After two dismal performances on their home court, the Huskies lack any real sign of an eventual breakthrough, and that falls on Romar.
Two basketball programs. Two levels. Two drastically different directions.
Program No. 1 is Washington, a team that sits 7-7 overall and 0-2 in conference after an 83-61 loss to Oregon on Wednesday.
The Huskies have the likely No. 1 NBA draft pick in Markelle Fultz and still can’t find a way to beat teams such as Yale, TCU (twice), Nevada or lowly Washington State. Their struggles would be one thing if Fultz were still finding his footing at the college level, but so far, the freshman has lived up to every ounce of the hype.
He can’t play much better, and it’s starting to seem as though his teammates can’t, either.
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Program No. 2 is Nathan Hale High, a team that sits 10-0 and holds the No. 1 ranking in the nation after a 110-68 win over O’Dea on Tuesday.
The Raiders have the country’s No. 2 recruit in Michael Porter Jr. and slaughter every opponent that dares share the court with them. They haven’t had any struggles — just wins over reigning state champion Rainier Beach (74-61), 2015 state champion Garfield (87-64) and Sierra Canyon (67-65), a Southern California squad ranked No. 1 in the country before playing Hale.
The Raiders can’t play much better, and it’s starting to seem as though no high school team in Washington history ever has.
Two teams. Two antithetical narratives.
And one man in the middle: Lorenzo Romar, the UW basketball coach who happens to be Porter’s godfather.
Perhaps Jan. 4 seems too early to begin discussing Romar’s future, but this week’s events justify the conversation. After two dismal Pac-12 performances on their home court, the Huskies lack any real sign of an eventual breakthrough, and that falls on the head coach.
Repeated defensive lapses have become an expectation. Fluid offensive sets are a rarity. That light bulb moment when Washington finally figures it all out is becoming more of a fantasy every day.
Coach, why haven’t you been able to have that breakthrough despite all the progress you say you’ve been making in practice?
“I don’t know,” Romar said Wednesday. “But we took a step back tonight.”
It’s true. And they’ve taken a leap back over the past six years.
Not since 2011 has Washington made the NCAA tournament, and not since 2012 has it had a winning record in the Pac-12. This has happened despite five Huskies going in the first round of the draft over that five-year stretch.
By most indications, this season will end with a sub .500 conference record and no invites to any postseason tourneys. So barring a miraculous turnaround, UW athletic director Jennifer Cohen has an easy decision when deciding Romar’s fate, right?
Well … not so fast.
Let me ask you this: Have you seen Porter Jr. play? Because I saw the UW commit drop 52 points against O’Dea — last year’s state runner-up — before Hale coach Brandon Roy subbed him out early the fourth quarter.
At 6-foot-10, Porter — whose father is a first-year assistant on Romar’s staff — had the speed to play up front on his team’s full-court press and showed A-list rebounding instincts whenever the Fighting Irish missed a shot.
More impressively, he was able to pull up from three with a dunk-contest-worthy vertical and drill it whenever he wanted. He was basically Kevin Durant with a higher release … and you know what? That isn’t guardable in college, either.
I know what you’re thinking: Romar has already had the chance to coach a singular talent in Fultz — not to mention a slew of other NBA players — and hasn’t yielded results.
True, but here are two points for argument’s sake.
1) Porter is a better scoring threat than Fultz. Yes, as dynamic as Markelle is off the dribble, and as accurate as his midrange and three-point shooting has been, he can’t simply outjump any defender to get his shot off. Porter can. You’re not going to find many (any?) NCAA players Porter’s height who can stay with him on the perimeter.
2) We’re not just talking about one player here — we’re talking about an entire recruiting class. Fultz was the main get in the No. 18 class (scout.com) in the country, whereas Porter is part of what was considered the No. 2 recruiting class on signing day.
Joining Porter will be Daejon Davis and Jaylen Nowell from Garfield, both of whom are considered two of the top 83 recruits in the nation. Classes that highly regarded are generally reserved for the Dukes and Kentuckys of the world, but as of now, one of them is coming to Montlake.
Is that something you want to give up?
That’s just a question for now. It’s not a Romar endorsement or me advocating that he stay. Truth be told, I’m conflicted, as I’m sure Cohen will be later.
On one end, there has been little evidence suggesting Romar can get the most out of his players. His teams have been manhandled by far less naturally gifted rosters the past few years, which is a reflection of his coaching.
An athletic director can’t perpetuate mediocrity just because red-carpet recruits are on the way. With Fultz on his team, you can make the case Romar is blowing his chance in that regard.
At the same time, Porter may be the best college player the program has ever had, and his class will almost certainly be the best. Considering it would cost Washington — whose athletic department projected an eight-figure deficit for 2016 — $3.2 million to buy out Romar’s contract, is it worth seeing next season through?
As woeful as the Huskies have been, they’ve still been drawing big crowds with Fultz on the team. Porter will have the same effect. And considering the school is likely to give football coach Chris Petersen and his staff a significant raise soon, wouldn’t those extra ticket sales be nice?
Long story short: This is a complicated situation. Cutting the coach isn’t cut and dry, losing the coach could be a losing proposition.
Two programs. Two directions. One tough decision.