Oct. 14, 2005
SEATTLE - The Washington men's basketball team begins is fourth season under Coach Lorenzo Romar, conducting its first practice today. The 2005-06 campaign is one of the most anticipated in Husky history as last year's squad tied the school record for wins (29), won the Pac-10 Tournament championship and received a No. 1 seed to the NCAA Tournament.
Following is a preview of the upcoming season.
2006 WASHINGTON MEN'S BASKETBALL PREVIEW
Lorenzo Romar hasn't stayed around this long before.
He begins his fourth year with the Washington men's basketball team, the longest tenure of any of his three head coaching stops. He remained for three years in his first two posts, Pepperdine and Saint Louis.
The former UW player has expressed an interest in staying at his alma mater for a long time and cemented that desire with the signing of an eight-year contract extension last spring.
Despite the early success and long-term contract, Romar doesn't plan to sit back and admire his handiwork. There is more he wants to accomplish.
He produced impressive results in his first three seasons, elevating Washington from a program that endured four consecutive losing seasons to a top-10 final ranking in 2005.
In 2005, the team tied the UW record with 29 wins, won the team's first Pac-10 Tournament championship and received the only No. 1 seed in school history.
Instead of reveling in those accomplishments, Romar points to one that eluded the Huskies. UW was one win from grabbing at least a share of the Pac-10 regular-season championship, but lost at Stanford in the final game.
"We are trying to win that regular season title," Romar declares. "It was a great accomplishment from where we came from to win the Pac-10 Tournament last year. Because we did win the Pac-10 Tournament and No. 1 seed, I think that does take away the sting of not winning the conference title."
The Huskies' pursuit of their first conference regular-season title since 1985 is fueled by the return of silky-smooth swingman Brandon Roy. He pondered early entry to the NBA Draft, but opted to return for his senior season.
Injuries prevented Roy from showcasing his full range of skills, forcing him to miss nine games last year. He appears completely healthy now and ready for a breakout season.
"People will be shocked to find out how good Brandon Roy is," exclaims Romar. "Brandon could have an All-American season this year and that is what we are anticipating."
Completing the quality quartet of seniors is forward Jamaal Williams who provides UW with a prolific inside scoring presence.
The Huskies should shoot the ball well as three returnees ranked among the top-10 most accurate shooters in the Pac-10 last season (Roy, Williams, Jones). Rebounding will also be a strength as last year's top-two board men return (Jones, Roy).
"The regular season title is won over 18 games," Romar says. "Our goal would be to win the Pac-10 championship period. But with this team we are going to be better later than earlier."
Romar refers to the infusion of talented newcomers that must be indoctrinated into his high-octane offensive system. Last year's squad returned the entire starting lineup and stormed out of the gates with a championship performance at the Great Alaska Shootout.
Newcomers need to mature quickly and supply productive minutes that veterans played last year.
The Huskies recruiting class was ranked among the best in the nation, including two McDonald's All-Americans. The group took a hit when Martell Webster declared for the NBA Draft and was the highest prep player picked at No. 6 overall by Portland.
Even without Webster, Washington's incoming freshman form a top-10 class. Many newcomers are expected to make major contributions immediately.
Heading the list of impact freshman is physical 6-7 forward Jon Brockman, a McDonald's All-American from Snohomish (Wash.) High School. He was the top vote-getter in the annual Best in the West poll compiled by the Long Beach Press-Telegram. Brockman's relentless play should provide the Huskies with the dominant interior force and rabid rebounder they have lacked for many years.
"Guys like him just don't come around every day that have that type of package," says Romar. "He has the willingness to do whatever it takes to be the best."
A newcomer on the court this season, but not to the program, is sophomore point guard Ryan Appleby. He practiced with the team last season, but sat out as a red-shirt after transferring from Florida. Appleby is UW's best long-range shooter.
"This kid can really shoot the basketball and he understands our system now because he has been here."
Freshman Justin Dentmon will challenge Appleby for the starting point guard position vacated by the departure of Will Conroy, UW's all-time assist leader. A speedy playmaker, Dentmon should thrive in the Huskies' up-temp style.
Versatile 6-4 guard Harvey Perry should work his way into the guard rotation. He can play several positions and is physically ready to compete immediately at the collegiate level.
A pair of imposing incoming post players are poised to contribute. Artem Wallace is a supremely athletic 6-8 banger who is deft around the basket. Joe Wolfinger is a mobile 7-footer with an outstanding jump shot.
The Huskies have fielded an undersized lineup the last several seasons, playing without a true center. The lack of a post presence forced the team to be almost entirely backcourt dominated. That won't be the case this season as both returning starters are forwards. Add to them an infusion of one of the most talented group of frontcourt recruits ever for UW.
Jones, Jensen and Williams are a gifted blend of veterans with a wealth of big-game experience.
Jones often played out of his natural position where he was forced to defend opposing power forwards. The 6-7 scrapper will see more time at the more suitable small forward spot this year. He was one of four double-figure scorers last season, averaging 11.2 points to go along with a team-high 5.6 rebounds-per-game.
"Bobby has slowly become one of the more respected players in the Pac-10. I think this year he will have a breakout year and people are going to see more of what he can do. He has really worked on his ball-handling and outside shooting, so this year we think that he is going to contribute more than he ever has."
Williams provided instant offense off the bench last season, his first with the Huskies after transferring from New Mexico. He averaged 9.9 points and ranked third among Pac-10 players with a 56.1-percent field goal accuracy. Williams was UW's top scorer in the Sweet 16 matchup with Louisville, pouring in 18 points.
"I always feel like transfers and junior college players start to play their best basketball towards the second half of conference play. Then they come back the next year with a marked improvement, and we are hoping that is the case this year with Jamaal. He is a great weapon offensively and he is going to demand the attention of opposing team's defense."
Jensen dislocated his left shoulder and underwent surgery in September that will likely sideline him until the start of the Pac-10 season. When he returns, Jensen should offer the inside-outside game that makes him difficult to defend.
"He is a fifth-year senior and you love fifth-year seniors because they have been around. He has been around the block and has experience that you just can't teach."
While this position lacks experience, there is a surplus of size and talent with the added bulk of freshmen centers Wallace and Wolfinger.
Red-shirt freshman center Zach Johnson underwent another knee surgery during the off-season and hopes to contribute at some point later this season.
The backcourt is now Roy's domain. The 6-6 senior was injured early last season and never made his way back into the starting lineup. Rather than disrupt team chemistry, he returned and contented himself with the sixth-man role. Roy averaged 12.8 points per game while ranking second among Pac-10 players in field goal accuracy at 56.6 percent.
He is expected to team with Appleby in a dynamic inside-outside guard combination.
Sophomore guard Joel Smith is an athletic swingman whose role will increase dramatically. As a reserve last season, he connected on 51 percent of his shots from the field, including 40 percent from 3-point range.
"Joel is a phenomenal athlete. He made big plays for us all year last year as a freshman and he learned on the fly. We are counting on him to really help us this year. He has to step up from a guy coming off the bench to just fill in to a guy who has to give us significant minutes and we think that he can do that."
Third-year walk-on Brandon Burmeister should also see increased playing time. He is an outstanding long-range shooter who could help the Huskies stretch defenses.
Dentmon and Perry will also be involved in the backcourt mix that includes a bevy of versatile athletes capable of sustaining UW's frenetic-paced style of play.
The departure of five significant players, including three stellar starters who were invited to NBA preseason camps, make for a transition year. Nate Robinson, a first-round selection in the 2005 NBA Draft, was a two-time All-Pac-10 guard. Tre Simmons was a first-team all-conference selection last year and Will Conroy became the school's all-time assist leader.
Romar hopes the transition is simply a change in personnel that will build upon their predecessors' success.
"Each year you want to get better. This year's team is an entirely different make-up. Last year's group was basically our first group that grew together. Those guys learned to play with one another, but this year's team is going to be different. Half the guys on the team are different. There is a different dynamic to this year's team. I don't think that we are going to try and top what we did, but we want to get better."
Style of Play
Despite the departure of some marquee players, Romar doesn't expect to change the Huskies' style of play.
"We will continue to play up-tempo and I think that we will be a little stronger. We are going to have more of an inside presence this year, which is something that we didn't have last year. We were so guard dominant in the past because we had four guards that have a chance to play in the NBA.... or will play in the NBA. Now all of the sudden you have a guy like Jamaal Williams showing that he can go out there and score twenty points, so I think that we just have more a presence inside that helps balance everything out.
Washington set a school scoring record last season, averaging 86.5 points per game to rank No. 2 nationally behind only national champion North Carolina. The team shattered the previous season record with 257 treys and distributed a UW record 660 assists.
"Hopefully we have come up with a style of play that we try and recruit to that style. We think the players that are coming into our program will be able to play that style and that is why we recruited them.
"Defensively we're going to continue to get after people and we're going to continue to push the basketball and try to get in the open floor."
The Huskies play 19 of their 29 regular-season games at Bank of America Arena where they posted a perfect 15-0 record in 2005. UW's 22-game home winning streak is the nation's fourth longest active mark.
The regular season opens with the three-day, eight-team BCA Classic that runs Nov. 13-15 at Bank of America Arena. Those three dates start a stretch of seven straight home games for Washington, its longest season-opening homestand since 1945.
The Huskies venture away from Seattle only once during non-conference play. They meet New Mexico as part of a Wooden Classic doubleheader on Dec. 10 in Anaheim, Calif.
"One interesting thing is that we don't go on the road to play on anyone else's home floor, that doesn't happen very often. The BCA tournament gets us going really early. We will have only practiced for about four weeks at that point, so we'll see what happens.
"Last year we were really successful in our non-conference games and it really helped us in our seeding. I think that we have a schedule this year that could do the same for us."
The Huskies' first visit to an opposing arena is Jan. 12 at USC.
The regular-season schedule is followed by the Pac-10 Tournament, which Washington won last year for the first time. This year's conference tournament is scheduled for March 8-11 and includes all 10 teams for the first time since 1990.
This could be one of tightest Pac-10 races ever as all of last season's top-tier teams lost key personnel.
"Stanford is going to be awfully strong with Chris Hernandez coming back. They also have Matt Haryasz and Dan Grunfeld who are all-conference players. California is going to be back with Leon Powe, but I could go on-and-on like every year in the Pac-10. UCLA, Arizona, Oregon, Oregon State. It is going to be tough because there are a lot of good teams."
The Huskies are coming off back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances and Pac-10 runner-up finishes. The 2005-06 campaign will go a long way in determining if UW becomes a perennial power.
"We got to the level of play where we were recognized nationally. We have a great following here with all the sellouts. All of that has been great, but that is hopefully the standard that we have created as opposed to just a great season. That's what we would like to do year in and year out."
Romar plans to stay around a long time to continue the legacy that he began. He won't be content with a repeat of last year, no matter how memorable that season was.
"We were two games away from the Final Four. Obviously the next step is to win a Pac-10 championship, but also to put ourselves in a position to win a national championship by getting to the Final Four."