Excitedly, they talked often about the possibilities. In open gym, on campus, in team meetings, the recruiting Class of 2006 — Spencer...

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Excitedly, they talked often about the possibilities. In open gym, on campus, in team meetings, the recruiting Class of 2006 — Spencer Hawes, Quincy Pondexter, Phil Nelson, Adrian Oliver — gushed about the direction of the program.

Washington was rolling, coming off a second consecutive impressive postseason run. Falling one jump shot short of an overtime win against Connecticut.

And now the program had probably the best recruiting class in school history, a class good enough to keep the Huskies on the lips of every ESPN commentator and every big-time blog.

Hawes had chosen Washington over North Carolina. Oliver was wooed by Kentucky. And Pondexter almost had gone to Arizona.

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These were blue-chippers, and Washington was fast becoming a college basketball blue blood.

Add this class to a group that included sophomore-to-be Jon Brockman and Justin Dentmon and junior-to-be Ryan Appleby, and the future was so bright, the windows at Edmundson Pavilion needed shades.

“We thought we were going to be the catalyst to continue to change Husky basketball, so it could become like a Duke or a North Carolina,” Pondexter said. “We thought our recruiting class was actually going to do that. It’s unfortunate to have it pan out the way it did, but those things happen. People go their separate ways.”

Now, a year and a month into what would have been their sophomore seasons, Pondexter is the only Husky left from that class. Hawes left for the NBA, Nelson left for Portland State and last week Oliver chose to transfer.

They had visions of Final Fours. Dreams of doing what no other team in school history had done. They were going to be contenders.

“It’s tough to see teammates leave,” said Appleby, who transferred to Washington after his freshman year at Florida. “They’re good guys, and we wanted them to stick around. We thought that all of them could help us in a big way. Now there’s just Quincy left, and he probably is the best of all of them.”

Last week, Oliver became the third member of the class to leave, after playing only 20 minutes in the past four games.

“Adrian was my roommate. We were really good friends,” Pondexter said. “You did get a sense that he wasn’t really happy, but really we didn’t talk a lot about basketball. We were good enough friends that we didn’t have to talk about basketball 24 hours a day.”

Losing that many good players in such a short period creates inevitable trauma. So much was expected from the Class of ’06, and it never truly got the chance to prove itself.

Still, this isn’t a bad Washington team that lost 75-74 Saturday to 12th-ranked and undefeated Pittsburgh. It just isn’t the team any of us expected to see.

“You can always second-guess, ‘What if they all had stayed?’ ” said senior Appleby, who scored 18 points in his season debut Saturday. “It was a great class, and they didn’t know this was going to happen. I think maybe a couple of them left a little too early.

“Just being a sophomore, each year you grow a little bit more and become a better player and a more mature person. Who knows, in the end, that class could have been really good here.”

After playing 25 minutes in the loss to Pitt, Pondexter leaned against a wall outside the Washington locker room and, for just a moment, allowed himself to think about what might have been.

“It hurts a little because now you don’t have any of your counterparts that you came into school with,” Pondexter said. “I’m the only guy left, and I’ve lost a lot of good friends. They were, each one, my good friend, and it’s tough because we expected a lot. But I still have my teammates here, and I’m happy.

“I hear all those rumors about me that I want to go to the NBA, or I want to go somewhere else. But I’m not unhappy at all. I just want to win. Sometimes, when I read that stuff, I feel like, ‘Do you guys want me to leave?’ They kill you on those blogs, but I’m here. I’m not leaving. No way.”

A loss like Saturday’s and four losses in the past five games can make it feel as if the sky is falling on Washington basketball.

But coach Lorenzo Romar has signed another high-quality class for next season that includes guards Isaiah Thomas, formerly from Curtis, Scott Suggs from Washington, Mo., Elston Turner Jr. from Houston and forward Tyreese Breshers from Los Angeles.

“None of us have lost any confidence in what this team can do,” Appleby said. “Other people might be in a panic, but we’re not in a panic.”

The feeling inside Hec Ed isn’t panic. It’s more like disappointment, a sense of melancholy for a recruiting class and its great opportunity lost.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com. More columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists

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