Nov. 6, 2006
SEATTLE (AP) -- After decades of being tucked away in the corner of the country, the Washington Huskies now have national street cred.
Though nine of the 13 players on its roster are sophomores and freshmen, Washington was ranked 17th in the Associated Press Top 25 college basketball preseason poll released on Monday.
Such is the juicy aftertaste of consecutive Sweet 16 appearances in the NCAA tournament -- and the perennially strong recruiting classes that have come with Lorenzo Romar turning around Washington's program.
"It is flattering, for sure, that we could be recognized on a national scale as one of the top 17 teams in the country at this point," Romar said after the rankings were released Monday. "It says to me that we've got some potential this year -- but potential means you haven't done anything."
That potential -- led by sophomore team captain Jon Brockman, classmate and point guard Justin Dentmon and freshman 7-footer Spencer Hawes -- will be butting up against a schedule no one will criticize as soft this season.
Washington plays four teams ranked in the preseason top 10. Eleven days after play at Gonzaga on Dec. 9, the Huskies host No. 5 LSU, a Final Four team last season. Washington also plays at fourth-ranked Pittsburgh in a made-for-TV game on Feb. 17.
There are also the Huskies' normal, home-and-home series with No. 6 UCLA and 10th-ranked Arizona, the only other ranked Pac-10 teams. Gonzaga is not ranked in the preseason poll for the first time since 2001. Washington State, with Tony Bennett taking over as coach for father Dick, is also unranked.
For UW, last season's schedule, which included American, Morgan State, Lehigh and Cornell -- and did not have a true road game until Pac-10 play began -- seems long gone now. Romar and Washington athletic director Todd Turner are embarking on a more high-profile schedule they believe fits the Huskies' rising status across the country.
"I don't know if we'll get a lot of flak about our schedule this year with four top 10 opponents," Romar said.
Last preseason, despite the return of four seniors from a Sweet 16 team -- including Brandon Roy, the eventual Pac 10 player of the year -- Washington was unranked. And the players said they resented it.
They climbed to as high as No. 7 by the end of December, before finishing the season at the same No. 17 they have now. They lost in overtime to top-seeded Connecticut in the regional semifinals of the NCAA tournament. Those Huskies are now ranked right behind Washington, at 18th.
"It think it's a positive thing for our program," Romar said. "Last year we had four seniors returning, including Brandon Roy, who no one knew at the time would be a first-team All-American, and we weren't ranked in the Top 25.
"This year, with a very, very young team, we're picked 17th. It shows that our program is making progress in terms of perception -- but we've got to put that perception out on the floor and make it a reality."
Reality begins on Sunday night, when Washington hosts Pepperdine in the three-day, round-robin Basketball Travelers Classic at Bank of America Arena. The Huskies play Nicholls State on Nov. 13 and Northern Iowa on Nov. 14.