When the world was partying like it was 1999, University of Washington basketball fans didn’t really have much to celebrate.
Bad UW basketball was one of the few Y2K disasters that came true.
Computers didn’t crash. The world didn’t end. But 10 years ago today, coach Bob Bender’s seventh UW team lost at New Mexico State in overtime, falling to 5-6 on its way to a 10-20 season.
Yet, as unlikely as it may have seemed then, the dawning of the Year 2000 also marked the start of what might be recalled as the best decade in the history of the UW men’s basketball program.
With one game remaining in this decade – the Huskies’ Pacific-10 Conference opener Thursday against Oregon State – the program’s résumé over the last 10 years includes a 180-120 record, five postseason appearances, four NCAA tournament invitations, two Sweet 16s, seven different players named to at least one all-conference team, five players drafted into the NBA, three first-round draft picks, one Pac-10 tournament championship, one regular-season league title, and one first-team All-American.
The decade also brought coach Lorenzo Romar. And while his hiring in 2002 can be seen as the turning point in UW’s basketball fortunes, he directs credit elsewhere.
“You had some kids who saw a vision: Brandon Roy, Nate Robinson, Will Conroy, Mike Jensen, (Tre Simmons and those local) guys that stayed the course,” Romar said. “They saw that maybe Washington, if they stayed right here, could be pretty special. And (then) you have others maybe that want to share that vision with you. ... A guy like Bobby Jones who decided, ‘Well, I want to come alongside these guys.’”
Those players formed the core of this decade’s breakthrough team: the 2003-04 Huskies.
That team seemed headed to the program’s fifth consecutive losing season until Robinson drilled a 3-pointer at the buzzer to complete a 16-point comeback at Oregon State. Washington went on to win in overtime and then kept on winning: 14 of the next 16 games on its way to an NCAA tournament invitation.
The core of that team returned the next season with more experience and far more confidence. The result was a 29-6 record, the Pac-10 tournament trophy, and the school’s first No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
The season-ending loss to Louisville in the Sweet 16 hurt, but that sting also showed something positive: Basketball had become a sport that mattered at Montlake.
“The students, the administration got behind us and really supported what we were trying to do,” Romar said. “And that, in turn, I thought, leaked over to the community, and people really got behind this program. I remember we won 32 straight games at home, and a lot of it had to do with the energy that this place provided.”
Washington returned to the Sweet 16 in 2006. But then there was a regression as a new generation of players arrived. In 2007, the team waited for a call from the NIT that never came. In 2008, it settled for the College Basketball Invitational and then was knocked out after one game.
However, last season brought the program’s first Pac-10 regular-season title and returned the Huskies to the Big Dance.
Now, All-American candidate Quincy Pondexter and a new cluster of local stars, such as Isaiah Thomas, Venoy Overton and Abdul Gaddy, have played UW to a 9-2 record and a No. 17 ranking.
With a new decade about to dawn, they hope to build on the program’s newly heightened expectations.
“Hopefully, we’re headed in the right direction,” Romar said. “Hopefully, we can sustain the success we’ve had in this decade: Keep it at a minimum where it is now, and hopefully improve upon it.”
Curtis High’s Thomas, the team’s second-leading scorer, missed practice Monday after rolling his ankle in Washington’s win over San Francisco on Sunday. Thomas said he hoped to work lightly Tuesday, and then continue his progress through game time. “It’s doing better,” he said. “Hopefully, I’ll be ready for Thursday. ... It’s Pac-10, so I have to be as ready as I possibly can.” ... Romar said the recently improved play of teams such as Southern California and Arizona State and the potential of California leads him to believe the Pac-10 could send four or more teams into this season’s NCAA tournament.
Don Ruiz: 253-597-8808
HUSKIES ALL-DECADE BASKETBALL TEAM
PG Will Conroy
Fierce competitor and UW’s all-time assists leader.
SG Nate Robinson
His 574 points in 2004-05 were sixth-most by a Husky.
G/F Brandon Roy
First-team All-American and No. 6 pick in NBA draft.
PF Jon Brockman
Three-time captain and UW career leader with 1,283 rebounds.
C Spencer Hawes
Showed enough in one injury-slowed season to become No. 10 pick in NBA draft.
Player of the Decade
Always the most talented player on his team, he was willing to come off the bench when that was needed and was able to lead on and off the court when that was needed.
Team of the Decade
No. 1 seed in NCAA tournament and Pacific-10 Conference tournament champion. Advanced to Sweet 16. Started Mike Jensen, Bobby Jones, Tre Simmons, Will Conroy, Nate Robinson and brought Brandon Roy off the bench.
Win of the Decade
March 11, 2004
Huskies knock off unbeaten and No. 1-ranked Stanford, 75-62.
Thrill of the Decade
March 13, 2005
Hec Edmundson Pavilion crowd erupts on Selection Sunday when Washington is named No. 1 seed.
Disappointment of the decade
March 24, 2006
Huskies lose in overtime to Connecticut in the Sweet 16.
Shot of the decade
Jan. 17, 2004
Nate Robinson hits a 3-pointer at the buzzer to force overtime in UW’s 103-99 win at Oregon State. After overcoming that 16-point second-half deficit, the Huskies won 14 of their next 16 games and advanced to their first NCAA tournament appearance since 1999.
Compiled by Don Ruiz, The News Tribune
Discuss this list and other highlights of the decade in UW basketball at blog.thenewstribune.com/uwsports