Lorenzo Romar, the patriarch of the Washington men’s basketball revival, is a proud ol’ coach right now. He has that understated Romar swagger back. His jokes are sharper, his stories are tighter, and his grin is wider.
The pressure of the beast he has created remains, and that includes the demand to prove the program isn’t slipping after back-to-back years out of the NCAA tournament. But as the Huskies prepare to host their first alumni basketball event on Sunday, it’s impossible not to find hope while swimming in the nostalgia.
To a curmudgeonly faction, this hoops reunion comes at an awkward time because the Huskies haven’t been dominant on the court lately. Most will see it for what it is, though: Just a good time and a welcome morale boost.
It shouldn’t be a painful reminder that Nate Robinson, Brandon Roy, Jon Brockman and Isaiah Thomas are long gone. It’s a celebration that they and so many others were here in the first place, and if the program has come this far in Romar’s first 11 seasons, there’s ample reason to expect that, at the very least, they’ll return to form shortly.
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And it’s the right time for the non-Romar era Huskies to reunite, too, especially those who played for Marv Harshman, who died at age 95 in April. They may have returned for the funeral, but you know what people who haven’t seen each other wind up saying during funerals: “Great seeing you, but we have to get together again under different circumstances.”
Sunday is a different circumstance.
It’s not about loss. It’s about legacy.
It’s not about current disappointment. It’s about past glory.
It’s the energy pill this program needs.
For proof, look at Romar. He looks like Romar again. It’s hard to distinguish Replenished Romar from Rundown Romar because he’s always gracious, always levelheaded, always positive. But disappointment has had a toll on him, and, my, how the program has changed when records of 24-11 and 18-16 qualify as failure. In the past, that was a reason to give a coach an extension. Romar has elevated the standard, and old mediocrity no longer applies.
The coach understands and accepts this more than anyone. That’s why he made the difficult decision to restructure his coaching staff, which led to the departure of longtime assistants Jim Shaw and Paul Fortier. If you know Romar, who is as loyal as they come, then you can imagine the anxiety he felt in leaving behind two men who contributed greatly to the program’s success.
Winning can be a vicious pursuit. There’s no such thing as fair in this world. When the beast is hungry, it must be fed. When a strong program is built, it must be renovated regularly for maintenance. In this world, there is no vintage. Out of date usually means out of work.
So the Huskies are changing, and we’ll find out soon if it’s for the better. But one concept never requires alterations: Recruit good and hungry players, and reap the rewards.
What I like most about Romar: It’s always about the players. He rarely discusses his own successes. He’d rather give his players credit for their natural skill, or their maturation, or their basketball IQ, or their toughness, or their athleticism, or their determination. He’s beaming this week because his biggest stars are back, and he gets to brag about them.
And he’s not just celebrating the ones who have had the best NBA careers. He’s praising Tre Simmons for the championships he has won overseas. He’s praising Justin Dentmon for continuing his dramatic improvement after college. He’s praising Bobby Jones for wanting to play in this legends game so badly that he’s trying to hustle home from Italy.
Romar is no less proud of the first-round NBA draft picks he has coached at Washington: Roy, Robinson, Spencer Hawes, Quincy Pondexter, Terrence Ross, Tony Wroten Jr. But he’ll also smile and tell you that many of his former stars lobbied the most for the rugged Brockman to be on their team.
Asked if the event could have an impact on recruiting, Romar joked that it’s possible as long as a weak crowd of 1,000 doesn’t show up at Alaska Airlines Arena. That’s not going to happen, of course. The legend of these Huskies, as well as their intense offseason scrimmages, is too strong. It’s a must-see summer event that will emphasize the incredible guard play the Huskies have had in the Romar era, the underrated forwards the program has recruited, and the mobile big men they have found to make their up-tempo system work.
This will be a fun day. It won’t eliminate concern that the fun days are over. But that’s angst that this program invented through its success.
And it’s angst that Romar can remove simply by following the same pattern that got him here.
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @JerryBrewer