Unleashed: Here's What's Next For Romar's Dawgs
April 4, 2012
By Gregg Bell - UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - Relax, Huskies fans. Lorenzo Romar has been here before.
Washington's veteran coach has something he wants to tell grumpy Dawgs that may be feeling scorned by the NBA's early entry rule this week, now that Terrence Ross and Tony Wroten have declared for the draft.
"With these two guys going pro, that's the world of college basketball right now. That's just the way it is," Romar told me over the telephone Tuesday night, hours after Wroten joined Spencer Hawes as the second one-and-done Husky in six years.
"As Huskies fans we can't get upset when these guys pursue their dreams and take the chance to go the NBA when it presents itself. For us as a program, it's important to plan ahead and put ourselves in a position to survive these moves."
Romar has already done that for next season, as I will detail shortly. After all, it's not as if he and his staff just realized last week that Ross and Wroten may be heading to the NBA.
Ross' smooth shooting, ability to post up as a 6-foot-6 guard and his complete game made it evident by December that he was ready for the league. And Romar knew even before Wroten signed with Washington as a 17-year-old in November 2010 that he could be in the NBA after just one college season.
"I saw it as a high possibility," Romar said, adding he's thought that way only about Wroten and Hawes in his decade as UW's coach.
Hawes entered the NBA after his freshman season in 2007.
Wroten himself may have put it best on Tuesday.
"Coach Romar," he said, "he knows what he's doing."
Romar has another message, this one for the NBA: Change your rule.
He is one of many that would like to see the league up its minimum age for players from 19 to at least 20. NBA commissioner David Stern is another.
As Huskies fans we can't get upset when these guys pursue their dreams and take the chance to go the NBA when it presents itself.
Such a move to end the "one and done" seemed possible this winter as the league and its players' union negotiated a new labor agreement to end the lockout that delayed the start of the current NBA season by months. But the two sides struck a labor deal without changing the early entry rule. That's how Wroten was able to declare for the draft Tuesday, 10 days before he turns 19.
"I think it'd be great if a guy had to stay in college two years. And if even if they had to go out straight from high school they go, but if they don't go out of high school they go to college for at least two years," Romar said, offering a proposal that might please both sides of the debate.
"Ideally, it'd be three years a guy has to stay in college. But two years, that's a good compromise."
The 53-year-old former NBA guard and veteran of 17 seasons as a college head man is a prominent and respected member of the National Association of Basketball Coaches. Sunday at the Final Four in New Orleans he received the Leadership Award, one of four Guardians of the Game Pillar Awards handed out that evening. Guardians of the Game is an NABC awareness program that promotes the positive aspects of basketball and the role coaches play in the lives of student-athletes, in addition to the contributions coaches make to their communities.
I asked Romar how many of his NABC colleagues agree with him that the NBA should raise the minimum age for its players from 19 to 20.
"It's on the table," Romar said. "But it's up to the NBA and the Players' Association."
"HOW WILL YOU EVER REPLACE HIM?"
Romar has done this for 10 years running now at Washington, replacing a star player when none seemed on the horizon.
When Nate Robinson left early for the New York Knicks off UW's thrilling, NCAA tournament team in 2005 the cry was, "How are you going to replace him?"
They asked the same thing after last season, when Isaiah Thomas left a year early for the NBA.
On March 24, as the Huskies' chartered jet touched down at New York's LaGuardia Airport for the National Invitation Tournament semifinals, Romar nodded his head proudly. Coaches and players smiled. They had turned on their smart phones and learned Justin Dentmon had that night become the ninth Husky who played for Romar at UW over the last 10 years to play in the NBA.
It's 10 of his Huskies in the NBA in 10 years if you count Martell Webster. The high school star at Seattle Prep signed with Romar and Washington but then declared for the draft without playing a college game.
For us as a program, it's important to plan ahead and put ourselves in a position to survive these moves.
Ross and Wroten are now poised to become numbers 11 and 12.
How many Huskies had gone on to play even a single NBA game in the program's history before Romar arrived from Saint Louis to coach UW in 2002?
Seventeen. In a century.
So, no, Romar isn't disappointed Ross and Wroten left early for the NBA.
"I'm really excited for them," he says. "We have six guys in the NBA right now (Robinson, Hawes, Brockman, Pondexter, Thomas, and Dentmon). You know how much fun it is to get up in the morning and look at the box scores to see how they are doing?
"These guys will be following them next year. It will be exciting to see."
And here's the thing about Romar's NBA players: It's not like he's welcomed a stream of ready-for-the-league, McDonald's All-Americans that have used college as a brief stopover until they could enter the pros. Washington is not Kentucky.
He has developed those dozen Huskies NBA players from talented but raw kids into men ready for the world's best.
Like Wroten and Ross, Roy and Thomas didn't even start for part of their freshman seasons. They had to internalize and then execute Romar's exacting defensive principles before they became lineup mainstays. Roy then grew into the 2006 Pac-10 player of the year and a multi-time All-Star with the Portland Trail Blazers before chronic knee pain forced him to retire this season.
Thomas became the Huskies' irrepressible, 2010 conference tournament MVP. He has won the last two NBA Western Conference rookie of the month awards as the starting point guard for the Sacramento Kings.
"Isaiah Thomas, when he was a freshman, he could not have started at point guard for the Sacramento Kings," Romar said.
Quincy Pondexter started the first 13 games of Washington's 2006-07 season then disappeared to the Huskies' bench - for almost two seasons. He got so down that on Christmas break while on the '07-08 team he had thoughts of transferring from UW and going back home to Fresno, Calif. But he didn't want to quit on Romar's program. He fought to see it through, became an All-Pac-10 forward and honorable mention All-America by The Associated Press.
Two weeks ago Pondexter was so tough against Kobe Bryant that one of the world's best players was on the Lakers' bench for the end of a win by Pondexter's Memphis Grizzlies.
The point is NBA talent doesn't always play like NBA players in college, at least not always right away. These are teenagers, thrust into the highest level of competition they've faced after years of toying with high schoolers that were playing the last formally competitive basketball of their lives. They are adjusting to life on the court and off, competitively, socially and academically, during hugely formative years.
So sometimes - as was the case in this past, unprecedented, up-and-down season when the Huskies became the first winner of a major power conference to be left out of the NCAA tournament - it takes time for that talent to mature, to consistently perform for the best of the team, to win bigger.
That's how a team with two NBA early entrants and potential first-round picks can end up in the NIT.
Romar pointed out some elite, super-duper star players in the NBA now who didn't lead their college teams far then, such as Kevin Durant.
I was covering the NCAA tournament in Spokane in 2007 when Durant was the national player of the year, yet I watched as his Texas Longhorns lost by 19 to USC in the second round. It was Durant's final college game before the Seattle SuperSonics drafted him second overall that summer.
"Even the Fab Five, with all those lottery picks, they didn't win it all," Romar said, remembering Michigan's loaded teams of the early 1990s.
"Everyone's not Kentucky. They don't win it all with NBA talent."
So what is the legacy Ross and Wroten leave behind at UW?
They are two more examples of Romar's ability to effectively polish players for entry into the NBA.
Ross and Wroten leaving doesn't adversely affect Romar's program. It actually adds to its shine.
Washington has become a prime destination for the top college players, because of the NBA opportunities playing at Washington have given players such as Ross and Wroten.
I asked Romar what factor NBA possibilities play when he talks to recruits.
We have six guys in the NBA right now. You know how much fun it is to get up in the morning and look at the box scores to see how they are doing?
"Oh, that's huge," Romar said. "That's one of the main things they want to talk about."
As for how they will specifically replace their two top scorers from this season, next season's Huskies will have senior Scott Suggs coming off a redshirt year brought on by a broken foot in the preseason. Suggs may have started this past season. People forget he was third in the conference in 3-point shooting as a junior in 2011.
C.J. Wilcox will be back, as a junior. The sharpshooter may have joined Ross and Wroten on the All-Pac-12 team had he not been sidelined for three weeks in January then limited to games-only work over the final three months of the season because of a stress fracture in his upper leg.
Abdul Gaddy will be the senior point guard. The Huskies were best when Gaddy was at his best this season, such as when he almost single-handedly at both ends of the floor led UW back from a huge early deficit into short-lived lead in the Pac-12 tournament against Oregon State. Or when he came within three rebounds of the first triple-double in Huskies' history in the NIT quarterfinal win over Oregon. Or when his offense and defense sparked the second-half comeback last week against Minnesota.
Andrew Andrews will also join the backcourt next season, after he recovers soon from the minor hip surgery he had on Friday. The 2011 Oregon Class 5A co-player of the year at Benson Tech High School in Portland was brilliant in practices while redshirting this season, a move that looks rather wise right now. Andrews impressed teammates and coaches with great quickness on drives past the starting Huskies throughout the season.
Plus, the later signing period begins next week. There are adds on that horizon that I can't specify officially until Tuesday.
Romar thinks he may sign two or three new recruits in the coming weeks and months.
"We must and will get back to guarding the way we are capable of guarding in this program," Romar said Wednesday. "Secondly, we must have a better prescence inside scoring the ball."
So while you may be mulling how the Huskies can possibly survive Ross and Wroten leaving, Romar has already moved on.
"So we go from here," he said, with the knowing tone of a leader who has been here, won that.
"Someone will step up. They always have."
About Gregg Bell Gregg Bell is an award-winning sports writer who joined the University of Washington's staff in September 2010 as the Director of Writing. Previously, Bell served as the senior national sports writer in Seattle for The Associated Press. The native of Steubenville, Ohio, is a 1993 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. He received a master's degree in journalism from the University of California, Berkeley in 2000.
Gregg Bell Unleashed can be found on GoHuskies.com each Wednesday.