SEATTLE — Already thin on front-line experience, the Washington Huskies will begin the basketball season without sophomore Shawn Kemp Jr., who suffered a torn right patella tendon and will be out six to eight weeks.
The 6-foot-9, 255-pound forward played sparingly last season, averaging 1.6 points and 0.8 rebounds, but his absence is a big blow for Washington because he’s recently emerged as the team’s best low-post scoring option.
“It’s hard to take it in because of course I want to be out there playing with my team,” Kemp said. “I’ll still be on the bench cheering them on. I can only wait and get better.”
The injury had been bothering Kemp for months, but he didn’t think it was serious until he felt “something weird” at the start of practice Oct. 29. An MRI revealed the tear in his right knee, but he will not need surgery.
“It’s a little frustrating, but I’m also excited I can come back,” Kemp said. “I’m excited to come back before the Pac-12 season starts.”
Washington, which opens the season Sunday against Loyola Maryland at Alaska Airlines Arena, lost a potential starter to a preseason injury for the second straight year.
Last year, guard Scott Suggs broke his foot during an offseason workout, and his absence severely hampered the Huskies, forcing them to rely on essentially a seven-man rotation.
Coach Lorenzo Romar attempted to downplay the significance of losing Kemp, who was one of four players battling for the starting power forward position, along with sophomores Desmond Simmons and Martin Breunig and redshirt freshman Jernard Jarreau.
“It’s not like one guy gets hurt and now you’ve got to play guys 40 minutes,” Romar said. “Last year was a little like that because Scott was a potential starter. ...
“The one issue is Shawn is a guy that had emerged as someone who, if you throw him the ball, he’s going to score. That’s how we felt. That’s something that someone is going to have to step up and do.”
Washington has very few players capable of consistently scoring beneath the basket. Senior center Aziz N’Diaye has shot 54.3 percent during his two-year UW career, but the defensive-minded 7-footer scores most of his points on putbacks.
When asked who might replace Kemp on the offensive end, Romar mentioned Jarreau, while noting the 6-foot-10, 220-pound forward isn’t a prototypical back-to-the-basket big man.
Jarreau is developing a hook shot, but admits he’s not a classic forward who scores in the post. Still, he’s excited about UW’s defensive potential when paired with N’Diaye.
“I think we can be pretty tough on the defensive end,” Jarreau said. “We’re long. Everybody knows their defensive principles. ... We could be a threat on defense. Blocked shots. Rebounding.”