It was impossible not to be nostalgic Friday night at Alaska Airlines Arena. Former Washington superstar Brandon Roy sat courtside, watching his old head coach, Lorenzo Romar, outmaneuver his old assistant coach, Ken Bone.
It was impossible not to reminisce about when those three were on the same side, along with a slew of other memorable Husky players and coaches, transforming a Washington program with a mediocre tradition into one of the great stories in college basketball. And to see the individuals apart and struggling now seems unfair and preposterous.
The marvelous Roy, at age 29, is a former NBA All-Star out of basketball because of knee problems. Barring a miracle, Romar will miss the NCAA tournament for a third straight season, the longest drought of his 12-year UW tenure. And Bone sits on a seat hotter than Arizona in August, with a 79-84 record over five seasons at Washington State and zero Big Dance appearances after taking over a program that had the momentum of the Tony Bennett/Dick Bennett era.
Nine years ago, when the Huskies earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, you couldn’t envision this scenario. It was the beginning of something special. Romar had achieved validation. Roy was an emerging talent who would go on to become a first-team All-American and NBA lottery pick the next season. And Bone was about to parlay his work as a faithful servant into his first Division I head-coaching gig at Portland State.
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Five years ago, you still couldn’t envision this scenario. Roy had established himself as one of the best guards in the NBA. Romar’s Huskies had claimed their first outright conference title in 56 years. Bone had led Portland State to consecutive Big Dance appearances and was about to be hired to replace Tony Bennett in Pullman.
Heck, even three years ago, there was still ample hope. But on Friday, Roy wore black sweats, flashed his trademark smile and watched two of his mentors strategize against each other for survival. Sometimes, it’s amazing how thoroughly misfortune operates.
Roy got to see his Huskies win, at least. They controlled the entire game and avenged a road loss to the Cougars with a 72-49 victory. Freshman point guard Nigel Williams-Goss scored 17 points and grabbed 12 rebounds. Shooting guard Andrew Andrews had 16 points and nine boards. The Huskies limited the Cougars to 31.1 percent shooting. It was a solid performance for a Washington team that is still competitive despite nearing the end of a mediocre season (16-13, 8-8 in the Pac-12).
“We’re confident now that, if we do what we’re supposed to do, we have a chance to be successful,” Romar said of the current state of the Huskies.
It was a realistic, if sobering, take. It’s not like Romar can set his sights on the Final Four with this team.
“We’ve just won two games (in a row),” Romar said. “That’s not like, all of a sudden, we’re undefeated.”
At their worst, the Huskies are a frustrating, middle-of-the-road team. At their best, though, you see some solid role players and winning traits. You see a team that would look a whole lot better if it had a dominant star that served as a unifying force. If the Huskies had a big man who produced frequent double-doubles, or if they had a playmaking wing player who took pressure off the sharp-shooting C.J. Wilcox, then you might see an NCAA tournament team. Instead, you see a work in progress, and you’re not sure whether to express concern to the artist right now or hope to be surprised by the finished product.
Washington State (9-19, 2-14) is about to complete its second straight losing season. It’s the third straight year the Cougars have lost at least 18 games. Bone has lost at least 13 games in all five of his seasons. His best record came in 2010-11, when Washington State finished 22-13.
While Romar’s feeling more pressure than usual, Washington will be patient with him. He’s using a lot of equity he has built, but he still has plenty left. On the other hand, Bone will probably be fired, and if he isn’t, most won’t consider that a show of confidence. They’ll figure Washington State doesn’t want to spend the money to fire a coach under contract and hire a bigger name.
As Roy watched the teams of his former coaches compete, the nostalgia was thick on this night. He may have seen an ending: This could’ve been Bone’s last game against Washington as the Washington State coach.
Maybe the three men will join forces again someday and restore Husky basketball. Or maybe that’s just the past. Maybe it’s best to pursue reinvention.
Roy left his courtside seats early in the second half. The Huskies rolled. Romar and Bone shared a warm postgame handshake. And that’s how this nostalgic night ended, with an unbreakable bond serving as a reprieve to an uncertain future.