By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - Lorenzo Romar thought he'd have to twist some arms to get people to come to the first-ever Husky Legends Return day.
At absolute best, he thought perhaps 3,000 fans might show up.
Then Sunday, ticket lines ran from Hec Edmundson Pavilion down hundreds of yards toward the Montlake Bridge. Alaska Airlines Arena was packed to the top row and the old, original windows on the west wall. The concession stands ran out of food.
"You make a compelling case to do this again," the 11-year coach at Washington told fans before tipoff of the main event, the alumni game between the youngest former Huskies and older ones from 2003-09.
More than 10,000 roaring fans - UW cut off ticket sales at 8,500 Sunday afternoon because another 1,500 tickets had already been given away - watched Thomas score 24 points on 10-for-20 shooting as the younger, post-2009 Purple team beat the older, pre-'09 White squad led by Brandon Roy, Nate Robinsonand Spencer Hawes 107-103 in a raucous alumni game.
The one-of-its-kind event exceeded every Husky's expectations with how truly and rip-roaringly successful it was.
On and off the floor.
"This is big for me; I've got bragging rights now for a whole year," said Thomas, who just finished his second season as the dynamic, undeniable point guard for the Sacramento Kings.
The entire Huskies program has bragging rights after this day.
Really, how many programs in the country can pack its arena with an overflow crowd of 10,000-plus on a Sunday afternoon in late June to watch 12 players who have been in the NBA in the last half-dozen years soar and dunk and wow even the program's architect?
"It was incredible coming into the gym. The long lines. All the traffic," said Donald Watts.
The former Husky dunked in the legends game that began this roaring afternoon. Yes, a dunk in the legends game.
It was that great of an afternoon.
Darnell Gant threw a ball off the shot clock above the backboard and then slammed it home to win a rousing dunk contest that ended this remarkable reunion. The fans in attendance roared some more, then tweeted in their votes for Gant over Terrence Ross to the hash tag #UWDunk.
#UWAlumniGame, by the way, was trending nationally on Twitter by midday Sunday.
Ross, this February's NBA dunk contest champion, had Tony Wroten go 15 rows into the stands, in the corner above the tunnel, to feed him with a pass off the floor. Ross slammed Wroten's perfect feed home with a windmill move that shook the old building on Montlake.
The celebrity judges, including Steve Sarkisian, Jim Caviezel and "Slick" Watts, gave Gant and Ross each perfect scores of 50 for those two most impressive dunks.
The huge crowd went nuts yet another time during just before the featured alumni game. Roy - the 2006 Pac-10 player of the year and 2007 NBA rookie of the year playing in perhaps his final competitive game because of chronic knee injuries that has seemingly ended his NBA career - walked down through the crowd and onto the floor during player introductions.
Afterward Roy said he was not yet ready to officially announce his retirement from the NBA. Yet he sure sounded ready to soon.
"I'm trying to settle into a more normal way of life," he said.
Early in the game the fans went crazy when Ross took a breakaway pass from Thomas and soared for a 360-degree jam.
Robinson took 3-point shots from almost Ballard. He made one of five and finished with seven points. The star of this spring's playoffs for the Chicago Bulls ended his playing time early in Sunday's second half by throwing his game shoes into the crowd. He is saving himself because he is a free agent hoping for a new contract next month.
"For fans to come out like this shows we need the Sonics back," the Seattle native said. "This was just special. This means everything."
Midway through the second half Thomas reenacted his "cold-blooded" shot that beat Arizona in the 2011 Pac-10 tournament finals, complete with Gus Johnson's unforgettable television call playing over the arena's loudspeakers. Yes, I.T. made this step-back shot, too. He punctuated it just as he did that March afternoon in Los Angeles, pulling on his jersey and then pumping his fists to the crowd at the scorer's table just as he did amid bedlam at Staples Center.
Sunday's fans went bonkers again.
How badly did these former Husky stars want to be here?
Bobby Jones just finished playing in the Italian League finals. He arrived at the arena 20 minutes before tipoff Sunday, straight off a plane from Europe.
Quincy Poindexter changed his plans while on an NBA event in Singapore, flew straight here across the International Date Line and arrived at 8 a.m. Sunday. He then soared at Hawes for a dunk try late in the game that earned him a slam to the floor under the basket and two free throws, part of the Memphis Grizzlies bedrock's 17 points. Pondexter hit two free throws in the final 47 seconds to keep the Purple team in front.
"I left Singapore at 5 a.m. I had a seven-hour flight to Tokyo, and then an eight-hour flight here. It's been a long journey. But I wasn't in coach, thank God," Pondexter said.
"At all costs, I was going to be here. This is amazing. The crowd. This shows how much people care for Husky basketball. It shows what Coach Romar has done with this program. It's been an amazing event."
The game got so competitive that when Lenny Wilkens, the Hall-of-Fame player and coach leading the White team, tried to insert Dentmon into a four-point game with 8 seconds left Thomas, Ross and Wroten each refused to leave. Wilkens, who coached the Seattle SuperSonics to the 1979 NBA title, was forced to call a timeout.
"He wanted to put Justin in for Brockman. And I was like, `No, we need Brock to rebound. We need him to win!'" Thomas said.
"We were really competing. We wanted to win.
"And we all want to do this again next year."
That sentiment seemed unanimous on this only-at-Washington Sunday.
Asked if this indeed was his final competitive game in a uniform, the 28-year-old Roy looked up, thought of those thrashed knees, smiled and said: "Nah.
"I'm playing in this game again next year."