Lorenzo Romar begins 10th season at Washington
Looking back after the most successful extended run in Washington's history, the amazing part is that Lorenzo Romar was even in position to take the Huskies coaching job back in 2002.
It took three other high-profile candidates taking themselves out of consideration in the spring of 2002 before then-athletic director Barbara Hedges settled on Romar to try to lead the Huskies to some level of hoops respectability.
Now, as Romar begins year No. 10 in charge on Montlake with a roster that's nearly half freshmen, expectations have grown to where anything less than an NCAA tournament appearance and contending for a conference title is a disappointment.
Pretty drastic change from when Romar arrived and the goal was simply making the Huskies relevant.
''I didn't know what to think. I just knew this was the University of Washington, where I went to school, and I wanted to see us be as good as we could be,'' Romar said. ''I didn't know that we would eventually have the support that we do now. I didn't know games would sell out, I didn't know that people would come out and rally behind this team the way they have.''
Romar returned to his alma mater at a time when the school was about to see its marquee football program embark on a run of unimaginable lows, creating a void for Huskies basketball to step into.
Just as important, Romar took advantage of a sudden burst of hoops talent from the Seattle region, convincing many of those stars - Nate Robinson, Brandon Roy, Jon Brockman, Isaiah Thomas - that staying home and building the Huskies program was the best legacy they could leave.
And Washington's administration made a commitment to make sure Romar wouldn't be lured to other jobs. It's why his current contract runs through the 2020 season and almost ensures Romar will have a spot on the Huskies bench as long as he wants to coach.
''The number of guys that have come through here who have been successful on the court and off the court is something I look back and you just kind of smile when you see things like that,'' Romar said.
Romar's latest season begins with a slightly different challenge from what he's faced in recent years. He once again needs to replace his top star from a year ago - this time it's Thomas - but unlike each of those previous years, there is no proven replacement waiting for his opportunity to be the star.
It started with Roy back in 2006, and progressed to Brockman, who was replaced by Quincy Pondexter, who was then replaced by Thomas.
Now Thomas is off waiting for the NBA to settle its lockout and Romar is looking at a roster that will feature six true scholarship freshmen.
At no other time in Romar's tenure with the Huskies has he relied on so much youth. Of that newcomer group, only Andrew Andrews is set to redshirt. The rest are likely to be used in some fashion, highlighted by guard Tony Wroten Jr.
But it's a returning upperclassman who could be most important for Washington.
Abdul Gaddy was playing the best ball of his young career when the starting point guard went down with a torn anterior cruciate ligament during a practice last January. He was serving as the perfect backcourt complement to Thomas and suddenly that pairing was done.
Gaddy spent the rest of the season watching as the Huskies won the Pac-10 tournament title and nearly knocked off North Carolina in the second round of the NCAA tournament. It was bittersweet, but a chance for the junior to learn.
''I pretty much have all the confidence back in my knee. I'm confident in cutting and going in the lane and finishing at the hoop, all those things,'' Gaddy said. ''I was hurt when I found out I couldn't play for the rest of the year, but I had to move on as quick as I could.''
While Gaddy and Wroten will be the anchors in the backcourt, the player creating the most buzz is swingman Terrence Ross. Only a sophomore and coming off a first year where he averaged 8 points and started only four games, Ross is already getting lauded as a potential NBA lottery pick.
Why? He's 6-foot-6 with shooting range out to 25 feet, yet he can put the ball on the floor and get to the basket off the dribble.
Throw in sharpshooter C.J. Wilcox and the Huskies have one of the best outside teams around.
On the interior, the Huskies will need to find a replacement for Matthew Bryan-Amaning. Seven-footer Aziz N'Diaye should be improved and 6-8 forward Darnell Gant is one of three seniors on the roster.
It'll be important for freshmen Jenard Jarreau (6-10), Shawn Kemp Jr. (6-9) and Martin Breunig (6-8) to quickly contribute and provide a presence inside.
''You want to take them and gradually progress with them. You don't want to discourage them or get mad because they mess up a lot, or whatever it may be,'' Gant said. ''You just want to take them in and do what you have to do to make them better players.''
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