Nov. 18, 2002
By TIM KORTE
AP Sports Writer
SEATTLE - Lorenzo Romar is back at Washington, and it didn't take him long to notice how things have changed since his playing days.
"There used to be a place called Abigail's over on Lake Union. They had the best chicken and dumplings," Romar recalled.
Now it's a fast-food restaurant.
Romar has changed, too.
Long gone are his days in top-of-the-thigh uniform shorts and knee-high socks as a point guard for the Huskies from 1978-80. You can still see Romar dressed like that on the cover of Washington's media guide, however.
These days, Romar works the sidelines wearing a dark suit.
That's not all that is different.
When Bob Bender was fired last spring after three straight losing seasons, Washington athletic director Barbara Hedges hired Romar from Saint Louis. He returned to his alma mater to find an overhauled and upgraded arena.
As Romar and his staff settled in, they redefined what it means to play for the Washington Huskies.
"It's almost like being a freshman again. Everything is new," junior point guard Curtis Allen said. "We're all adjusting. Top to bottom, the whole program is different. We have found that coach Romar is big on discipline."
He wasn't talking about shot selection.
On the first day Romar met his players, he told them they had to be on time for classes and were expected to conduct themselves on campus and in the community to reflect well on the university.
"We haven't seen a lot of street rebellion from our guys," Romar said. "They're starting to take ownership of our program."
Hedges thinks Romar's arrival can generate a buzz around Seattle, where football rules the campus and college basketball historically has struggled in the shadow of the NBA's SuperSonics.
"There's always increased interest whenever there's a change," Hedges said. "Everyone's anxious to see how they'll do, how they'll coach. And because of Lorenzo's attachment to the university, there's going to be even more interest."
Romar's first-year goal is modest: finish in the top half of the Pac-10 and hope for a postseason berth. Over the long run, the Huskies expect to compete on the floor and the recruiting trail against the likes of Arizona and UCLA.
"The expectation level is very high," Hedges said. "That's the kind of men's basketball program we want."
Romar knew a little about the Huskies before returning. His Saint Louis teams beat Washington each of the last two seasons.
The standout is Doug Wrenn, a 6-foot-6 swingman who led the Huskies with a 19.5 scoring average last season as a sophomore. Wrenn played at Connecticut but was dismissed after his freshman year and returned home to Seattle.
He can dictate a game, but Romar wants Wrenn's assists totals to increase when opponents double-team him.
"I'm stating the obvious when I say how talented he is," Romar said. "What has really impressed us is his ability to draw the defense and find the open man. He's trying to do what we've asked him to do."
Allen, meanwhile, averaged 12 points and 4.3 assists, and shooting guard C.J. Massingale had two 25-point games last season. Since he played in the backcourt, Romar expects a lot from his guards.
"Good guards not only make your offense better, they also break down the defense and make it harder for the other team to get into an offense," Romar said. "The good ones hustle after loose balls and make their free throws."
Romar is encouraged by the return of Mike Jensen, a 6-8 forward who redshirted after dislocating his shoulder early last season. He'll help replace the graduated David Dixon, who averaged 8.4 points, 6.4 rebounds and blocked 67 shots.
After coaching at Pepperdine and Saint Louis, Romar saw a big increase in the talent level at Washington. This is his quickest team, he said, and he hopes to build a mobile, fullcourt squad that embraces defense.
"If we get this down, we're going to be something amazing," fifth-year center Marlon Shelton said. "Some teams don't have all the talent, but they work as a team and they get to the NCAA tournament. I don't see why we can't do that."