The UW job should attract any coach who wants a realistic chance to win a championship. Throw in one of America’s most livable cities, which has a robust high-school talent pipeline, and athletic director Jen Cohen doesn’t have to settle in any fashion.
Though the short term could be in shambles for the Huskies if their plum recruiting class scatters, Lorenzo Romar left one long-term parting gift for the men’s basketball program: possibilities.
In his 15 years helming the program, Romar showed the Huskies can be elite on a national level. That notion, which didn’t exist on a widespread basis before his arrival, can be the starting point for athletic director Jen Cohen’s coaching search.
Make no mistake about it: This job is a plum, and it should attract any coach who wants a realistic chance to win a championship. Throw in one of the most livable cities in America, which just happens to have as robust of a high-school talent pipeline as exists in the country, and Cohen doesn’t have to settle, in any fashion.
At Romar’s peak, which lasted a decade, the Huskies had the talent to win it all. Even after they declined — and yes, it was ugly — they continued to lure future NBA players at an amazing rate. You can justifiably question the coaching that greeted players such as Markelle Fultz, Dejounte Murray and Marquese Chriss, but any prospective coach would love to have access to that caliber of player.
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Perhaps that pipeline will dry up with Romar gone. He had a special connection with, and incredible loyalty from, the local hoops community. The new coach will have to work hard to maintain those bonds. The first task, of course, will be to see if there’s any possible way to convince Michael Porter Jr., who has the potential to be the best of them all, to fulfill his commitment to Washington.
Perhaps the wiser play, in the big picture, would be to stop shooting for the blue-chip, one-and-done player, which might work beautifully for a program such as Kentucky but has had real ramifications in terms of continuity and team-building at Washington. You could argue — as even Romar has acknowledged — that the negative turning point for the Huskies was when they began having delusions of grandeur.
Romar began aiming for five-star recruits such as Aaron Gordon, Terrence Jones and James Harden, among others.
When those players dragged the Huskies along and then went elsewhere, in some cases after leading Romar to believe they were coming to Washington, the Huskies had a hard time recovering. And it’s instructive that UW never went to an NCAA tournament with any of its most touted one-and-done players — Fultz, Chriss, Murray, Tony Wroten (whom they chose over four years of future Gonzaga star Gary Bell) or Spencer Hawes.
If you’re into revisionist history, it’s intriguing to wonder how Romar’s fortunes would have changed if he had landed Harden in 2007, Jones in 2012 (after abruptly rescinding his news-conference announcement that he was going to UW, following a phone call from Kentucky’s John Calipari) or Gordon in 2013.
Other questions to ponder: What if Chriss and Murray hadn’t turned pro after one year, surprising Romar and leaving Fultz without a strong supporting cast, the precursor to the disaster of 2016-17? What if the Huskies had made the NCAA tournament, as they should have, after winning the regular-season Pac-12 title in 2011-12?
Perhaps most painfully, what if Washington had beaten Connecticut, the No. 1 regional seed, in the Sweet 16 in 2006 after leading by 11 in the second half, by six with 1:53 to play in regulation and by four with 21 seconds left?
Washington wound up losing 98-92 in overtime, the most bitter loss of Romar’s career. With only George Mason standing in the way of a Final Four bid, the Huskies behind senior Brandon Roy had a shot to go all the way that year. UCLA made it to the title game against Florida, and UW had swept the Bruins that season. The Huskies had also beaten Gonzaga, a No. 3 seed, in a nonconference game. With Roy at his peak, anything was possible.
A Final Four berth or beyond might have opened up new vistas for Romar and the Huskies. But you can play the “what if” game forever. The fact is, none of those things happened, and Washington foundered badly in Romar’s latter years. Though it would have been fun to see what Romar would have done with next year’s class, led by Porter Jr., that’s another “what if” that will remain hypothetical.
What’s real, however, is that the program’s potential has been revealed by Romar. As Cohen said at Wednesday’s news conference, “I think this program can win a championship, and I think this program can have sold-out arenas. This is a basketball town, and I think there’s a ton of potential here.
“I think this is a special city. I think it’s a special school, and we’re excited to get somebody in here that’s going to build off that.”
Even though it ended in rubble, it’s important to remember that the building began with Romar.