Washington began practice Wednesday and news will be a slow out of Montlake because workouts are closed and the team isn’t available to the general media until next week.
The Huskies will practice again today at Alaska Airlines Arena before departing to Olympia’s Evergreen State College for a two-day trip. They’re off Sunday and Monday and will resume drills at Hec Edmundson before Tuesday’s media day.
I had a chance to sit down with coach Lorenzo Romar this week before he started his 12th season at Washington. It’s a lengthy interview so we’ll break it up in 4-5 segments over the next few days.
In Part I, Romar talks in detail about UW’s six incoming players, including freshman Nigel Williams-Goss and Darin Johnson who are pictured right.
But Romar and I began the discussion talking about the team’s annual charity outing and why his Lorenzo Romar Foundation focuses on domestic violence.
(I know every year you like to do an charity outing with your team. Where did you go this year?) “Children’s Hospital.”
(Why do make those trips?) “We try to explain to our guys and try to get the message across in so many different ways that you’ve been given some talents and some gifts and those are used best when you try to give those back to somebody else and help others with them. Children’s Hospital is a great place to go. It’s right here near us. They have something set up for us. Other athletes go through there too, but whenever you can go out and help someone else, I always think that’s pretty special.”
(How long have you made these trips?) “Oh man, for a long time. Close to every year we’ve been here.”
(One year you went to a soup kitchen.) “Yeah, the Gospel Mission downtown. We’ve done that several times. We’ve done the Mission. We’ve done the hospital. We’ve done both. Guys have gone to the Ronald McDonald’s House. It’s something now that we’ll get involved with. I think some of the football players do it. Our guys will go to elementary schools and speak to kids about the importance of fitness and that type of thing.”
(You personally have a foundation that does charity work. What do you focus on?) “Families, but primarily I would say we try to help organizations and fund organizations that try to treat domestic violence.”
(Why is that issue important to you?) “It’s something that you watched and it’s a shame that it goes on. It’s something that I experienced first hand in my own house. I saw it. I just kind of learned a lot of times there’s anger involved, but other times you’re uneducated in how to deal with it and how to communicate properly. With those that are the ones that are initiating this, if they can understand why they do it, then maybe they can step back a little bit and not do it. And the victims need to understand that it can be fatal, literally fatal if you don’t do something about it. The victims feel like they’re in prison in their own homes and they don’t have to be.”
(What do you specifically do with your foundation?) “I’ll go speak. But also we help fund some of those organizations that are dealing with domestic violence.”
(When you say it’s something you watched, what does that mean?) “My parents. I watched my father lose it basically in the home with my mom.”
(How old where you?) “Probably from age 8-17.”
(For an eight-year-old that must be scary?) “Especially when you can’t do anything about it.”
(Let’s get to basketball. I know there’s the new rule implemented last year that allows coaches more contact with players. So how much time have you had with your guys this summer?) “We started with Jahmel Taylor and Darin Johnson the second week of July. We went four weeks and we were with them two hours a week on the floor. Then they were gone for a few days and came back. Then we had another four weeks with them. And then Nigel joined us the third week of July. We kind of went straight through with him, about a seven-week period two hours a week because those guys were all in class as that time. Mike Anderson joined us later so we didn’t get any time with him.”
(Let’s start with Taylor. What are you impressions of him – not the recruit and not the guy you were recruiting to get to Washington – but the guy that you had on the floor this summer.) “He’s very attentive to detail. It’s very important to him to do what you ask him to do. He can really shoot the basketball. Tough. Great teammate. Just very low-maintenance kid that you never have to worry about if he’s going to take care of his business or not. Very respectful. Just great to have around. Great to coach. I don’t know if I ever coached a player that as you’re teaching him and even being critical at times, he thanks you. He says thanks coach. And what he’s telling you is I’m learning. You just taught me something. I’m learning. You taught me the right way to do that. I’m learning.”
(He really sounds like a preacher’s kid. That upbringing probably rubbed off on him.) “Yeah. There’s some preacher’s kid who will be completely opposite, but you can just tell he’s been raised the right way. There are kids that are raised the right way that don’t take that extra mile to do that.”
(Everything is so new and you haven’t even practiced yet, but what do you think his role will be?) “He’s a guy that we feel can apply ball pressure with our defense. Our defense starts with ball pressure. He’s a guy that can definitely make the open shot. And a guy that can break down the defense and penetrate.”
(Darin Johnson.) “Very good athlete. Has already put on five pounds or so. I really believe that eventually he can become a good defender. He’s a guy that attacks. Offensively, he attacks. I imagine that he’ll get to the foul line quite a bit because he’s relentless in his attack to the basket. And he compliments that with a nice jumper.”
(On an off note, I saw guys on campus – and not just the basketball players but football players too – and they’re carrying clear plastic water jugs. What’s that about?) “That’s coach (Daniel) Shapiro. With our guys they have to carry it with them so they remain hydrated. When they’re working out and conditioning, if they drink water they keep their weight on. If they don’t, it’s easier to lose weight and drop pounds. They’re just in a habit of carrying that water with them at all times. They’ve gotten used to it.”
(Nigel Williams-Goss.) “Another guy that’s important to him to get it right. He wants to get it right. He’s a guy that is maybe as disciplined a kid as I’ve been around with his status. He’s a McDonald’s All-American and a high school All-American, but yet boy he’s almost flawless in the classroom. He’s on time. You tell him to do something once, he’s going to do it. If he didn’t play basketball, he would be highly successful.”
(What’s his role?) “He’s a floor general. He’s a natural leader.”
(Mike Anderson.) “Mike is kind of a multi-dimensional guard. At 6-5 he can handle the ball, pass it. He can knock the open shot down. He’ll go to the glass and rebound for you. In our defense deflections is a big deal and he’s a guy that once he learns our defense, I’m sure he’ll be getting a lot of deflections. He can guard 3-4 different positions. He has 6-10 1/2 wingspan at 6-5. So he has extremely long arms.”
(He had crazy rebounding numbers at Mobley JC. Was that a product of the competition or an indicator of what he can do at this level?) “He played a lot of forward. They played with four guards. He just had a knack for going to get the basketball. And again with those long arms. John Wooden would always say measure their length with their arms up as opposed to their height. The better measurement is their reach. Fred Slaughter was 6-5 when they won their first national championship, but he had long arms so he could play center. So the height doesn’t matter. Mike is one of those guys. His reach allows him to go in there and get the rebound because his arms are so long and I think he has a pretty good feel and nose for the ball.”
(I’m thinking back to Aziz N’Diaye and I remember what you said about JC guys adjusting to D-I basketball. What do you think the transition will be like for Mike?) “We hope he adjusts quickly. Even those that adjust quickly, they’re still not at their best until mid-January.”
(His role?) “Just kind of an all-purpose guy. Kind of give you whatever you need in there. For whatever reason if you get in foul trouble at the point position or injuries occur, he can play point and fill in there. If there’s a 6-8 that’s hurting us on the perimeter, he can go and defend that guy. Just an all-purpose guard.”
(Let’s get to your other two newcomers who aren’t necessarily new to Washington. First, Gilles Dierickx.) “G has gotten better. He’s put on weight since we first got him. He’s about 232 right now and I think he was about 220 when he first got here. He’s done that. He understands our system now. The couple of times we’ve been able to scrimmage a little bit, he’s rebounding the ball for us. He’s not a guy like Jon Brockman that’s knocking people around, but he’s got some toughness about him. Overall, this team is much tougher this year I believe.”
(That’s what I’m hearing, but we’ll get to that later. With Gilles, is he a project?) “If we define project as someone that is very raw, can’t really put him in games right now and later on they’re going to be functional, then no. He’s not not that guy. If we’re talking about a project that’s already functional, but has a chance to be much better then yes. I don’t know. When I hear project, I hear today a guy that’s just not ready. I can’t say that about him. I think he can go and play right now.”
(So this year he’ll compete for a spot in the rotation?) “Absolutely.”
(Perris Blackwell.) “Pretty dominant in the paint area and he’s added a nice 17-footer to that. He’s just a guy that today we have so many big guys that want to be wings. I say it all the time, they want to show how versatile they are. Well if you’re always on the perimeter, then you’re not versatile. You’re never in the paint so you’re one-dimensional. He’s a guy that understands where he can really be effective. Now he can step out and shoot it. He can put the ball on the floor and drive it. But he knows what he’s doing around that basket.”
(Is he anything like Jon Brockman. Folks will see the body type and the size and think Brockman, but maybe that’s not fair to Perris.) “No it’s not. Jon was just a bull in a china shop. Perris is tough. He’s strong. He loves contact, but has probably a little more finesses in terms of his moves around the rim. When we got bowling, Jon Brockman’s ball is just like a 200 mph ball. Everything he did was just hard. Perris can change speeds a little bit. He hasn’t shown that he’s the rebounder that Jon was. He can be more like a Jamaal Williams type.”
(It seems with Perris you lose some shot blocking. The past 2-3 years you had Aziz at 7 feet inside, which was a luxury that you never had before. Now that goes away so I imagine you’ll have to do things different defensively.) “It’s a give and take. Aziz controlled the rim. He altered shots. He blocked shots, but we don’t have to gimmick as much on defense with Perris because Perris can go out and switch on a guard in a ball-screen situation. If we are rotating and Perris gets stuck on a perimeter guy, he can hold his own. If he’s closing out in a scramble situation in transition, he can hold his own. Aziz had a little more difficulty in that regard. So you lose the shot blocking, but you gain mobility on the perimeter.”
(And let’s talk about Robert Upshaw even though he’s not playing this year. Just who is he?) “He’s going to be great at practice. We talk about Aziz. He has that presence and our guys are going against that every day. He has a great opportunity to take a year and just totally get his focus to where it needs to be. Get in great shape and learn our system so he can come in next year ready to go. As a 7-footer, he’s just one of those guys who aren’t around very often.”
(So this is your second go-around with him. Did you research why things didn’t work out for him at Fresno State and was that a concern?) “It’s something where we talked to his coaches. We talked to a lot of people. We talked to him. Obviously that focus has to right and we feel he’s headed in the right direction.”