Feb. 4, 2011
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
EUGENE, Ore. - Lorenzo Romar looked around Oregon's glittering Matthew Knight Arena, a $200 million basketball palace still so new workers were buffing its stainless steel hand railings as the Huskies began practice Friday afternoon.
Washington's coach was standing on the sideline of the funky painted, "Deep in the Woods" court in the main arena, which in itself is awesome. A few dozen yards away, Oregon's players were preparing for their practice while inside the equally luxurious and new basketball training center. It includes multiple courts, a basketball-only medical training room, a half-dozen locker rooms, meeting rooms, more fancy, flat-screen TVs than a Best Buy -- and a hydro-therapy room that has an underwater treadmill, just like the Seahawks have in their NFL training palace in the Seattle suburbs.
Romar isn't envious. He's engaged.
For the past year, he's been planning with UW administrators on building a new basketball training and operations center attached to or near Hec Edmundson Pavilion. Huskies athletic department leaders see Romar's idea as a top priority, which they are taking their time to develop. It's part of UW's balancing act of staying competitive amid the current economic climate and its upcoming, privately funded renovation of Husky Stadium.
No, Romar doesn't want a new game arena. He's not competing with Oregon to see who ends up with the fancier place to play.
He wants Washington to compete nationally, for recruits who see basketball-only training centers in the Atlantic Coast Conference, Southeastern Conference or Big East on visits to other powerhouses programs.
"Our competition isn't necessarily Oregon," Romar said of the team his Huskies (15-6, 7-3 Pac-10) will meet here Saturday at 1 p.m. on Fox Sports Network TV, the Washington IMG College radio network and on GoHuskies.com with a live chat, stats and streaming audio. "We recruit on a national scale. If we only recruited in Portland, or just in the state of Oregon, that'd be one thing. But when we're recruiting, oftentimes it's against North Carolina, Duke, Kansas, Kentucky ...
"Oregon has as fine of facilities as there are. But there are other places, too."
Romar envisions an all-in-one center for training, meeting and practicing at UW "that shows we are serious about basketball."
"I wouldn't change our gym. I love our gym. I love how it's set up. I love the whole thing," said of recently renovated Alaska Airlines Arena at Hec Ed, the noise dome that is the winningest home court in college basketball.
"But there are some other things we are looking to that I think we can get done. We are seriously looking at a new facility, not to play in, but a new practice facility that will house our offices, our weight room - everything," Romar said. "It would be a nice improvement."
Romar, athletic director Scott Woodward and UW administrators remain in a preliminary planning stage for a new training and operations center for men's and women's basketball. The coach's concept for a basketball facility would be as an attachment to Hec Ed Pavilion, something like the existing football center that houses its own weight room, meeting rooms and offices as a wing on the northeast corner of the arena.
Another possibility is potentially expanding the footprint of Marv Harshman Court, which the volleyball and basketball teams share on the northwest corner of Hec Ed.
Currently, the Huskies men's and women's hoops teams share the three courts inside Hec Ed Pavilion - the main arena and two attached practice courts upstairs - with the volleyball team. And when the main arena is used for other events such as gymnastics, banquets, graduations or job fairs, the basketball and volleyball teams play a shell game of coordination to try to find places and time to work out. Sometimes they end up off campus.
They also share the medical training room in Hec Ed with all sports teams. In his new center, Romar would love a separate training room for men's and women's basketball.
"We've got to do our job. If we just sit back while everyone is getting better, then we don't get better," he said. "That's how it goes."
That goes for his team's play, too.
The Huskies, losers of two road games since Sunday, fell out of first place in the Pac-10 when they lost 68-56 Thursday night at Oregon State. They shot a season-low 32 percent, took too many 3-pointers, missed too many open shots and got out-rebounded for the first time since 7-footer Aziz N'Diaye entered the starting lineup to fix that issue 12 games ago.
But what galled Romar most was a lack of on-ball and weakside defense, which resulted in numerous layups and 3-point plays by Beavers who roamed free along the baseline or down the lane. The Huskies focused most of their two-hour practice Friday on defense.
Yet the coach won't go as far as players and team leaders Isaiah Thomas and Justin Holiday did late Thursday night up the road in Corvallis while saying the season is at a crossroads. He doesn't see Saturday's meeting with the rapidly improving Ducks (11-11, 4-6), who beat Washington State by 26 Thursday in Eugene at about the same time lost to the Beavers (9-12, 4-6), as the tipping point for the favorites to win the Pac-10.
Romar keeps referring to the 2006 team. It lost three straight to fall to 5-5 in the middle of the conference season - then won 10 of 11 to finish second in the league and reach the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament. It lost there in overtime to top-seeded Connecticut.
He reminded his Huskies of that season turnaround Thursday night in the quiet locker room in Corvallis.
"The game (Saturday) is a big game. A win certainly will help," Romar said. "But it won't define our season."