The final chapter
Senior Perris Blackwell (left), C.J. Wilcox, and Connor Smith will be playing their final games of their UW careers this weekend when the UW hosts UCLA and USC.
Senior Perris Blackwell (left), C.J. Wilcox, and Connor Smith will be playing their final games of their UW careers this weekend when the UW hosts UCLA and USC.Photo by Joshua Bessex
C.J. Wilcox started his UW career five years ago as a skinny kid from Pleasant Grove, Utah. Perris Blackwell came along three years later, a transfer from San Francisco looking for a clean slate. Finally, Connor Smith joined them at the start of this season after walking onto his favorite childhood team.
The three seniors of the Washington men’s basketball team all started their UW careers at different times, but they’ll all end them together in the coming weeks. Wilcox, Blackwell, and Smith are playing in their final homestands as Huskies this week after an up-and-down season capping their UW careers.
“It’s been a long process,” Wilcox said. “But [it’s about] just having the mentality of getting better every day.”
The “unassuming assassin”
In true Wilcox fashion, the senior describes probably his grandest moment in a UW jersey with a sly smile and a simple admission: “I was having a pretty good shooting night.”
Yeah, 24 points in 23 minutes on 7-of-10 shooting would be considered pretty good by most standards.
But Wilcox, much like his rise in the UW record books, comes with little fanfare. With a jump shot like his, he doesn’t need it.
“He’s been an unassuming assassin since he’s been here,” head coach Lorenzo Romar said. “It’s great to see the year that he’s having here. He has quietly lit it up since he’s been here.”
Wilcox came to the UW as a sniper with a lethal long-range shot. He still has that, but he’s added more to his arsenal in the past five years. His rebounding steadily improved each year, as has his ability to attack the paint. He’s currently averaging 3.67 free-throw attempts per game, which is up from 0.93 tries in his redshirt freshman year.
Romar said Wilcox has evolved from just simply one of the best shooters in the conference to one of the best guards in the conference, and possibly the nation. He’s showed it in his final year: He’s the UW’s leading scorer, best shot-blocker, best free-throw shooter, and best 3-point shooter.
His improvement has boosted him into the top ranks of the UW’s record books. He owns the school’s record for 3-point baskets, and he’s the second-leading scorer in school history, having passed 21 people in this season alone, including greats like Jon Brockman, Brandon Roy, and Quincy Pondexter.
“It’s definitely not something that when I came in I thought was going to happen,” Wilcox said of becoming the UW’s second all-time leading scorer. “As I passed every person, it became more and more real that I am one of the better players to ever go here. It’s still tough to think about it because the season’s still going on, but I think down the road, I’ll be able to look back and say, ‘Yeah, that was pretty special.’”
It was always part of Wilcox’s plan to be here this year. It was a process he laid out with his father and Romar when he was just starting his UW career. He flirted with the NBA at the end of last season, but came back to the UW for his fifth year to finish what he started that day against the Bruins.
He considers his second-half outburst against UCLA during his redshirt season as his greatest memory from his five years on Montlake.
With one homestand left, and what he hopes will be a couple of postseason games, Wilcox hopes he can make a few more of those memories.
“Every game is a new experience,” Wilcox said. “Every moment, I just try to soak it in and make it as special as possible.”
The season was only 94 seconds old when it completely changed for Blackwell. It happened in the season opener when Jernard Jarreau planted awkwardly to go up for a layup and couldn’t get up after he came crashing down in a heap.
Suddenly, Blackwell was the UW’s only post player. He was for about two months while the Huskies waited for the return of Desmond Simmons and Shawn Kemp Jr. It wasn’t something he asked for when he came to the UW from San Francisco two years ago, but it was something he took on regardless.
“I was pretty stressed out,” Blackwell said. “I just tried to stay confident and play through it and know that adversity was going to come and just to work through it.”
Blackwell transferred from USF after he was an All-WCC honorable mention his junior year. Although his time with the Huskies was short, having only seen the court for one year after sitting out last season due to NCAA transfer rules, Romar has seen a sizable impact from the senior.
“[With] Perris, it’s gone by so quickly,” the head coach said. “He has battled for us this year. At times he’s been the lone big out there just scrapping.”
He is the UW’s leading scorer in the frontcourt and started 25 consecutive games after the season opener. That streak ended when the Huskies went to Oregon two weeks ago, and this time, Blackwell did ask for it.
After the Huskies lost four of five, Blackwell talked to the coaching staff about coming off the bench. It was something he did at USF, and he thought it would help the team.
In his first game off the bench since the season opener, he scored 17 points in the UW’s loss to Oregon. That was the most points he has scored since Dec. 27 against Mississippi Valley State.
It was a change, but by now, Blackwell is quite used to change.
Although he is not one to have brought in many points for the Huskies, Smith has brought in plenty of laughs. His teammates call him the one of the funniest guys on the team. For the Wenatchee, Wash., native, that’s at the very least what he wanted to do when he walked onto the team earlier this summer.
“I was looking for just being part of this team and being able to come to practice and work and bring a positive attitude and have fun,” Smith said. “[I wanted to] just be a good influence on the team.”
Smith played basketball at Wenatchee High School before coming to the UW, but purple and gold ran through his veins long before he officially put on his UW jersey. His father, Al Smith, was a three-time letterman for the Huskies from 1974-1976.
When he came to the UW, he put basketball behind him briefly, but couldn’t shake it completely, which was behind his decision to hit the gym this summer with hopes of joining the team.
“Half of [my decision] was setting a goal for myself and working hard until I achieved it,” Smith said. “The other half of it was just missing basketball and missing the culture and the competitiveness.”
He has played in five games this season and scored his first career basket at Oregon State on Feb. 22 in the final minutes of the UW’s rout of the Beavers. Before that game, Wilcox, who is often Smith’s roommate on the road, was talking to his teammate about what would happen if Smith did get onto the court in a competitive game situation. Wilcox said Smith told him he “wouldn’t do anything spectacular, but I wouldn’t hurt us either.” As predicted, Smith’s first career points came in unassuming fashion, after he got an offensive rebound and made a layup for two points.
When the ball swished through the net, the UW bench erupted in celebration.
In Smith’s case, a layup can be worth a lot more than just two points.
Reach Sports Editor Thuc Nhi Nguyen at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @thucnhi21
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