Abdul Gaddy tussled on the floor, attempting to hold onto the ball he just dove for. Whistles blew, a small crowd formed, but Gaddy would not give up the ball.
That would not have happened his freshman season. Post-game, the Huskies’ sophomore point guard admitted as much.
“That wouldn’t have been me,” Gaddy said. “I think I’ve taken on that whole toughness thing. I’ve talked to (Coach Lorenzo) Romar, just saying you have to take on a tougher deal. I think that play showed it.”
Seeing Gaddy put grind behind the shine against Eastern Washington should inspire the Washington basketball wonks.
Touted is an understatement for Gaddy, a talented young victim of our hyperbolic society. Folks in the ranking business placed Gaddy just behind John Wall when each departed high school. Wall was the NBA’s No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 draft. Gaddy is finally 18 years old and progressing.
Flashes came against Eastern. The point guard hit three 3-pointers, just one short of his total from last season. He stepped into a pull-up jumper, finished with his off-hand, delivered the basketball on point. The latter two were known elements. The jump shooting? More epiphany.
Gaddy switched his pre-practice jump shot opposition. Last season, assistant coach Raphael Chillious used his left-hand stroke to often beat Gaddy. This year, Gaddy tangles with another lefty, Lorenzo Romar, and claims shooting superiority.
Yet it’s Gaddy diving for a loose ball, taking a charge or swiping a rebound that is the most distinct change early in the season. Last year, Gaddy’s hype lingered over him like a flashing downward arrow. Opponents wanted to kick his high-ranked behind, and, often, would.
He was pushed around. At 6-foot-3, 195 pounds, Gaddy’s frame should not have allowed such defeats. It did. His brain took a beating as much as his body, causing Romar to leave him in the starting lineup for fear of further ego damage should Gaddy be removed.
Gaddy cut 10 pounds over the summer, says he feels quicker in mind and feet.
“I do feel like a different player,” Gaddy said. “I know the whole system better, I feel like I can flow a lot better in the game.”
It was also his second summer of dealing with teammates Isaiah Thomas and Venoy Overton.
Thomas messed with Gaddy at open runs when he defended him. “Let Gaddy shoot!” Thomas is also Gaddy’s most intense advocate.
Overton, who knows he would be starting if not for Gaddy, hounded him as if the Pac-10 title was on the line.
Thomas and Overton yank the ball away during tieups. They strut with an inner basketball killer. Gaddy is working on it, as exemplified by his ambition against Eastern.
“If he had took it from me, I would just let him know that he’s more physical than me and tougher than me,” Gaddy said. “I get that from Venoy and Isaiah in practice. Whoever gets it, you have to hold on to it until you get it fully. I just learned that from them guys.”
Gaddy’s not the first to enroll in Toughness 101. Washington coach Lorenzo Romar predicates his program on grit. It’s claws out defense and determined rebounding. Romar rattles off Robinson, Conroy, Jones, Brockman and Overton. They arrived defined.
“They didn’t have to learn toughness from day one,” Romar said. “A lot of other freshmen do. All-Stars in the NBA, when they first get into college, have to learn that toughness part.”
Romar reminds Quincy Pondexter graduated as one of the top roughians in the conference, yet arrived as a spindly wing player.
Now Gaddy gets to add to his no-look passing and oooh dribbling. Starting on Monday in Maui, there will be a line of guards desperate to bust him up. It will be a season-long challenge for him to hold it together.