Last, but cetainly not least, in our series of player profiles for this season is Nick Witherill. Witherill is fairly well-known from my standpoint, as I wrote a Cougfan article centered around him last April.
Shameless self-promotion aside, Witherill is an intriguing player for a number of reasons. First, he committed to WSU in 2006. As in, ancient history 2006. A time before the Cougars were a tournament team and the Husky fans were starting to compare their program to the likes Duke, North Carolina, Kansas, and others. (It was just as ridiculous then)
Witherill is also your classic Dick Bennett player, who just happens to be playing under Tony today. His coach at Gilbert High School in Arizona said:
“He came from a situation [Saguaro High] where he shot the most, scored the most, but he's been team-oriented and selfless, trying to make us a better team. He deserves a lot of credit for us being good."
And there you have it: he's a scorer if you need one (16.9 ppg in high school), but can also play D and get you a few assists. If you watch him play, you'll be instantly impressed by his composure. He is one of several WSU freshmen who don't look like freshmen out on the court. He handles the ball well, doesn't get rattled by tight defense, and can make a pass or shot within the offense.
He's also vital to the future - remember, next year the Cougars will return only one upperclassman guard. That being Nikola Koprivica, who is in some ways more forward than guard. And that's when Witherill's best chance to make an impact will arise. He won't be the offensive player Klay Thompson or Mike Harthun will. He could, however, pass and defend his way into the role of a starting or backup point guard. If he turns out to be a true shooting guard he may find himself buried a little deeper on the depth chart.
Even though Witherill was supposed to be a late bloomer, Tony's decision to pull his redshirt right off the bat says a lot. Witherill has gone from recruiting class sleeper to potential rotation mainstay starting in 2009-10. That's not to say he'll start next fall, but he'll certainly need to play when Capers, Thompson or Thames need a break. The question is: will he be ready? Clearly, Tony wants him to have the experience now so we can find out.
Worst case scenario: Witherill becomes the J.T. Levenseller of the basketball team: having his redshirt burnt, but sitting on the bench so much we wonder why Tony didn't just give him an extra year.
Best case scenario: Nick works his way into the rotation, spending most of his time spelliing Taylor Rochestie at the point. A few mintues, a few points, a solid contributor on both ends of the floor.
Likely Scenario: For now, Witherill figures to be a reserve with sporadic playing time. Much of that time will be decided in practice, but don't be surprised to see him out on the court during a big game or a close game. Tony may not change up the starting lineup like his father, but like Dick he's not afraid to go deep in the bench when the rest of the team is struggling.
Can Witherill have an impact this season? Next season? Beyond? Ultimately he'll determine that by how well he develops in practice. Give us your best prediction in the poll question.