Lorenzo Romar could have wanted to be anywhere else late Saturday evening and very few would have blamed him.
Romar’s return to Washington was bittersweet. He was honored by The Dawg Pack in warmups and given a standing ovation from a standing room only crowd when he walked onto the court in the minutes prior tip-off. Hours later, Romar and the No. 9 Arizona Wildcats were on the wrong side of a historic night for UW. Dominic Green’s last-second 3-pointer sent UW to a 78-75 upset at the Alaska Airlines Arena.
Hundreds of fans stormed the court when the final buzzer sounded. With UW pushing a blackout for its fans, the floor looked like a black hole swallowing anything and everyone in its path.
Enough time passed but there were about 300 or so fans didn’t want to leave. The eventually crowd thinned out and from those who remained, Romar emerged.
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This was Romar’s first trip back to Montlake since he was fired last March after going 9-22 and only winning two Pac-12 games. A month after he was fired, Romar was hired by Sean Miller to an assistant while also serving as his top lieutenant.
Romar just watched his new team lose in heartbreaking to his old team, filled with players he recruited and had some hand in developing. Instead of getting out of The Triple A without saying goodbye, he stayed behind to connect with some old faces. Romar and Huskies junior guard Matisse Thybulle spoke for around 10 minutes at center court. Romar’s relationship with Thybulle runs deep.
Thybulle’s just one of many people that Romar helped shape in his 15-year tenure at UW.
“I think this city misses him,” Thybulle said earlier in the week. “I know a couple of us do ... He was loved around here.”
Romar, after he was done speaking with Thybulle, went to the visitor’s locker room to grab his belongings. He then took the time to meet with some more people. He went over and hugged different players and their parents. Romar shared a few minutes star freshman guard Jaylen Nowell. He even got a chance to speak with the family of David Crisp. Crisp’s father, David Sr., told The News Tribune earlier in the week he got a phone call from Romar when he was initially hired at Arizona.
“He apologized for not being able to say goodbye in person,” the elder Crisp said. “He was a great guy and someone who really loves his players.”
If there was ever a week for Romar to make a trip back to Seattle, it was this one.
The Huskies have endured what might be one of the most pivotal seven-day stretches in program history. They opened last Sunday with a blowout victory over in-state rival Washington State.
Days later, the Huskies captured their second win over a ranked opponent by beating No. 25 Arizona State.
Attention shifted to Arizona and the circus to come. A win over the Wildcats would strengthen the Huskies’ chances of reaching the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the 2010-11 season. There was also the fact they’d be going up against star freshman Deandre Ayton, who in many minds, will be the No. 1 pick in the upcoming NBA Draft.
Questions were also raised about how the Huskies would handle Romar coming back. A three-time Pac-10/12 Coach of the Year, he won 298 games, reached the NCAA Tournament six times and established strong foundations with players throughout his career.
“It’s all love,” junior forward Noah Dickerson said of Romar. “He got us over here to Seattle and he had nothing but love to show us. I had the chance to talk to him (Friday). He was glad we were doing things in the country and that we started understanding the zone. He was happy for us.”
First-year coach Mike Hopkins said he was able to speak with Romar before the game.
Hopkins, who like Romar, is from Southern California. Romar, who is from Compton, told The News Tribune in late December he’s known Hopkins going back to when the former Syracuse assistant was a high school star at Mater Dei in Orange County.
The two men already have a lot in common. It’s why Hopkins had a specific message he wanted to pass along.
“I was able ... to tell him ‘Thank you,’” Hopkins said. “He’s recruited a lot of these guys. When we were going through the (transition) process with a lot of these guys, he talked to them about staying and believing in the staff and I’ve always thanked him from Day 1.
“He’s one of the Husky greats. I told him, ‘Hopefully, one day, I can make you proud.’ He’s one of the great coaches. He’s one of the great players and he’s part of our family.”
Ryan S. Clark: @ryan_s_clark