With first place in the Pac-10 on the line and conference player of the year favorites Isaiah Thomas and Derrick Williams going head-to-head for the first time this season, Hec Edmundson Pavilion was packed last night. That included press row, which was standing room only. The lack of seating caused a bit of grumbling, at which Frank Guisness couldn't help but laugh. The 81-year-old former basketball star has stood at the end of press row for every game for as long as anybody can remember. And man, was he excited to be there last night.
"Oh no, I don't sit down," he replied when I noticed him stretching and fidgeting and offered him my own seat at the far end of the aisle. "I work my legs. I even stand up when I eat dinner. It's amazing what you can accomplish with exercise."
Guisness accomplished quite a lot in his day. A 6' 2" forward, he graduated from UW in 1952 and starred on the team that won the Pacific Coast Conference championship under coach Tippy Dye. He scored 1,070 points in his three-year career , including 21 in a playoff game against UCLA to win the league title. And that was in an era with no shot clock and no three-point line.
So what's he think of this year's squad? "They beat everybody at home," he says. "But they need to win on the road."
In this particular game, however, the Huskies struggle early against a big and athletic Wildcat team. When Thomas gets fouled on a three-point attempt and misses all three free throws, Guisness is not happy.
"He can shoot the three but he has a terrible time with the free throw," Guisness complains. "I don't understand that. C'mon Isaiah, put 'em in. Jeez."
Guisness isn't surprised that the team's play seemingly improved when starting point guard Abdul Gaddy went down with a knee injury.
"That Thomas is great," he says. "When the point guard can score, it opens it up for everybody."
As if on cue, Thomas catches fire. He lobs an effortless alley-oop pass to Matthew Bryan-Amaning for an "oooooohhh"-inducing dunk. He hesitates off the dribble, darts toward the basket, lays it in off the glass, and draws a foul for a three-point play. Later he saves a ball going out of bounds, and his momentum sends him flying into the tunnel to the locker room. Thomas comes sprinting out, gets the ball back on the other end of the floor, and finds teammate Darnell Gant for a three-pointer.
Seeing the Huskies start to dominate, Guisness is confident they'll win the Pac-10 this season.
"The conference is really weak this year," he says. "Normally you can rely on UCLA and USC to be pretty good, but not this year. The Cougars are OK, but we'll pound 'em on the boards.They only got one guy that can rebound, that [DeAngelo] Casto. We got three or four guys that can do that. That's why we're beating these teams, we get the extra rebound."
Asked if he thinks the sexual assault allegations leveled against an unnamed UW player might derail the season, Guisness pauses.
"It just makes me sad," he says. "Outside of basketball, it's just tough on the kid. It could ruin him. It's just a shame, really. And did you see that interview with the girl's dad? He was madder than hell about it. And you can't blame him, that's his daughter."
Guisness has two grown children himself, a son and a daughter, and several grandchildren. He is about as spry as they come at his age, laughing often and pacing around the press area to complete his unusual workout routine. He says worked for 60 years in the auto industry, buying and selling cars wholesale. "I sell 'em too cheap," he jokes. "And if you believe that, you believe water runs up hill, haha!"
As for the end of the game, Arizona keeps it close for most of the second half, but, buoyed by an impressive 22-point, 10-assist, 6-rebound performance by Thomas, the Huskies wind up with what looks like a lopsided 85-68 victory. It was much closer than the score indicated, however, and tempers flared on the court on several occasions.
Guisness says with an excited smile: "It's going to be a brawl when they play these guys down in Tucson."