The Washington Huskies, ranked 17th by the AP and 16th by the ESPN/USAToday polls, will open their season hosting the Pepperdine Waves in the Travelers Basketball Classic on Sunday. The season opener is also expected to be the eagerly anticipated collegiate debut of highly touted freshman Spencer Hawes, a seven-foot center from Seattle Prep High School. Hawes sat out of Washington's 108-74 exhibition victory over division II Saint Martin's on Nov. 3 recovering from arthroscopic surgery on his right knee.
In addition to Pepperdine, the three-day basketball tournament, beginning at 4:30pm will also feature the University of Northern Iowa and Nicholls State, three teams Washington has never played. Sunday also marks the first time Romar will face his former team since taking over as Husky coach in 2002. Romar coached the Waves from 1996-1999.
Now in his fifth season with the Huskies, Romar will guide Washington into competition with plenty of room for experimentation. Not only does Romar have the luxury of a bona fide center in Hawes, He also begins this year's campaign with an athletic backcourt and long-range accuracy. Justin Dentmon, a sophomore from Carbondale, Ill will likely anchor the point, but Romar has a duo of guards who aren't shy about shooting the basketball. In Washington's win over Saint Martin's, junior Ryan Appleby went 5-8 from beyond the arc and newcomer Adrian Oliver from Modesto Christian High School in California also sank a pair of three pointers while finishing the game with 20 points. In addition to Appleby and Oliver, freshman forward Phillip Nelson from McNary High School in Keizer, Ore. is also a dangerous three-point threat.
Romar's frontcourt should also be bolstered this year by a healthy Harvey Perry and energetic freshman forward Quincy Pondexter. Pondexter grabbed 13 rebounds and scored 18 points in 26 minutes in his first game as a Husky.
Pepperdine will open its season with a new coach Vance Walberg, who spent four successful seasons at Fresno City College before joining the Waves. Pepperdine finished last season with a 7-20 overall record. In addition to a new coach, Pepperdine's roster features eight newcomers. Freshman forward Blake Wallace is Pepperdine's only recruit. The other new faces are four-year transfers Michael Hornbuckle, Rico Tucker, and Jason Walberg. Hornbuckle and Tucker will be redshirts this season. The Waves roster also features walk-ons Tyler Carr from Moorpark College, freshman Shawn Cox from Kneeland, Calif, junior Shane Griffin from Phoenix, Ariz., and freshman Vuk Vojinovic of Santa Monica, Calif. Sophomore Michael Gerrity who averaged 14.1 points for the Waves last season will be unable to play Sunday because of a foot injury.
The Northern Iowa Panthers, who have appeared in the NCAA tournament the previous three years, return three-starters from a year ago including senior forward Grant Stout who averaged 11.8 points and 8.9 rebounds per contest. Junior Eric Coleman and senior Brooks McKowen are also expected to be regular starters for the Panthers.
Northern Iowa will play Nicholls State in the tournament opener before competing against Washington on Tuesday night.
Nicholls State is coached by J.P. Piper. The third-year coach is coming off a 9-16 overall record. The Colonels finished 10th in the Southland Conference with a record of 5-11. Stefan Blaszczynski is the Colonels' most consistent player averaging 16.4 points and 6.9 rebounds per game last season. The Colonels will face Washington on Monday followed by Pepperdine on Tuesday afternoon.
The tournament opens with Northern Iowa and Nicholls State at 4:30 before the Huskies take the court against the Waves.