Banchero and UW, where a little talent is a dangerous thing

The top-shelf basketball talent from the Seattle area just keeps coming. A year after Jaden McDaniels became a five-star recruit, coaches from around the country are coveting 6-9 Paolo Banchero of O’Dea High in Seattle, a 2021 prospect that ranks as the No. 2 player in the nation. Among others, that has the interest of schools like Duke, North Carolina, Kentucky, Gonzaga and of course, Washington.

There’s a thick connection to Seattle and the University of Washington. Banchero’s mom Rhonda played at Washington from 1992-95 and is No. 6 on the school career scoring list and No. 8 in rebounding. His dad Mario played football at the UW. And of course, there’s the close culture of basketball players who grew up in the 206; in a recent interview with KING-TV, Banchero made reference to the legion of other players who have made the city one of the wellsprings of basketball talent in the nation.

Only circumstance lends any hint about where Banchero might want to go to school. He hasn’t publicly named a list of finalists (while he has visited the first four aforementioned), and both parents say they aren’t inclined to push him in any direction.

Not that any coaches ever slip a dollop of negative recruiting into their pitch, but for people like John Calipari of Kentucky and Mark Few of Gonzaga, and the longtime head men at Duke and North Carolina, Mike Krzyzewski and Roy Williams, it has to be tempting to point out to Banchero what kind of season the local team is having. Indeed, the 2019-20 UW struggles serve to underscore a much longer, deeper trend at Washington.

Over the years, nobody has frittered away high-end talent like Washington.

The numbers are startling. This is something I researched a few years ago, and with the Huskies bogged down in an eight-game losing streak and looking at a challenge even to get out of the Pac-12 cellar, the subject merits updating.

Back in 2006-07, Washington had seven-foot Spencer Hawes. It started 10-1 and skidded to 19-13 overall and 8-10 in the Pac-10. The Huskies didn’t play in the post-season and Hawes decided to take his gifts to the NBA after one year.

So I looked at specifically that phenomenon: Schools that since 2007, have had a player taken in the first round of the NBA draft, while the school failed to make the NCAA tournament that season.

It’s not a pretty picture on Montlake.

If, as expected, Washington fails to make the NCAA tournament – and now its chance is reduced to winning the Pac-12 tournament – and Isaiah Stewart and Jaden McDaniels get taken in the first round of the draft as widely expected, the Huskies will have had nine such first-round picks who didn’t get to the NCAA tournament that season since ’07.

As we speak, no other school in the country has more than three. That’s a stunning gap in a sport in which the bubble is regularly viewed as soft, and which affords a lot of opportunities to qualify for the NCAAs.

These are the instances at issue, and the Huskies’ post-season destination, since ’07:

2007 – Spencer Hawes (no post-season tournament).
2012 – Terrence Ross and Tony Wroten (NIT semifinals).
2014 – C.J. Wilcox (no tournament).
2016 – Marquess Chriss and Dejounte Murray (NIT second round).
2017 – Markelle Fultz (no tournament).

The phenomenon happens more than you might guess. Since 2007, there have been 70 instances of first-round picks not getting to the Big Dance that season, or about five a year. But if there are five more in June, and the Huskies don’t pull off a miracle run and Stewart and McDaniels are history at the UW, that would be nine of 75 belonging to Washington. For Washington to have more than eight percent of such cases, when there are 75 Power Six conference schools, is jaw-dropping.

Next-most such shortfalls is three by Indiana and Syracuse, UW coach Mike Hopkins’ old school. There are another 10 two-time offenders.

Put Hawes aside, and it’s even more stark. Since 2012, there are six Huskies who fall into this category over a mere eight seasons. Nationally, in that period there are 40 such cases, so the UW owns 15 percent of them. And it’s very likely to jump higher soon.

Then there’s this: The worst-case scenario – no NCAA and departures by Stewart and McDaniels – would mark the third time in that 14-year stretch that it’s happened to a tandem of Huskies the same season. Elsewhere, it’s happened only once, to Kentucky in 2013, and that carries a bit of an asterisk since Nerlens Noel, a first-round NBA selection that year, went down with a season-ending knee injury on Feb. 12.

How possibly to explain this?

This season, the Huskies can look to the ineligibility of guard Quade Green, which is reasonable to a point. But it’s also become a convenient catch-all for a team that had four losses by Jan. 2 with him.

You could also say that because seven (of the potential nine without a Big Dance ticket) are/were one-and-done players, it’s not as much a black mark on the Huskies as it is the NBA procedure of drafting on potential rather than production.

My sense is that more than anything, what did in Lorenzo Romar after a successful start at Washington was his inability to tame the beast that is Seattle-area talent – that is, not only being able to recruit it, but to recruit it selectively, to construct rosters that included it, and ultimately, to coach it.

What Romar did is not Hopkins’ fault, but after a two-year start and nothing but hosannas thrown his way, Hopkins is overseeing a badly underachieving season that evokes problems of his predecessor.

Who knows what Paolo Banchero might do? If his mindset is being one-and-done, he might well conclude that it’s not worth the uprooting to go cross-country, or even across the state, for eight or nine months’ apprenticeship for the NBA. He might decide the local connections he would make going to the UW would be beneficial when he’s done playing basketball. He might also figure he can be the guy who successfully bucks Washington’s lengthy, head-scratching trend.

One thing you can probably count on: He’s going to hear about that history from other coaches.