Because Lorenzo Romar happens to rank on a short list of the most admirable human beings I’ve met in 34 years of sports writing, I am reluctant to second-guess those decisions we both wish he didn’t have to make.
But when it comes to the delicate business of enforcing team rules, the Washington Huskies basketball coach has been right so often, there really hasn’t been an opportunity to second-guess him.
Romar once benched Doug Wrenn, a talented forward who played to the beat of his own drum, for the last three minutes of a winnable game against Montana State. Without their interior scoring threat on the floor, the Huskies lost, but Romar sacrificed Wrenn’s points to make a point.
Romar put that get-tough resolve on display, by the way, during his debut as UW coach in 2002.
The following season, Romar tweaked the starting lineup for the Huskies’ first-round NCAA tournament game against Alabama-Birmingham, replacing Will Conroy and Bobby Jones.
A match-up move? No, Conroy and Jones had broken curfew. They watched much of the first half from the sideline, and their early absence proved critical in a game the Huskies would go on to lose by two points.
Oh, for those innocent days of harmless curfew violations.
Senior guard Venoy Overton, 22, was charged Tuesday with furnishing alcohol to underage girls, both 16, in January. A gross misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail, it was the less serious charge Overton originally faced after the incident. He also was investigated by Seattle police for sexual assault, but the prosecutor’s office decided not to charge Overton with that offense.
Astutely waiting for the legal process to sort itself out before identifying the high profile UW basketball player who’d been accused of a violent crime, Romar said Tuesday that he’s already had “internal dealings” with Overton. The penalty divulged to the public was a suspension of Overton for the Pacific-10 Conference tournament, which begins today in Los Angeles. He’ll be eligible to return to action next week, when – or, ahem, if – the slumping Huskies are invited to the NCAA tournament.
Overton could end up missing as many as three games, although without their tireless full-court defender in the mix, any games missed beyond Thursday’s game against Washington State, could be moot.
Is a suspension of at least one game, up to a maximum of three, reasonable punishment for a player whose seemingly appalling behavior has undermined his team’s once-promising season?
Again, I defer to Romar. His haggard voice conveyed the tone of a coach who’d rather be humiliated in a 30-point blowout than distressed by gross misdemeanor charges slapped on one of his players.
(Reading details of the allegations against Overton, “gross” pretty much sums it up.)
If Romar believes Overton is due a one-to-three game suspension from a conference tournament that probably won’t have any consequences for the Huskies’ NCAA tournament aspirations, then one-to-three games sounds fair to me, too.
But here’s what I don’t understand: Overton will be allowed to accompany the Huskies to Los Angeles. He’ll practice, sit on the bench, participate in team functions.
Is Overton suspended, or isn’t he?
If he’s suspended, he ought to stay at home. In the likelihood the Huskies struggle during their first-round game against the Cougars, Overton should be forced to watch on TV, a thousand miles away, unable to bark encouragement from a folding chair at courtside.
Romar insists Overton is contrite. I’ll take the coach’s word, but after Overton contributed a solid overall effort Saturday in an otherwise sluggish defeat to USC, he didn’t sound like somebody who’d been humbled.
“I’m trying to play as hard as I can to try to help the team win games, and tonight, I think, not to speak bad about anyone else, but I played hard and there were just a few people out there playing hard with me,” he told reporters. “You’re going to make the three seniors mad when everyone’s not playing.
“They know what kind of time in the season it is,” Overton continued, referring to those teammates who apparently weren’t seniors. “We preached this from Day 1 that we’ve got to handle our business in the regular season if you want to play the postseason.”
If memory serves, Overton was regarded as a team leader when the Huskies raced to a 4-0 start in conference play. Then came news of a basketball player’s arrest, which, not coincidentally, preceded the team’s first Pac-10 defeat, at Stanford.
Overton’s name was kept out of the mainstream media, but his teammates knew – everybody knew, thanks to not-so-mainstream media – that he was the player who’d been arrested. The cloud that enveloped around the Huskies was, putting it generously, a distraction.
And two months later, Venoy Overton is calling out teammates for failing to bring the same sort of intensity to a basketball game that he does?
Aside from murder, one terrible night shouldn’t dictate the course of a 22-year-old’s future. Overton must get a chance to prove that he’s a potentially solid citizen who did wrong, and is willing to atone for his actions. He’ll get that first chance when he appears in Seattle Municipal Court on April 1.
Between now and then, I would advise Overton to avoid references to “preaching from Day 1,” or “handling business,” or “knowing what kind of time in the season it is.”
It’s conference tournament time, kid, and your place should be at home, wondering how you can restore the happy voice of the most principled coach that’s ever graced a basketball floor.