Last week, Washington Basketball’s newest recruits, including highly-coveted center Bryan Penn-Johnson, arrived on campus for the UW’s summer LEAP program for incoming athletes. With Penn-Johnson and fellow big man Nate Roberts officially on Montlake, head coach Mike Hopkins gets his first in-depth look at how these two players can improve a once thin front line. It remains to be seen how each player’s skill set will help the Huskies in their quest to win the Pac-12 next season, but both are welcome additions to a team that is starving for quality big men.
Last Season’s “Rotation”
One of Washington’s biggest weaknesses last season was its sheer lack of big bodies on the roster. Noah Dickerson, the team’s best option inside, is only 6-7. That clearly didn’t stop him in 2017-18 as he averaged a career-high 15.5 points per game. Dickerson carried the offense all season, a difficult task considering he is undersized for the power forward position. However, his skill was undeniable as he powered his way through the best big men the Pac-12 had to offer.
Sam Timmins was the tallest player on the team at 6-11. Unfortunately, he only averaged 18 minutes per game as a starter due to his lack of offensive effectiveness. Timmins is a big guy at 265 pounds, and he was mostly asked to just be big and hold down the middle. But at times, he was outmatched by the competition and was taken out for sizable stretches of games. He did average one block per game, helping the Huskies rank 15th in the nation in blocked shots.
Hopkins was routinely forced to keep at least one of them out on the court at all times due to the lack of depth behind them. In some situations, the 6-9 Hameir Wright was asked to hold down the middle of the zone, but Wright is a natural wing player and his skill set is not suited for the inside.
The Huskies finished 11th in the Pac-12 in defensive rebounds and 10th in the conference in offensive rebounds. These are obviously less than stellar figures by any measure. Washington routinely found itself at a size disadvantage and it ultimately sunk the team’s NCAA tournament hopes.
The New Guys
After the debacle on the inside last season, Penn-Johnson and Roberts are welcome additions.
Penn-Johnson is a 7-0, 210 pound center who was a four-star prospect coming out of Wasatch Academy in Utah. He was ranked in the top 100 by both ESPN and Scout, leading Wasatch to a 24-2 record last season. He is incredibly athletic and his 7-7 wingspan allows him to block shots with ease. While he can put the ball on the deck, he will primarily be relied upon to be an imposing defensive force.
Roberts is a 6-11 center out of Brewster Academy in New Hampshire. He was initially recruited as a small forward, but after growing three inches last year, he became a viable option at center. Look for some of that versatility to be on display once the season gets in full swing.
According to 247sports, Hopkins recruited Roberts while still the associate head coach at Syracuse. He continued to stay in contact with Roberts this past year, and this connection ultimately compelled Roberts to choose Washington.
With three players on the roster 6-10 or taller, Washington can now more consistently compete on the inside. But just how much playing time will the new guys get?
Penn-Johnson and Roberts pave the way for Hopkins to use bigger lineups more consistently. With the two of them along with Wright and the 6-7 Jamal Bey, the Huskies can be more physically imposing while starters like Jaylen Nowell and Matisse Thybulle are resting.
Penn-Johnson may find the starting lineup as the season goes along, but don’t expect that to happen immediately. Timmins, a junior, has a year of experience under his belt in Hopkins’ system. However, Hopkins now has an excellent option off the bench if Timmins is slumping.
Roberts is another assurance that the Huskies will always have the inside depth they need.
And in a conference that no longer houses elite big men like DeAndre Ayton and Reid Travis, Washington’s path to the Pac-12 title seems to be a whole lot clearer.