Because of his bowlegged gate, part natural and part because both knees were surrounded by plastic-sealed ice chunks, Abdul Gaddy staggered out of the visitor’s locker room of Arizona State’s Wells Fargo Arena like a cowboy dismounted from a long ride.
The dual ice bags wrapped around his knees — the left of which was surgically repaired after he tore the anterior cruciate ligament during an otherwise innocuous practice Jan. 4, 2011 — made him seem older than he is.
But, Gaddy turned 21 a few weeks ago. It’s easy to forget he was a 17-year-old when he hit Washington’s campus as one of the most hyped recruits in the school’s history. Now, he has just three regular-season games left.
Gaddy, of course, didn’t ask for or write any of the initial superlatives that became the weight he would drag behind him throughout his Washington career. And, according to coach Lorenzo Romar, Gaddy’s career did not take the path the coach anticipated.
“I think he’d tell you right away, we didn’t know he’d be here this long, coming in,” Romar said. “Go back to the knee injury, that wasn’t something we predicted. That was a huge setback.”
Gaddy was at his best the season of the knee injury. He was shooting 50 percent from the field, 40.6 percent from behind the 3-point line and 81.8 percent at the free-throw line at the time of the injury, despite a three-game slump prior to it. He averaged 3.8 assists and 1.2 turnovers. Gaddy was the calm to Isaiah Thomas’ thunder on a deep, multifaceted Huskies squad.
Last season and the beginning of this one were a slog. Gaddy’s turnovers this season, especially late in tight games, were incongruous with his prior seasons. Yet, they have been the defining moments of his senior year, during which fans groaned about his play, almost always backtracking to what Gaddy was “supposed” to be.
Of late, he’s playing his best basketball since before the knee injury. His 44.6 percent shooting from the field leads Washington guards and is the highest in his career during a full season.
In his past five games, Gaddy is shooting 54.2 percent and averaging 2.4 turnovers.
The recent crispness of his play was displayed late in the game against Arizona State as the waffling Huskies cling to distant hopes of a late-season run.
Gaddy pulled up and hit a 17-footer over Jahii Carson with 1 minute, 44 seconds remaining. He then drove and kicked to Scott Suggs for a corner 3-pointer that sealed the win. It was optimum decision-making and execution at the most important time.
He’s aware of the criticisms from outside in addition to his own. Through it all, Gaddy stays even.
If taking it “one game at a time” wasn’t already a cliché, he would have made it one this season. He’s not just saying it to say it, however. Gaddy thinks it’s crucial along with two other aspects as he navigates his final season.
“Keeping faith and staying confident,” Gaddy said of his approach. “I’m focused on leading and doing what I can for the team.”
Romar’s public way of being critical is leaving a player without praise. When asked a few weeks ago about why there isn’t a senior having a marquee season, Romar countered that he thought Aziz N’Diaye was playing well. Gaddy and Suggs were both conspicuous in their absence.
Romar has turned to defend Gaddy of late, saying two weeks ago he thought it’s “crazy” for people to “viciously attack” a college player.
This week, Romar said Gaddy’s play weeks ago showed a surge could be coming. It did.
“When you watch Abdul play right now, he’s been enjoying himself a lot more,” Romar said. “He’s really been getting lost in the game.
“Just seems like before there were things that were bothering him. Like he was carrying a heavy load. Lately? He’s just out there playing. It’s been good to see.”firstname.lastname@example.org blog.thenewstribune.com/uwsports @Todd_Dybas