A home loss to 10-point underdog Valparaiso in the first round of the tournament that sounded more like a crime show would seem to be the...

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A home loss to 10-point underdog Valparaiso in the first round of the tournament that sounded more like a crime show would seem to be the ultimate test of Lorenzo Romar’s self-proclaimed status as the ultimate glass-half-full guy.

Unlike his team on the floor this season, Romar earned a passing grade.

He was back in his office Thursday morning, and while he was disappointed about a season that didn’t go as planned, he said the ending did nothing to dampen his optimism for the future.

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In fact, after the 72-71 loss to Valparaiso in the first round of the College Basketball Invitational left the Huskies at 16-17, he thought back to the last time the Huskies finished with a losing record. That was his first year as Washington’s coach, in 2003, when the Huskies were 10-17 and lost the last game of the season at UCLA to miss the Pac-10 tournament.

“I remember being in the airport talking to a few of the guys, and everyone was fired up,” he said. “Not that we lost, but that, ‘You know, we’ve got a chance to be pretty good next season.’ And that began the run of three years [of NCAA tournament berths]. And I really feel like that right now because we will have experience and improved guard play and pretty much everybody back except for Ryan [Appleby] and Tim [Morris]. So I feel like we can be a much better team.”

They’d better be, if Romar wants to avoid hearing some serious grumbling for the first time in his UW career. Since the end of the Brandon Roy-Bobby Jones era culminated in two straight Sweet 16s, Washington is 35-30 overall, 15-21 in Pac-10 play. Romar has eight years left on a contract signed before the 2007 season, so that isn’t an issue. But he knows the direction of the program is, and he acknowledges that it will be time to get back to some more established postseason play.

“Next year is a year where we can get back in the direction of where we were a couple of years ago,” he said.

Romar said the return of Quincy Pondexter, Justin Dentmon, Joel Smith and Venoy Overton, along with the addition of freshman guards Isaiah Thomas, Elston Turner Jr. and Scott Suggs, will make the Huskies better on the perimeter.

Thomas, the 5-foot-8 guard from Curtis High now at South Kent (Conn.) Prep, is a prolific scorer. Suggs, 6-6, and Turner, 6-4, are regarded as versatile players and good shooters.

“Our guard play will be as good as it’s been the last two years, since Brandon left,” Romar said. “That’s just going to help us all the way around offensively. We’ll have more guys that can put the ball in the basket.”

The addition of the three, Romar says, should enable the Huskies to run more than they have the past two seasons while maintaining the emphasis on improved defense of this year (UW ranked fourth in field-goal percentage defense in Pac-10 play at 44.1).

Everybody returns up front, led by forward Jon Brockman, who Romar says will contend for All-American honors.

The biggest area for improvement needed for Brockman is the same for the rest of the team — free-throw shooting. After hitting 66.2 percent his first two seasons, Brockman made just 51.9 percent this season, missing two with 4.7 seconds left that could have won the Valpo game.

The Huskies’ mark of 58.6 percent is second worst in school history and, as of this week, the worst in the nation this season.

“We can be tough next year,” Brockman said. “I know we said that last year. But I think we have a lot more guys who have played this year, who got experience and made huge steps. We need to keep working in the offseason, but we can come back and really be a different team and end this thing on a lot more positive note.”

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or bcondotta@seattletimes.com

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