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October 5, 2013 at 10:20 AM

Lorenzo Romar on toughness and recruiting

dez and andrew

Desmond Simmons, left, and Andrew Andrews on Jan. 5, 2013 during Washington’s 68-63 win at Washington State.
(Photo credit: Tyler Tjomsland – The Spokesman-Review)

In Part III of our interview with Lorenzo Romar, the Washington coach talks about the conditioning test, the failures with the high-post offense last season and what he believes is a change in the team’s identity.

We had an interesting discussion about toughness and it’s intriguing to note who Romar said are UW’s tough guys. The players at the top of the list include Desmond Simmons and Andrew Andrews (pictured above).

And finally, Romar talked about a subtle shift in Washington’s recruiting strategies and philosophy that came about after failing to land notable high-profile targets the past 2-3 years.

“We went after the All-Americans that really liked us,” Romar said. “I think there’s some other places where you got high-profile schools like Kansas and North Carolina and they can look at a top 10 player in the country and go after them regardless of where they’re at. That’s not how we were doing it. Those All-Americans that said I love Washington, it’s my No. 1 school, those were the kids we went after. We didn’t get those.

“The difference now is before if we had 3-4 that said that’s my No. 1 school, then we wouldn’t take anyone else until they had a chance to tell us yes or no. And we missed out. We gambled and missed out. Now those All-Americans that really like us and say you’re No. 1, if someone else steps up we’re taking them.”

Here’s the interview.

(Did everyone pass the mile test?) “No there were some that either got here late and they weren’t able to do it or some guys were injured they didn’t do it. But everyone we expected to pass passed.”

(Any other gains in the weight room or in the offseason that’s notable?) “No. What C.J. had done (270-pound bench press) is pretty impressive. But no, not really.”

(Back to the mile test and the guys who didn’t pass, is that a concern?) “No. Like I said there’s certain guys for whatever reasons we didn’t think they’d make it because they were either injured or they got here late.”

(And this is still a test that you do that’s important to you?) “Very much so.”

(Why is that because it shows a commitment to want to get into shape?) “Well that’s No. 1. Sometimes guys  subconsciously I’ll get in shape when I get to school. I’ll do this and I’ll do that to work on my game, but to really get in shape I’ll wait to school. Well, we want to encourage them to be in shape when they get here. So it takes it out of our hands when they get here. They’ve already taken care of it. You also find out who your competitors are. If a guy is physically gifted to make let’s say a 5:15 mile, but he runs it in 5:28. Well he didn’t challenge himself. The guy that’s physically gifted to make it in 5:15 and he makes it in 5:15, you know he challenged himself. Those little subtle messages, they mean something.”

(What’s the time limit for the guards?) “5:30.”

(And the big guys?) “5:35.”

(That’s not much of a break for the big guys.) “Yeah. [Laughs] We’re up tempo. We want everybody to be able to run.”

(Speaking of being up-tempo, do you think the offense will get back on track. I say on track because last season the offense average 67 points, which I think is the lowest since you’ve been here. Were the struggles a product of installing a new offense?) “Some of it had something to do with that. Some others were our inability to make open shots. I’ve said that many times. I’ve said you measure offense based on the shots you get. If you’re getting good shots, you’re doing something right. If you’re always struggling to get a good shot and every shot you take you’re down in the shot clock and you’re forcing it, then you’re doing something wrong. I thought by the end of the year, we were really clicking in getting really good shots. Just had a tough time putting the ball in the basket. So I think we understand it better this year even though we have new players. I just think we have the personnel that’s going to be able to make plays. But let’s throw that out the window. You talk about points per game, I think we have the ability defensively to create more offense. The only time we were in offense last year was in the half court. Rarely were we in transition. If you  take any of our teams of the past and you  don’t let us get into transition, we wouldn’t average the points we averaged. Now it wouldn’t have been 67. One year we averaged 86 and one year we averaged 82. If we had just played half court, 86 would probably become 77.”

(Earlier you mentioned the team would be tougher. I talked to Desmond Simmons and he said something similar, which is no surprise coming from him because he’s that type  of guy. But why do you think a jump-shooting team that plays a high-post offense will be tougher?) “If all you’re shooting is jumpers in the high post, then you’re not doing a very good job. We need to be going inside. Guys are scoring around the elbow area. If you look at a shot chart … you’re getting stuff right around in here (the painted area) and you’re getting a three here and there. That elbow and 16-footers. That’s what you should be getting if you’re doing what you’re supposed to do. But in terms of toughness, Andrew Andrews is tough. Last year I thought Aziz N’Diaye was pretty tough. I thought Andrew as a freshman and Desmond Simmons. I thought those were are three guys that showed a lot of toughness. Well, Aziz is gone, but Perris (Blackwell) is tough. Andrew is tough. Desmond is tough. Nigel (Williams-Goss) is tough. Darin Johnson is tough. Mike Anderson is tough. I just think we have more tough personalities out there on the floor. And we have other guys like Jernard Jarreau that are a little older now that have become tougher. Gilles Dierickx like I said is not just a straight junkyard dog, but he’s no softie. By in large I just think we have more tough guys. Jahmel Taylor is tough.”

(I got to point this out and I’m not trying to pin you down or start any controversy, but of the tough guys you named, you didn’t mention your best player C.J. Wilcox.) “Yeah. Tre Simmons and Brandon Roy, those guys were tough in their own ways. C.J. is not a guy who is just going to go and pound you [Romar pounds a fist into an open hand] that way. He just kind of does it a different way. When you think of Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. Joe Frazier is tough. It seems like Ali wasn’t tough, but he can take more of a punch than you think. He just looks a little more finesse. But he’s not soft.”

(I get that, but doesn’t a team follow the personality of their coach and their best player?) “Yeah. I would say so. But I just think we have so many guys that are bringing it to you. Just bringing it. C.J. is going to bring it to you, but just in his own way that I’m fine with those results.”

(I remember talking with you three years ago about recruiting. We talked about Washington now being in place to pursue out-of-state McDonald’s All-Americans, which is something the program hadn’t really done with great success before. You pointed to the 2013 class and said it could be pretty special. You assembled a nice group that’s ranked in the top 30 by ESPN, but there were some notable misses. That being said, have you shifted your stance on recruiting?) “We went after the All-Americans that really liked us. I think there’s some other places where you got high-profile schools like Kansas and North Carolina and they can look at a top 10 player in the country and go after them regardless of where they’re at. That’s not how we were doing it. Those All-Americans that said I love Washington, it’s my No. 1 school, those were the kids we went after. We didn’t get those. The difference now is before if we had 3-4 that said that’s my No. 1 school, then we wouldn’t take anyone else until they had a chance to tell us yes or no. And we missed out. We gambled and missed out. Now those All-Americans that really like us and say you’re No. 1, if someone else steps up we’re taking them. Well someone could say you’re selling yourself short, but the someone elses are Justin Holiday who is playing in the NBA. Isaiah Thomas that people said was too small. Quincy Pondexter who wasn’t recruited by North Carolina, Duke and Kansas and was at a level right below and end up being a first-round draft choice. Those guys – the Tre Simmons of the world – that wasn’t on anybody’s radar. He was going to go to South Alabama if we didn’t take him. Those guys like that that may end up being a pro and an all-conference kid, but they just don’t have the hype. When I say we’ll take those guys, that’s what I’m talking about. We’re not taking second-rate players.”

(So does that mean, you stop going after the five-star recruit?) “Absolutely not. You get a guy like Jabari Bird, Jabari Parker, Aaron Gordon, Terrence Jones. Everyone of of them told us you guys have a great chance to get me. And you’re in a position as to where if we take these guys, then we won’t be able to take someone else. So you hold off on taking someone else. I’m saying, we won’t hold off on taking someone else now.”

(And it was just int the past 2-3 years that all of this happened.) “2013 was the class that we held off, Nigel’s class. It was Jabari Parker, Jabari Bird, Aaron Gordon. And then in (2010), with Terrence Jones. A kid like Ryan Anderson that’s at Boston College right now. We had a great chance, but we held off because we didn’t want to mess that up.”

(Just to be clear, do you still go after those guys?) “Oh yeah. We’ll go after them, but we’re going after the other ones too. The Quincy Pondexters, the Justin Holidays and the Justin Dentmons who end up being all-league guys if they want to come we’ll take them.”

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