During a lengthy discussion last week with Washington men’s basketball coach Lorenzo Romar, he blamed in part the demise of last season’s 16-15 team on his inability to incorporate players’ personalities and get them to sacrifice their personal goals for team accomplishments.
He also attributed the downturn after an 11-0 start on the attrition along the front line, including the dismissal of record-setting shot blocker Robert Upshaw.
Romar believes chemistry won’t necessarily be a concern with next year’s squad that includes four returners and as many as seven newcomers because they are “guys that are totally bought in to Washington basketball. And totally bought in to what we’re trying to do here.”
Romar said incoming freshman Marquese Chriss is “maybe the most talented guy over 6-8 that we’ve had.” He also praised junior-college transfer Malik Dime and incoming freshman Devenir Duruisseau. Romar acknowledged one of the three newcomers may have to start next season and expects all three will find a spot in the rotation.
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This conversation occurred before Washington signed former Auburn University redshirt freshman Matthew Atewe on Monday, which gives the Huskies 11 scholarship players on the roster. The 6-9 foward/center will sit out next season due to NCAA transfer rules.
Here’s the transcript from Part I of the interview with Romar.
(You have an opening on your staff and I’m wondering if there’s an update at this time?) “No. Not yet. Nothing as yet.”
(What type of person are you looking for?) “When you hire an assistant coach you want them to be competent in all areas. That’s what I want. But I think whenever you talk about coaching here especially as an assistant you want somebody to be a really solid recruiter. You want to be good in the Xs and Os, but you really want somebody to be able to recruit.”
(Does that person need to know Washington, the Northwest or the West Coast in general?) “It depends on what they’re bringing to the table. There’s some guys out there that you feel that this is our backyard and we want to be thorough, then maybe it’s just the West Coast you need. It’s probably not a thing where we want someone to know the whole South or East or Midwest, because that’s not our niche.”
(Do you have a timetable for that hire?) “I wouldn’t say it’s a great timetable. I think an advantage for us right now is a lot of our recruiting is done or is about to be done for the next two years so that helps.”
(In regards to T.J. Otzelberger, his two-year contract was set to expire this year. But did he give any reasons why he chose to go back to Iowa State?) “I think if you look in the next few months it will become pretty obvious. And I’ll just leave it at that.”
(I have no idea what that means.) “Yeah.”
(In terms of the recruiting, I know that [last] Wednesday was the beginning of the signing period. Are you anticipating signing anyone?) “For 2015? We could. But I can’t guarantee you anything.”
(You have three spots open on your roster. Do you anticipate using those scholarships before training camp begins?) “Yes, but it could be a situation where maybe they’re not eligible to play the first year. We could do that.”
(There’s been some years when you didn’t use all 13 scholarships and kept one in your pocket. But this year you’re thinking you’ll use all 13?) “We could. I don’t know the difference between 12 and 13. I don’t think you take 13 just to take 13. But if it it worked out that way we could.”
(After the final game you said you didn’t know what team you would have for the 2015-16 season because you weren’t sure who would be coming or going. At this time do you have a sense yet as to what you’ll have next season?) “We have the four returners and the six that are coming in. I know those 10 for sure will be here. Like I said we’re trying to add, but I can’t tell you if there’s going to be anyone added that will be able to play for sure this coming year. But I think I know what we have when we talk about the 10 coming back for sure.”
(When you add players to this team are you looking for an impact player or a rotational player for next season?) “I don’t think you turn down an impact player if you can get one. But can that happen? That would be the ideal. But can’t tell you that would happen for sure. I think we’re going to get players that are going to improve our program and that’s what we’re looking at.”
(You have four returners and six newcomers. Have you ever had a split like that?) “No. We’ve never had that. You got to figure that if you did have six in the past you could only have seven that were left. We signed seven before, but only five ended up joining us. So we never had where six new guys came in.”
(From the outside looking in the first thing I wonder about is the chemistry. Just how is that going to mix with the six newcomers and four holdovers. How does that work?) “There are 10 guys that are totally bought in to Washington basketball. And totally bought in to what we’re trying to do here. So right there the chemistry is going to be pretty good. That helps.”
(Do you do what you did last year and keep everyone on campus during the summer to build that camaraderie?) “Well, all six will be here in summer school. I would say the majority of the guys probably will be here.”
(Did you feel what you did last year – just looking back on that part of it during the summer – did that work?) “I thought it was good. The way we started our season was pretty good. So I don’t think it hurt that’s for sure. When we came in to the season last year, we had a great belief in one another.”
(I guess we can take a look back at last season. The last time we spoke it was minutes after the final game in the Pac-12 tournament. Now that you’ve had some weeks to look back, what are your thoughts on last season, specifically how it began and how it began to slide and how it ended?) “I’ve been saying this lately. There are excuses and there are explanations. And to me excuses are things that you rationalize and not hold yourself accountable for. Explanations are things that really happened and things out of your control. My explanation is probably twofold. One is that we tried to probably incorporate some personalities and make some personalities work. In doing that it was probably from me a little slippage with our group that caught up with us. With that being said, it was still very difficult to overcome the injuries to key people. So simply put, when I look back we were playing with five guards, we were playing with lineups that normally we would not have played with. We practice a certain way for a number of months. We had a certain way of doing things and like two years ago we had to change on the fly a little bit. Well, we had to do that even more so this year because of all of the guys doing down and all the guys not with us. So that made things different because you could never get into an offensive rhythm because you kept changing things. We weren’t changing because things weren’t necessarily working. We were changing because in order to be effective we had to have a certain type of player out there and we didn’t have that. So we had to adjust to what we had as we went through the season. So that made things difficult for us.”
(When you say incorporate some personalities – and I heard the rest but I got fixated on that that part. I hear that and I think you had some personalities before and you dealt with them just fine. You had big personalities from Nate Robinson, Will Conroy to Isaiah Thomas and we can go on and on. What was it about last season that made those personalities different?) “When we had strong personalities in the past, there were a couple of things. For the most part guys’ work ethic was good. I didn’t think we had at times the best work ethic. And I also think there were guys that came in that had agendas and they kind of checked them at the door. They said personally this is what I want to accomplish, but I want to accomplish these goals as a team more so I’m going to set these aside my personal goals. And I thought this year maybe we held on to that a little too much. In working through that – me as coach – we just weren’t able to work through it. We weren’t able to get over the hump in that regard.”
(When people ask me about last season, I’m of two minds. I can get really simple with this stuff and say with Robert Upshaw you were pretty good and you were heading to the NCAA tournament and without him, you weren’t very good. That’s the simple solution. But then I also believe good teams overcome losses to key players. They rally and they figure things out. So ultimately I think the truth is somewhere in the middle. Am I too far off there?) “Again, when we look at our season, Robert Upshaw went down, but let’s back up. Tristan Etienne. So if Robert Upshaw is gone, maybe Tristan helps absorb some of that. He’s not Robert Upshaw, but now Jernard Jarreau gets hurt. And I think Jernard got hurt before Robert (left). Now two down. And if you add Tristan, now you got three down. And even with that, down the stretch Shawn Kemp had to miss 2-3 games. I forget the exact number it was and, yeah, we had dropped games before, but we were never able to really recover. So I don’t think it was just one (player). And then when I talk about maybe a little slippage there too and you combine all of that together, that’s why I think there was a struggle down the stretch.”
(As you said there were a lot of strange things that happened to your big guys. But if it was me, and maybe I’m paranoid, I would make sure that whatever else happens, I’m not going to allow that to happen again. So do you have enough big guys?) “Numbers wise, if you’re going to build a shelter for a rainy day I would say no we don’t. We had six big guys last year. You would figure that’s more than enough, but by the time the season ended or as we were going through the season, for whatever reasons guys weren’t there. But doggone, we’ve had other teams where we had two big guys and the rest were 6-6 and 6-7 guys and we were OK. I do think going into this year we do have with our big guys as much versatility as we’ve ever had in terms of being able to get back defensively and really deny passing lanes. In terms of guys that can switch out on the guards and you don’t lose anything. Guys that can run the floor – as a group and not just one or two – all of them are going to be able to do that. So I get really excited about that.”
(But their experience gives me pause.) “Well, certainly they are going to have to hit the ground running with playing. Malik Dime is already here. He’s here working with our strength coach and learning what we do because he was able to graduate early from junior college. So that helps. He gets a little bit of a head start. Marquese Chriss is young but maybe the most talented guy over 6-8 that we’ve had. He’s talented.”
(C’mon now, the most talented guy you’ve ever had?) “Maybe. I mean Spencer Hawes was really talented. Jon Brockman was talented, but he just willed his way.”
(And he’s the third leading scorer of all time.) “Just talent. I’m just talking about talent. Now there are guys in the past that have been talented, but it didn’t matter. They didn’t really get over the hump, but they were talented. Marquese is really talented. So the lack of experience can be compensated by his talent level. Devenir Durisseau is young, but he was in prep school for a year. So he’s not just a green freshman all the way.”
(I’m not asking for your starting five, but it would seem as if one of those bigs will have to – if not start – give you significant minutes next season.) “Oh yeah. They’re all going to have to play for us.”