The most dynamic freshman front court in college basketball makes its debut in Italy and on FloHoops, Aug. 13-22.
Defending Pac-12 Conference regular-season champion Washington whirls through the nation with a new-look roster for 2019-20. Gone are Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Matisse Thybulle and high-ceiling swingman Jaylen Nowell. Veteran cornerstones Noah Dickerson and David Crisp also depart Washington’s first NCAA Tournament roster in seven years.
But with coach Mike Hopkins and his staff landing the nation’s No. 10-ranked 2019 recruiting class, the Huskies begin an intriguing reload in Italy. And at the forefront are the duo of big men Jaden McDaniels and Isaiah Stewart.
Two 5-star prospects, McDaniels and Stewart were both ranked in the nation’s top 10 of the incoming freshman class. Each brings unique skills that should benefit the Huskies immediately.
The rangy McDaniels -- a late signee in May -- is a local product. He led Federal Way High School to a 26-3 record in 2018-19 with averages of 23.2 points and 10.2 rebounds per game. His combination of length at 6-foot-9 and explosiveness make him a natural fit for Hopkins’ spin on zone defense.
A longtime disciple of 2-3 zone guru Jim Boeheim, Hopkins introduced an aggressive approach with his version that thrives on generating turnovers. The Huskies ranked fourth in the nation in percentage of opponent possessions resulting in turnovers, and led college basketball with steals on 13.3 percent of possessions.
At 2.1 steals per game in 2018-19, McDaniels likely has no trouble adapting to Washington’s ball-hawking approach. The shorter shot clocks the Huskies will play with in Italy translate to more opportunities for takeaways. That also spells more offensive possessions for the multifaceted offensive game McDaniels boasts to shine.
McDaniels’ five-star running mate, Stewart, addresses some of the need Washington has on the interior with the loss of Dickerson.
“[Stewart]’s a dynamic player who has an unrelenting work ethic that fits exactly what we are trying to build here at Washington,” Hopkins said upon Stewart’s signing in April, per GoHuskies.com. “He's a difference maker not only on the court but as a leader, a worker and a person. He's going to be a great teammate and he's a proven winner.”
A proven winner is an understatement. Stewart helped anchor prep powerhouse La Lumiere (LaPorte, Indiana) to 29 straight wins in 2018-19, a streak that ended at the GEICO High School Nationals. Before the high school season, Stewart helped Team USA to a FIBA U-18 gold medal.
While the freshmen command much of the billing for Washington’s four-game, nine-day trip through Italy, Hopkins isn’t without veteran presence on the 2019-20 lineup.
The tour sets the tone for Nahziah Carter, a rising junior wing poised to break out in the coming season. Carter’s the most experienced returning Husky, coming off a 2018-19 campaign in which he shot better than 55 percent from inside the 3-point arc. HIs 106.9 offensive rating per KenPom.com metrics ranked second among all Huskies a season ago, behind only Nowell.