Jan. 23, 2009
SEATTLE -- Six winters ago, Brandon Roy was ineligible and insecure, cleaning out containers in a shipyard.Now, he's cleaning up every major basketball honor in his path.
The latest came Thursday night, when the 2006 All-America and Pac-10 player of the year, the 2007 NBA rookie of the year, 2008 All-Star and Portland Trail Blazers dynamo came home to become the second player in the 107-season history of basketball at the University of Washington to have his Huskies jersey retired.
"I really can't put this into words," Roy said, moments after buying dozens of boxes of pizza for the Washington students lined up outside Hec Edmundson Pavilion.
The kids were queuing for prime courtside seats to see Roy's UW jersey No. 3 go up into the remodeled arena's rafters near the No. 25 of 1950s Huskies star Bob Houbregs immediately before the surging Huskies played Southern California. Roy chose the number at Washington to honor his older brother, who wore it as a high school star before troubles derailed his chance at college.
Washington's players honored Roy by wearing gray T-shirts with No. 3, his name and likeness on them over their uniforms while they warmed up for the game.
Then a beaming Roy walked to center court immediately before tipoff with his parents, his fiancee -- who was holding their infant daughter -- and Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar. Roy carried his young son in the crook of his right arm as the sellout crowd roared.
"One of two in 100 years of basketball [to get his number retired]? That's amazing," Roy said, wearing cuff links beneath his monogram at the ends of the open-collared, white dress shirt that complemented his dark suit. "Even more, the 30th Pac-10 player? It's a great list to be on."
An improbable one, too.
Roy failed to get qualifying college entrance scores out of Seattle's Garfield High School in 2002. His scores improved so dramatically when he took the SAT a second time the disbelieving NCAA's clearinghouse rejected them as invalid. So he took it again -- and his scores were lost. Then they were found. The NCAA cleared him for eligibility. UW did not, initially.
Months of what should have been his freshman year passed, darkly. The Huskies' season began and Roy was a confused teen, shut out of college and the arena in which he is now immortalized. He needed a purpose, a job.
So the man who torched the Phoenix Suns for 52 points earlier this season with the Trail Blazers scrubbed industrial spills out of the insides of shipping containers in the rugged, cold shipyards in downtown Seattle.
Talk about rags to riches. The payoff was three consecutive NCAA tournaments, Pac-10 royalty in his hometown and NBA stardom down Interstate 5.
"Yeah, the doubt definitely crept in my freshman year," Roy said, chuckling. "I thought, 'Man, I'll never have that chance.'"
His family kept encouraging him, saying everyone's story is different "and this one is yours." Each day, his co-workers at the shipyard made sure Roy didn't see the docks as a dead end.
"That taught me a lot, sitting with those guys. They would say, 'When you get a chance to go to college, be successful,'" Roy said. "Even now, when I'm playing and it gets real hard, we're on the road and I want to be home, I can always think 'This can get a lot worse.'"
Romar remembers as if it was yesterday the January day in 2003 he told Roy that Washington had declared him eligible. They hugged and held on for what Roy said had to be five minutes.
"That was probably the most special day of my life," Roy said.
He went directly to his first UW practice. In 45 minutes, the tall, slashing guard had figured out an offense his teammates hadn't picked up in months.
He refused to redshirt because he was so eager to play. But for the next couple seasons, he quietly sat back and let teammate Nate Robinson, now with the New York Knicks, get the accolades as Washington soared into the nation's elite. Washington needed Roy to rebound, so he led the Huskies in that.
Then Roy missed much of his junior season with a knee injury. He returned mainly as a sixth man, content to ease his way back in, to not disrupt the chemistry of a team that was on its way to another NCAA tournament.
He took over in his senior season, averaging 20.2 points and scoring the fourth-most points (666) in a UW season. He passed. He rebounded. He shut down opponents' best scorers. The Huskies went 26-7 and reached another regional semifinal of the NCAA tournament before losing to second-ranked Connecticut in overtime.
"There's not too many things he didn't do," said Romar, who also played at Washington in 1979-80. "You go back and check every year of every player who has ever put on a Husky uniform. None had the year Brandon Roy had.
"Brandon Roy separates himself from any era. You can't match what he did. ... Brandon's in a class by himself," he said.
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press