a great vocal leader and leading us when we're down and coming up and making big shots when we needed him to."
Jensen, the fifth-year senior who has played with everyone from Doug Wrenn to NateRob, believes his quick-to-laugh teammate is one of the most serious talents during his conference tenure.
"I think that Brandon is hands-down the Player of the Year in the Pac-10. He's just done so much for our team," said Jensen. "Without him we wouldn't be where we're at, basically. I don't think anyone else is that important to their team is he is to us."
Roy's scoring average is the highest at the UW since Christian Welp, the last Husky to win Player of the Year, averaged 20.8 for the 1987 squad. His first score versus Stanford will put him over the 1,300-point mark for his UW career and he needs just 28 points to pass assistant coach Paul Fortier for 13th on the school's scoring list. With any luck, he will be on an even shorter list of UW players to see action in three NCAA Tournaments.
Not that the Huskies are taking anything for granted. With three games remaining versus tournament contenders, each with a P.O.Y. candidate, the team is aware of how much is riding on the final two weeks.
"They always want to give the MVP to the team that wins the league," Jensen said. "I think it would be a shame if we got second place and he didn't get the trophy just because of that."
The Husky leader has been a stalwart off the court as well, with a refreshingly forthcoming attitude towards the press in an era of distorted egos. He didn't dodge the question when I asked him what would decide the Player of the Year race.
"I think a big part of that is just how well our team finishes and how well I do individually and how well I do to help the team win," said Roy. "I feel like if I go out there and perform well and try to just keep playing with the energy I've been playing with the last couple weeks, I think I'll be fine. Leon Powe has been doing a really good job and I think there's a couple guys in there that have been doing a real good job too. But I can't worry about those guys. I just worry about Stanford and trying to perform to the level that can help this team get a win, first against Stanford, then hopefully against Cal."
Regardless of the outcome, the Roy-al winners are the Husky fans, who have had the good fortune to witness one of the greatest combinations of talent, basketball IQ, and selfless play in Washington history.