The Washington Huskies Men’s Basketball Team enters the 2019-2020 season with a lot of hype and expectations following last year.
Recently, the Huskies were picked to finish third in the Pac-12 Preseason Media Poll, as there are a lot of new faces in the mix this year.
After making it back to the NCAA Tournament and advancing to the round of 32 last season, the sky is the limit for the Huskies this season.
Over the summer, the Huskies traveled to Italy for a four-game tour where they went undefeated, winning each game by a 44-point average.
We take a look at the center position; which players will make an impact and which ones departed after last year’s successful season.
BRYAN PENN-JOHNSON (Redshirt Freshman, 7 foot 0 inches, 245 pounds)
RILEY SORN (Redshirt Freshman, 7 foot 4 inches, 270 pounds)
When Washington head coach Mike Hopkins came to Montlake three years ago, one of the biggest schematic tasks to tackle was implementing his 2-3 zone defense. Obviously, Hopkins learned from the best while playing for and coaching with his mentor, Jim Boeheim. In order to make the aggressive 2-3 zone style work, Hopkins needs tall rangy players that can create havoc with their height and long wingspans. At the time, Hopkins didn’t have much height along his frontline, and the rebounding and defense suffered because of it. He immediately made it a priority to fix that issue on the recruiting trail and target taller, quicker and athletic players for his system.
Enter Bryan Penn Johnson…the 7’0” tall, athletic center, that is the perfect prototypical player for the middle spot, on the bottom of the 2-3 zone defense. Last season as a freshman, Penn-Johnson was in the mix to compete for a starting position but was plagued by a foot injury. With the injury, the coaching staff decided it was best to redshirt Penn-Johnson, so he could fully heal his foot and not risk re-injury.
Defensively, Penn-Johnson has all the tools to be an effective shot blocker down low in the paint. He will need to develop a “killer instinct” mindset of owning the glass on the defensive end. Rebounding is going to be a major point of emphasis for Hopkins and the team this season, and it all starts right here. Penn-Johnson will have to adapt to game minutes and learn how to play without hesitation. He will have to learn how to make quick decisions and read when to step forward and defend someone in the paint.
Offensively, Penn-Johnson is going to be a “work in progress”. His best skill set is on the defensive end of the floor, but offensively he is still growing as a player. You will often see him dunk the ball, while finishing “pick-and rolls”. Penn-Johnson is “put-back” type of player who will also be responsible for “cleaning up the garbage” and staying active. You won’t see him take a midrange jumper very often, and most of his shots will come from right around the basket. It’s ok though! The Huskies are loaded offensively, and if Penn-Johnson can provide a huge impact on the defensive end, then he will play valuable minutes this season. He has all the potential to become something very special defensively with his 7’7″ wingspan.
The other center on the roster, who is an intriguing prospect, is Riley Sorn. When we say “project”, it is exactly what Sorn is. When the Huskies invited Sorn onto the team a couple years ago, they felt with his size and being a local kid from Richland High School in Richland, Washington, that at some point he could develop into a productive player. Last season, Sorn redshirted because the one glaring thing that stood out was the need for him to put on some size. This offseason, Sorn bulked up 10-pounds and went from 260 to 270 pounds, which should help with his physicality in the paint. With a year under Hopkins system now, the hope is that Sorn has improved his footwork and coordination to contribute at the Pac-12 level. They don’t need him to score but they want him to take up space at the bottom of the zone and alter some shots with his massive height. If Sorn proves to be productive, look for him to provide occasional spot minutes and give a quick breather for his teammates.
Overall, this position will show itself the most on the defensive side of the ball. Penn-Johnson may be the missing piece to the bottom of the 2-3 zone defense, but he is going to have to earn his minutes. The Huskies already have a ton of scoring firepower on the team at other positions and anything offensively will just be icing on the cake from this position group. Often times this season, Hopkins will choose to go with a smaller, quicker lineup to push the ball up the floor, which will leave this position group off the floor at certain stretches. In the end, it will be nice for Hopkins to have the centers at his disposal and it will be interesting to see how he uses them throughout the season. The potential is there for some quality contributions from this group!
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