UNCASVILLE, Conn. – Senior point guard Abdul Gaddy had made a career out of being a pretty good point guard for the Washington Huskies.
He came of the bench as a freshman, spelling Venoy Overton and Isaiah Thomas. He moved into a starting role as a sophomore, averaging 8.5 points and 3.8 assists before tearing his ACL that January, and followed that up with averages of 8.1 points and 5.2 assists as a junior. Throw in two NCAA tournament trips in those three seasons, and Gaddy has had himself a decent collegiate tenure.
The problem with Gaddy having a ‘decent collegiate tenure’ is that he was supposed to be oh so much more.
A McDonald’s All-American back in 2009, Gaddy was the No. 2 point guard in the class, sitting squarely behind John Wall. By comparison, the No. 2 ranked point guard in the Class of 2008, according to ESPN, was Kemba Walker. In 2010, it was Brandon Knight. In 2011, it was Myck Kabongo. Impressive company.
This season is Gaddy’s final chance to prove that he is capable of living up to those lofty expectations, and it happens to coincide with a year where Washington desperately needs to him to be a star.
Washington head coach Lorenzo Romar may have lost Terrence Ross after last season, but there are still plenty of pieces at his disposal, particularly on the wing. Scott Suggs and CJ Wilcox are both big, athletic wings capable of putting up 20 points on any given night, while sixth-man Andrew Andrews looks like he has the chance to be really good down the road. Aziz N’Diaye anchors the front court, and while he isn’t much more than a shot-blocker and a rebounder, Desmond Simmons has had a solid start to the year, averaging 9.0 points and 7.0 boards through three games.
But it all comes back to Gaddy, the tie that binds.
And never was that more clear than on Saturday night, as Washington knocked off Seton Hall 84-73 in overtime in the semifinals of the Hall of Fame Tip-Off.
In the first half, the Huskies looked utterly dominant. They shot 61.3% from the floor, they scored 49 points and they went into the break with a 16 point lead. And Gaddy? He was sensational, finishing with 14 points, five assists and just a single turnover while shooting 6-8 from the floor. He hit a three. He drove the lane and finished at the rim. He penetrated, drew defenders, and found the open man. He showed off a decent mid-range game.
“He played as good a first half as any guard around, I thought,” Washington head coach Lorenzo Romar said after the game. “When he plays that way he makes our team play at a high, high level.”
And when he doesn’t?
“If no one else steps up, we’re just not that good. We don’t have much ‘superstar’ on our team, so if a couple guys aren’t performing at a high level, there’s not a lot of margin for error.”
That was evident in the second half.
As good as Gaddy was for the first 20 minutes, he was that bad in the second 20. Well, maybe bad is the wrong term; nonexistent is probably more accurate. He took just three shots from the floor. He didn’t score a single point or notch a single assist. He turned the ball over twice, but that’s not really an outlandish number.
Perhaps the biggest sign of Gaddy’s struggles were Washington’s struggles, as they blew that entire 16 point halftime lead. Seton Hall made went on a 31-9 run, eventually taking a 66-60 lead, as the Huskies struggled to get open looks and, at times, to simply get the ball across half court.
And that’s where Gaddy’s importance lies.
It’s not simply the points or the assists; it’s initiating the offense and getting the ball to the right people in the right spots at the right time. It’s facilitation more than simple production. And when he’s doing that effectively, the points and the assists are going to be a by-product.
The Huskies need him to be a leader, to be able to reliable on his consistent production.
It’s the difference between being a tournament team and a team that blows 16 point leads to Big East also-rans.
Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.