Photo credit: Seattle Times – Cliff DesPeaux
Sat down with coach Lorenzo Romar (above) this week for an extensive interview that covered a wide-range of topics. It’s probably the longetst one-on-one interview Romar and I have had since I began covering the team last season.
Rather than post the entire conversation, I’ll break it up in segments. Here’s the first part of our discussion.
(The Pac-10’s reputation took a big hit last season. How do you think the conference will fare this season?) “First of all, the Pac-10 obviously will be the Pac-12 pretty soon. But the Pac-10 has sustained a level of success for 20-30 years. The Pac-10 is going to be one of the best conferences in the country. Some years it has been the best conference in the country. Last year we took a step back, you know, you look at different conferences and a few years ago the ACC took a step back and they weren’t very good. So the Pac-10 will be back. Like we said before, we just have to rebuild. We lost so much. The Pac-10 was so good for a few years there that the pros were just snapping guys out of our conference left and right and a lot of them were young lottery picks. That was indicative of where the Pac-10 was and when that happens, you end up taking a step back. But now, it’s on its way back.”
(The non-conference season appears to be when things fell apart.) “It was. It’s unfortunate because in the non-conference there were some key games that teams played without their full compliment of players. The best example is Cal. They played the NIT without Theo Robertson, without Harper Kamp, without several of their main players. The whole nation got to see that, it didn’t work out very well and people just wrote them off. Now that’s the same team that ended up winning the Pac-10. I think the Pac-10 got better as the year progressed. If you could have played the non-conference schedule at the end of the year, there would have been some different results.”
(Before we take a look at the upcoming season, let’s tie a bow on the last season. Looking back, what were some moments that made you poude and moments that you regret?) “I would say the most disappointing weekend of the year was that weekend in Arizona. We lost by (23 and 6). That was probably our lowest point. That might have been the weekend when we came back we were in last place in the Pac-10. That was the start of something special. We had to hit rock bottom for us to really buy in as a team and not be concerned about who got the credit or who got the playing time and the shots. Let’s just be together and go play. Another one was when we lost to UCLA at the buzzer. That was a low point because I thought we were playing better. Winning the Pac-10 Tournament championship is a highlight. The Marquette win is a highlight, Quincy (Pondexter’s) last-minute shot. Those were two things that stand out. And then I would say the Stanford win on the road because that was our first road win.”
(What was it about the Arizona weekend that turned things around?) “Justin Holiday sat home and didn’t make that trip. He sat home and I think watched that game and just thought I could help this team so much doing what I do. When we came back, we put him in the starting lineup because we needed better defense and better energy and those are things that he majors in. He can do other things, but those two things he does at a high, high level. When he came back and he started playing the way he did, Isaiah Thomas began to play more of a complete floor game. He started really distributing the ball more. And then Matthew Bryan-Amaning really settled down and gave us a guy we could throw the ball to on the block and also became in some ways like a linebacker for us defensively. He played behind that defense and he got steals, he got blocks. So when that happened, everyone else kind of joined in and fed off of one another at that point.”
(You’ve said you’re excited about the 2010-11 team. What makes you excited?)
“No. 1 since 2006, we have the most experience we have on this team. In 2006, it was the last year of those guys we came in with. We recruited Bobby Jones. He was on that team. Jon Brockman was on that team, we recruited him as a freshman. Justin Dentmon, we recruited. But that group was Brandon Roy. That was the last of that group. We had the four seniors, Jamaal Williams, Mike Jensen, Brandon Roy and Bobby Jones. We brought Jamaal in as well. After that we began to rebuild. I think we had a really good freshman group. There was a lot of hype about that group, but that group didn’t stay together. So it took us a couple of years and then in ’09, we rebuild and rebuild and it finally starting to come together again and we won the Pac-10 championsihp. And then last year, we built off of that. And now, going back to ’06 we’re talking about experience. The key is hopefully in the future we don’t have to go two years when we’re rebuilding. With the way we’re recruiting, the classes are stacked a little better so we don’t lose everything at once.
So that’s No. 1. No. 2, I always talk about what (John) Wodden would say: “Recruit quickness with as much size as possible.” That means don’t comprise your quickness because you want to be taller. I think this year since the eight years we’ve been here going on nine, we have the best balance of quickness and size that we’ve had.
(Last season you said in regards to recruiting that you’re at a time with the program that you’re able to finally recruit the guys you really want. I took that to mean that when you were building the program, you couldn’t get certain recruits. It seems a lot of that has changed.) “Yes, but make sure we understand Duke won a national championship last year, but everyone they recruited they didn’t get. So you’re not going to do that. We’re not at a point where we can just close our eyes, point over there and the guy comes running. We’re not there. But we’re in a position now where people listen. People listen to what we have to say. They want to hear what we have to say. Doesn’t mean they’ll come. Doesn’t mean they’ll even take a visit, but they’ll hear what we have to say. Whereas in the past, they might say we’re not interested.
(So in the past, you really didn’t get a lot of love from the five-star recruits?) “No maybe not. Now we’ll call and they’ll say we’re interested. Whereas before it was well they probably wouldn’t be that interested.”
(So how does that translate to the basketball court? Are you at a point to where the team is finally playing the type of basketball you want with the type of players you want?) “Yeah. When you see our team and I got to interject this all of this is (in theory). The biggest challenge for us is we have the type of chemistry that’s going to allow us to have everyone to play up to their potential. We don’t have to exceed their potential and our chemistry has to be there. If not we won’t be a really good team. And I want to make sure we understand that. But we’ve been able to recruit to where if you look at our team now, we’ve got length, we’ve got quickness, we’ve got more shooters. We have more of a team that when we envision what we want Husky basketball to look like that’s more of what it will look like now. And that has everything to do with our recent success. If we’re not successful, we’re not able to put the guys out there. We still have to kind of mix and match and change some things so we can compete.”
(I’ve heard you say this is the best perimeter-shooting team you’ve had. Really? They’re that good already?) “No. No. Since ’05. In 2005 with Tre Simmons and Nate Robinson. Bobby Jones even got to where he’s knocking shots down. Mike Jensen was shooting the basketball. Ryan Appleby. We just had 4-5 guys who could knock down shots. This year, we just have more shooters. Justin Holiday has improved his shot to where if he gets an open three, I think it’s going in. He’s shooting the basketball. Scott Suggs is shooting the basketball. C.J. Wilcox, Terrence Ross those guys can shoot the basketball. Darnell Gant can shoot the basketball.”
(And you haven’t mentioned Isaiah who led the team in threes.) “Isaiah is a scoring shooter. He might run off 4-5 in a row. He’s capable of doing that. So we’ve got more guys on the perimeter that can knock a shot down.”
(You’ve also said one of the top priorities going into fall camp is finding roles early. What does that mean?) “That’s part of the chemistry thing I talked about. Guys didn’t totally buy into it last year until conference time. Everybody would like to score 20 (points) a game. We did the test with our team before. Our team knows, we joke about it where I ask them to write down on a piece of paper realistically how many points you think you could average this year. And everyone writes it down, they turn it in and when you add it all up, we’d average 250 points a game. Everybody feels they’re the one that’s going to get 20 a game.”
(But that’s what you want, right? You put talented players in one room, you want them to have confidence in their abilities, right?) “If they’re capable, but understand even if they’re not capable, they think they can do it. So when you put that all together, if they’re not in that role, some guys don’t want to buy into that. When you get the guys to buy into you are just as valuable as the guy scoring 20 a game. Without your contribution on the floor, be it defensive contribution or being able to run the team, we don’t win. And when guys embrace that that’s when we are a true team. We have to try to figure out a way to find that earlier instead of later.”
(I hear that, but was part of the problem last season caused by your indecisiveness with the starting lineup because you made several changes before finally finding your starting five in January?) “I don’t mind taking the blame for anything. I’ve taken the blame before in situations. Obviously as the head coach, we’ve got to be able to figure that out. However, there are times when someone needs to step up. Don’t go out there to beat out the ninth man. Go out there to beat out the No. 1 player. Make your case. Don’t go out in practice and just be average and then expect a favor. Go out and just show why coach you have to play me. The way you practice should say: ‘Everyday look on the court and I’m dominating in these couple of areas.’ And I just don’t know if we had that last year early on, but with more guys that have proven themselves this year, with more of a veteran team, I think we will have that early on.”
(However it seems your job will be more difficult this season in terms of doling out starting assignments and minutes because the talent has improved, but it’s still somewhat bunched together.) “It could be, but that would be a good problem to have. The worst problem when no one steps up. If you got a bunch of guys stepping up making cases, that’s a good problem to have.”