Coming off their loss to the San Diego State Aztecs in the second round of the 2016 NIT, the Washington Huskies turned their attention towards the 2016-17 season. With talented young players on their roster, fans were excited about the possibilities for next season and beyond.
Yes, the team was losing star guard Andrew Andrews to graduation, but others were coming in to pick up the pieces. The Huskies have Markelle Fultz, the 2nd-ranked shooting guard in the Class of 2016, coming into the program for next season, which would give the back court a big boost.
Fultz was a highly-coveted recruit, but choose Washington over 22 other programs.
Fans were excited about the future, but were also cautious of becoming too optimistic. With two top-tier talents on their roster who could leave for the bright lights of the NBA Draft at any time, fans were preparing for the worst while keeping an open mind.
When the dust settled on the 2015-16 season, it didn’t take long for their marquee freshmen to make a decision. Marquese Chriss and Dejounte Murray opted to forego their remain years of NCAA eligibility and enter the 2016 NBA Draft.
Washington fans feared the worst-case scenario, and it came true. Both players announced that they are signing with agents, officially ending their collegiate career after just one season.
As the season progressed, the attention surrounding Chriss steadily increased as he became more comfortable in the NCAA and started to showcase his talents on the hardwood. He finished the season averaging 13.7 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks per game while shooting 53% from the floor and 35% from three point range.
He has the athleticism and jumping ability that will catch the attention of fans and scouts alike right off the hop. Chriss can play in the low block, and stretch the floor out past the three point arc with his shooting ability. At 6’9” and 225 pounds, he would be a nice stretch-four at the next level.
The big knock on his game during his freshman year was his foul trouble. He had a tendency to over-commit on the defense end and pick up unnecessary fouls. He fouled out 15 times on the year, and averaged just 24.9 minutes per contest.
Despite the foul trouble, the progress that Chriss showed during the season has NBA teams loving what they see. He has the tools to be successful at the next level, and could be a lottery pick come June 23rd, 2016.
As for Murray, he too came into his own as the season progressed, saving some of his best performances for last. Across his final four games, he scored 20+ points three times, including a 30-point performance against the Long Beach State 49ers in the opening round of the NIT.
Murray averaged 16.1 points, 6.0 rebounds, 4.4 assists, and 1.8 steals per game. He was the team’s second-leading scorer, trailing only Andrews.
He showed that he has the ability to hit a wide variety of shots around the basket, stepping out to hit a long range jumper every now and then as well. Look for the 6’5” guard to be a late first-round selection.
When both players came to Washington, the coaching staff and administration thought that they could get more than just one year out of them. In the end, that was not the case, and the Huskies are left searching for ways to fill the gaping holes in their lineup.
Andrews, Chriss, and Murray were the top three scorers a season ago for the Huskies, with Andrews being the 3rd-leading scorer in school history. Pressure will be put on Fultz right from the outset as the Huskies will look to end their five-year NCAA Tournament drought.
Coach Lorenzo Romar is confident in the group he has returning, but the team and fans alike will have to take a ‘wait-and-see’ approach to the 2016-17 season.
Without question, the departure of both Chriss and Murray leaves Washington fans and basketball fans as a whole all asking the same question.