Oct. 11, 2002
SEATTLE - New head coach Lorenzo Romar conducts his first practice as head coach of the Washington men's basketball team at midnight Friday. That Oct. 12 date marks the first allowable practice day for NCAA teams.
Romar is the 18th head coach in the history of Husky basketball which begins its 101st season of competition. He returns to Montlake where he was a two-year letterman guard in 1978-79 and 1979-80.
Following is a preview of Coach Romar's inaugural UW squad.
2002-03 SEASON PREVIEW
"Come here and look at this," Lorenzo Romar was exhorted by assistant coach Cameron Dollar. He was drawing attention to a scouting tape of an upcoming opponent they had played against the previous season.
"We sat and looked at the tape, looked at each other and both thought that this team is different than the team we played last year. We thought they had more talent," Romar said.
That opponent was Washington and the coaches were working last year at Saint Louis. Things have changed dramatically since then.
Romar is now the head coach at Washington, taking over for Bob Bender who resigned March 13, 2002 after nine seasons. The former two-year UW letterman guard, who was hired April 3, had the unique opportunity to coach against his current team in each of the last two seasons. Saint Louis won both meetings.
"We played Washington the last two years. Last year we told our guys leading up to the game that this was a whole different team than we played the year before. They had rebuilt the program in terms of talent and the program was on the upswing."
Who could possibly have a better perspective on the state of Washington basketball than Romar, a former player who recently had to create a scouting report against the Huskies.
"I think Washington is a sleeping giant. Number one, it is a great city. There's a lot here, the campus is beautiful and the academics are at a high level," Romar exclaimed. "The increasing talent pool locally makes it a better job at this point, than probably when I was a student-athlete. Although we lack some of the tradition that UCLA, Arizona and other schools in our conference have, you are still able to look back not too far to the Sweet 16 year and NCAA tournament years."
Romar is charged with rejuvenating a Husky program that competed in back-to-back NCAA Tournaments as recently as 1998 and 1999, but has since experienced three straight losing seasons. Despite the string of losing seasons, he doesn't believe the team is in desperate shape.
"Right now the program is not in a rock-bottom state, it is in a much better state now than it was when Coach Bender took over. When Coach Bender took over I thought the program was down, way down and I think he helped to build that up to a level now where there is a really good nucleus to build on."
The Huskies posted an 11-18 record in 2002 against a schedule that was rated the nation's second toughest. They placed eighth in the Pacific-10 Conference with a 5-13 mark, including victories over regular-season champion Oregon and runner-up California. Washington captured the eighth and final berth for the Pac-10 Tournament and led by as many as 13 points in their first-round match-up before losing to Oregon.
Romar established a simple, tangible goal for his inaugural season at the helm.
"We want to try to develop a mindset of doing things right on and off the court. I think that winning games becomes a by-product of doing things right. If you have zero talent, you can do everything right in the world, but you are going to be limited by that lack of talent. We have a decent nucleus of talent.
"We are capable of doing things on the floor that allow you to win games. We have to change our approach individually, in terms of being a team, in terms of expecting to win. You expect to win because you paid the price in practice. Off the court you paid the price in other areas to expect to win. Those are the things that we want to concentrate on."
Whenever a new coach takes over, questions arise about his style of play. Romar has a response ready.
"At Pepperdine we had a couple of talented teams but not quick teams and at Saint Louis we just had blue-collar, hard-working student-athletes there. This will be the quickest team that we have coached and as a result we would like to play quicker.
"But, when you talk about our style of play, our style revolves around our defense. Defensively we just want to play hard-nosed in-your-face defense and that will get our offense started."
o Departures (5) o
The Huskies sustained some personnel losses from last season's squad, none bigger than center David Dixon. He led the team with 6.4 rebounds per game, ranked third with an 8.4-point scoring average and tied the school's single-season record of 67 blocked shots.
Another graduating starter was forward Grant Leep who led the Pac-10 in 3-point accuracy, converting a Husky record 53 percent of his treys. Leep was fourth on the team with 7.8 points per game and ranked third in rebounds with 4.1 per contest.
Three players transfered during the off-season, including starting shooting guard Erroll Knight who was the team's fifth-leading scorer with 7.1 points per game. Knight transfered to Gonzaga and reserve guard Josh Barnard tranafered to Eastern Washington while walk-on Sterling Brown left in pursuit of a school that would give him a scholarship.
o Returning Lettermen (5) o
Though short on experience, the returning players are long on talent. Among players that saw action last year, only junior guards Curtis Allen and C.J. Massingale have played more than one season at Washington.
Allen distributed 126 assists from his point guard position, the seventh-highest single-season figure in school history. He registered 15 assists in a single game against Arizona State, just one shy of the UW record.
"He is one of, if not the quickest player in the Pac-10," Romar said. "Curtis has worked on his outside shot and become a pretty good shooter. He needs to be able to take care of the ball a little better and become better at decision making."
The Huskies feature one of the finest players in the Pac-10, and perhaps the nation, in 6-foot-6 junior Doug Wrenn. A first-team all-conference selection, he was honored as the 2002 Pac-10 Newcomer of the Year after averaging 19.5 points per game. He is the second-leading returning scorer in the conference with a 546-point total that was the 10th-highest figure in Husky history.
A supremely athletic inside-outside threat, Wrenn ranked second on the team in both rebounds (6.4 rpg) and assists (57).
"Doug has the potential to control a game," said Romar. "We all know that Doug can score. He has the type of ability from the forward position to put up a triple-double.
"I can see him being in the top five in the conference in rebounding. Because he is such a good scorer and teams will double-team him, I can see him averaging five or six assists. He has the ability to defend the opposing team's best player. He has the ability to take a young team and lead them to great heights."
Wrenn and Allen are the only full-time starters returning, but they are joined by four other lettermen that each started at least two games.
Massingale started 11 games and averaged 5.7 points per game. He is capable of scoring in bunches, as a 25-point outburst against California can attest. That matched a similar 25-point effort at UCLA his freshman year.
"Along with Doug Wrenn, he is the best offensive rebounding perimeter guy that we have on the team. Although he has not averaged a lot of points, C.J. has a knack for finding ways to get that ball up to the basket."
Sophomores Will Conroy and Jeffrey Day were part-time starters during their inaugural collegiate campaigns. Conroy is a tenacious defender who started the final seven games at the point guard spot in 2002. Day is an athletic forward who was utilized at center at times last season. His 30 blocked shots were the second-highest figure ever for a UW freshman.
"Jeffrey has as much potential as anyone on our roster. He's really versatile. He can really shoot the basketball at 6-9. He can put it on the floor at 6-9. He is a good shot blocker. He needs to be able to play with consistent intensity and develop some strength."
One returning non-letterman is sophomore David Hudson, a shooting guard. He possesses tremendous range as his trio of 3-point baskets against USC can attest.
o Red-Shirts (3) o
A trio of red-shirts bolster a frontline that was short-handed last season due to their absence.
The team's lone senior is Marlon Shelton, a 6-9 center who started in 2001 before missing the entire 2002 season with a torn ACL in his left knee. He led UW with 38 blocks in 2001.
Red-shirt freshman forward Mike Jensen was a highly acclaimed recruit last season who dislocated his left shoulder six games into the season and was sidelined thereafter. He was rated the top power forward on the West Coast among 2001 high school grads.
UW's inside corps was bolstered by the mid-season addition of 6-11 walk-on center Ben Devoe. He was awarded a scholarship in July after red-shirting last season. He averaged 14 points per game his senior season at Olympia (Wash.) High School.
o Newcomers (3) o
For the second straight season, Washington attracted a stellar recruiting class that ranked among the top 25 nationally. Freshmen Bobby Jones (96), Nate Robinson (98) and Anthony Washington (100 in 2001) were all ranked among the top-100 high school recruits.
Jones was Romar's first Husky signee, announcing his decision to attend UW on May 6. A member of the 10-man California all-state team, Jones averaged 19 points and nine rebounds per game.
Washington originally signed with UW in the fall of 2000, but needed to return to Seattle's Garfield High School last year to complete some coursework. During the 2001 state championship he shattered the tournament record with 21 blocked shots in four games, more than any previous team has accumulated.
o Two-Sports Athletes (2) o
A pair of point guards are attempting to double as football and basketball players. Both were two-sport prep All-Americans and entered Washington on football scholarships. They are expected to join the hoop squad following the football season.
Robinson was the Class AAA Washington state player of the year in 2002 after averaging 17.9 points, seven rebounds, seven assists and three steals for state champion Rainier Beach.
He is joined by gridiron teammate Charles Frederick, a sophomore who played six basketball games after garnering freshman All-America acclaim as a punt returner for the football squad.
"Guys that play football and have football backgrounds usually are pretty tough on the basketball court," Romar explained. "They usually have quick feet and are good defenders. I like that."
o Position Analysis o
The guard and forward positions boast a cadre of capable players with starting experience. They shouldn't lack for athleticism or scoring punch.
"Quickness and athleticism are a real strength of this team along with versatility," remarked Romar. "You talk about guys like Mike Jensen, Jeffrey Day and Doug Wrenn and those guys can do a lot of different things in a lot of different areas on the floor."
The success of the team may revolve around the pivot play of the centers, led by senior Shelton.
"Marlon is a guy that doesn't mind giving up his body on the boards, getting physical inside and taking charges. He understands how to play. He's the only guy on our team that's been involved in an NCAA Tournament situation and that type of experience can do nothing but help."
The apparent ability of Anthony Washington to contribute immediately could further solidify the center position.
"Anthony Washington is physical and very athletic for his size. He can really run the floor. He wasn't very heralded coming out of high school, but he could be the biggest surprise on the whole roster."
o Outlook o
Things have changed dramatically since Romar played at Washington. The legendary Marv Harshman no longer patrols the sidelines as he did when Romar was a player. Instead the Hall of Fame coach is frequently in the seats watching the action and willing to offer advice to his prot?g? if requested.
The Pac-10 Conference is much different than during Romar's playing days. He served as an assistant coach on UCLA's 1995 national championship team, an event that helped signal a renaissance in Pac-10 basketball. During the last eight seasons the Pac-10 produced two national champions, five Final Four participants and 19 Sweet 16 qualifiers.
"This is one of the best conferences in the country and you just don't get a break," Romar said. "Teams are so talented and so well coached. Any area that you are not good in will be exposed in the Pac-10."
The most drastic change occurred inside Bank of America Arena at Edmundson Pavilion. The on-campus venue that Romar played in was renovated two years ago, transforming it from a vast field house into an intimate basketball-only facility that provides a distinct home-court advantage.
Despite the myriad changes, Romar still intends to implement much of what Harshman ingrained in him.
"We want to establish a winning mentality and everything that comes with that. At this point we are emphasizing it and talking a lot about it. We're making sure that guys are on time, making sure that our guys are doing things right and making sure that guys understand that's a priority for us."
The first-year coach will introduce his new system to a young team that has only three players with more than one year of playing experience at Washington.
"You would like to have more experience, but at the same time it is something you can build for the future. We do have a young team and with a young team you add a couple of pieces to that and maybe you have something special.
"You have a guy like Doug Wrenn who is going to be a junior and has played a lot of basketball, so there is more experience here than meets the eye. Curtis Allen and C.J. Massingale have been around for two years."
Romar seeks to propel the Huskies into the postseason picture after a three-year absence. Perhaps the improvement will be so dramatic that opposing coaching staffs will take notice. Hopefully, UW basketball supporters will be encouraged to visit Bank of America Arena to "come here and look at this."