After skipping the NBA draft for a shot at the Final Four, All-American Kyle Wiltjer remains as the established top player on the top team in the state (Gonzaga). Taelor Ross, the sister of Terrence Ross of the Toronto Raptors, and her Seattle team enter this season as the player and team with the most to prove.
Gonzaga played Duke even until late in the NCAA tournament, and when CBS announced Wiltjer would skip the NBA Draft it garnered 2,300 Facebook shares.
Washington’s Lake Stevens High School may field the best high school quarterback in the country, as 6-foot-5 Jacob Eason starts for one more year in the state before going to the University of Georgia where he is being compared to Matthew Stafford. His father is former Notre Dame quarterback Tony Eason (not the same one who played for the Patriots and Jets). The best college football player returning this year is Washington State’s offensive lineman Joe Dahl.
But perhaps no team has more at stake in the performance of one player than Seattle, which made the climb back to Division I from the Division III ranks.
Ross’ brother Terrence is in his fourth year for the Toronto Raptors after helping the Washington Huskies take the 2012 Pac-12 championship in his sophomore, and final, year before going 8th in the NBA Draft.
Taelor has not been as overpowering in her Seattle career, and if she averages 12 points, seven rebounds, and two blocked shots a game again in her senior year then it likely will be another losing record as Seattle continues to adjust to D1 play. However, if Taelor plays at the level she did at the end of last year in the WAC tournament, she could give the balanced Seattle team the one star they need to go to the next level and win the WAC and play in the NCAA tournament.
Taelor scored 20 points four times last year. She hit 10 of 16 shots against a very tough Washington team despite having absolutely no help as the Huskies crushed Seattle on all other match-ups. Then in the next-to-late regular season game she scored 20 points in just 26 minutes before fouling out against CSU Bakersfield – hitting 9 of 14 shots.
In last year’s WAC tournament Taelor was playing a lot like like her brother Terrence. She had 22 points, 14 rebounds, 5 blocked shots and 3 steals to help 4th seeded Seattle defeat 5th seeded Utah Valley and advance to the semifinals.
Then against top-seeded New Mexico State in the semifinals she played even better, with 21 points, 17 rebounds, 5 blocked shots, and two assists. With 22 seconds left in overtime she hit a clutch shot to give Seattle a chance at a surprise title, but the team fell short in the final seconds.
Seattle fans can hope Taelor has been practicing against Terrence (who also lead the Washington Huskies to the Pac-12 title in 2012), because if she can put up some games of 22 ponts, 16 reobunds, and five blocked shots (her averages from the conference tournament), then she is going to open it up for Crystal Allen to step in an drain some three-pointers (41% last year) and the rest of the team to pound the boards and give Seattle some upsets.
If all that happens, look for Taelor to be All-WAC and Seattle to potentially win the WAC and go the NCAA tournament to complete the comeback from DIII status.
Here are the top 25 student-athletes to watch:
- Kyle Wiltjer, Gonzaga, Basket, PF
- Josh Hawkinson, Washington St., Basket, C
- Domantas Sabonis, Gonzaga, Basket, C
- Andrew Andrews, Washington, Basket, SG
- Przemek Karnowski, Gonzaga, Basket, C
- Jacob Eason, Lake Stevens, WALake Stevens, , QB
- Joe Dahl, Washington St, Football, OLine
- Nigel Williams-Goss, GONZAGA/2017, Basket, PG
- John Whelan, Washington St., Track/Field, 10,000m Run
- River Cracraft, Washington St, Football,
- Kimberly Keever, Washington, Soccer, Midfielder
- Lyndsay Leatherman, Washington, Track/Field, Javelin
- Kelsey Plum, Washington, Basket,
- Lia Galdeira, Washington St, Basket
- Taelor Ross, Seattle University, Basket (photos)
- Luke Falk, Washington St, Football,
- Jordan Branch, Washington State, Soccer, Midfielder
- Bogdan Bliznyuk, Eastern Washington, Basket, PF
- Trenton Osborn, Eastern Washington, Track/Field, Long Jump
- Ian Hamilton, WashingtonState, Baseball, RP
- Travis Feeney, Washington Huskies, Foot, LB
- Austin Sodorff, Washington St., Track/Field, Pole Vault
- Dejounte Murray, Washington Huskies, ,
- JaQuori McLaughlin, Gig Harbor, WAPeninsula, Basketball, G
- Keith Smith, Seattle, WARainier Beach, Basketball, F