Coach Lorenzo Romar told players they have to play hard against Wright State, Belmont and Portland State.
Lorenzo Romar hates cool jackets.
When you wear cool jackets, the Washington men’s basketball coach tells his players, bad things happen.
Players with cool jackets read press clippings and listen to family and friends who talk about booking Final Four reservations.
When you wear cool jackets, Romar says, you get complacent in games. You make mistakes. And you lose season-opening games against teams you’re supposed to beat.
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It has happened before. And if the 14th-ranked Huskies don’t remember the painful lesson learned last year in Portland, Romar fears it could happen again when Washington opens the regular season at 7 tonight at Edmundson Pavilion against Wright State.
“It was a reminder that, at that time, as individuals, we weren’t very good and we had to be a team and that we had to really work in order to be successful,” Romar said of last year’s 80-74 loss to the Pilots. “We couldn’t just walk out on the floor and win games. I think that got our attention big time.”
Many players point to that opening defeat as one of the games that put them on the path to winning the school’s first outright Pac-10 title.
“I think about it all the time,” senior forward Quincy Pondexter said. “We realized we weren’t as good as we needed to be and we couldn’t play cool. We had to play scrappy and hustle like any other team.”
Which is where Romar’s cool jacket comes in.
“Say you go on a date and you got your cool outfit on or your cool jacket and you think you’re untouchable,” Pondexter said. “So Romar uses that phrase to say we can’t go out and be cool. We can’t go out there and not go to work. We can’t be a lazy team and win games. We have to be the hungrier team.”
But it’s the Huskies who hold the lofty national ranking as they host Wright State, Belmont and Portland State in the Athletes in Action Classic, starting tonight. It’s three games in three nights against schools from smaller conferences.
Washington’s challenge, especially the newcomers, is to treat every team as if it were No. 1-ranked Kansas.
“Before, when we weren’t practicing and I was looking at the schedule, I’m thinking, ‘Yeah, we can overlook these guys,’ ” freshman point guard Abdul Gaddy said. “I was thinking we’re going to win this game, this game and this game. But Coach Romar preaches to us every practice that if you don’t come in and play hard right away, you can end up with losses in these games.
“I’ve never really heard of these teams, but surprisingly those are kind of the worst teams to play against because you don’t know what to expect. I think we just have to come out, play hard and do the things that coach Romar and all the coaches have taught us.”
A year ago, the Huskies were out of sync early in the opener at Portland, shot .188 (3 of 16) on three-pointers against a zone defense and fell behind 26-16 before preseason All-America senior Jon Brockman scored a basket.
Washington regrouped in the second half, but never recovered.
“It’s a lot different now,” guard Isaiah Thomas said. “We just don’t want to lose. We’re going to do whatever we can not to lose. The people who are coming back from last year, we know.
“For these teams … they’re not as good as us, in terms of the rankings and whatnot, so it’s their Super Bowl. They’re going to come out bringing their A-game and playing hard. So we’ve got to come back and play harder than they do.”
Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or firstname.lastname@example.org