Huskies Insider Blog

A conversation with Lorenzo Romar

Sat down last week for a wide-ranging interview with Washington men's basketball coach Lorenzo Romar. Look for a story in tomorrow's newspaper taking a look at where UW's program stands after Romar's 12th season. For now, here's a transcript of our interview.

(Were you worried about losing Nigel Williams-Goss?) “I think this is a new day in college basketball, and I just think that every year, in the spring, you’re going to have something like this. You’re going to have guys looking to transfer, you’re going to have guys looking to go to the next level, or at least test the waters. I think the transfer situation is very unfortunate, in that so many kids want quick fixes and are very impatient. Especially, they want quick fixes a lot of times when they’re not ready to contribute as much as they think they could. But the NBA thing, it’s there for you to test the waters.

"You can go through the process and feel it out and test the waters. So any time  where you have a year like Nigel had, there could be potential opportunity to look and see what they think of you at the next level. I shouldn’t say it doesn’t faze me, because there’s always that chance that someone leaves prematurely because they’re ready to go. I shouldn’t say prematurely – prematurely in terms of not being here four years. It’s happened to us before where guys have left, half a dozen times. So that’s just kind of how it is. Again, if he were a kid that didn’t do very much and was just a marginal player, you would really try to discourage someone from leaving and try to look at that. But again, the player that he is, the things that he accomplished this year, you can’t fault a kid for taking a look.”

(There’s been speculation that maybe he feels he’s perceived as a three or four-year player, and if you get pigeon-holed into that by NBA executives, they won’t look at you as seriously earlier in your career. Does that factor into it?) “That’s something they would have to discuss, the family. I do know a guy like Jabari Parker is someone everybody knows would be a top-five pick. He’s announcing today. Who knows what he’ll do (note: Parker declared for the NBA draft). … He even talked about going on an LDS mission, really early, like in high school. But I think he’s played his way to, ‘whether you’re here three years, four years or not, we think you’re ready now, we want to make that known to you.’”

(Were you surprised to see Desmond Simmons transfer?) “In this day, the way the game is, I’m not surprised to ever see anybody go. I really am not.”

(What does that do to what you thought you’d have next year?) “When something like that happens, it means some other people have to step up. Desmond is, for lack of a better way to put it, he’s one of the good guys. He’s transferring and he’s a great kid. He’s going to be successful in life. Whatever he does, he’s going to do well. It’s a little hard to set your team year in and year out because you don’t necessarily know who’s going to be there. We’ve had guys transfer in the past, but I think if you were to look at how many guys have transferred over 12 years versus a lot of other programs, not counting like a Stanford where a lot of kids are there for the degree from Stanford, I think we’ve done fairly well in keeping kids here. But I think that’s going to end up being harder and harder for programs across the country. It is already, now.”

(Will you try to fill his scholarship this season?) “We have, but we’re not just going to fill it just to say we filled it. It would have to be someone who could contribute right away.”

(Would that be a big?) “Ideally.”

(After taking a step back and decompressing, how would you evaluate the 2013-14 season?) “Stanford in the Sweet 16. UConn won the whole thing. San DiegoState was Sweet 16. We played a number of teams this year that we either beat them or had a chance to beat them, and that includes Arizona at their place, that were in the NCAA tournament or Sweet 16 or national champs. And I don’t count the nonconference, early, like when we went to New York, because we were so depleted as a team. It’s hard to say that was really us. We were close but didn’t get it done. So we weren’t way off. You look at if we were healthy all year, maybe that’s a difference in three or four games and it probably would have been enough to get us in the NCAA tournament this year. So I don’t think we have to re-invent ourselves. But I do think, starting with me, the head coach, we need to be held more accountable next year to make sure that we’re a little more consistent with everything that we’re doing.”

(How do you hold players, and yourself, more accountable?) “It starts with me. We had some young players, some new players, trying to work through different positions. We had guys learning different positions, learning the offense from different positions. We were changing our defense. We changed our whole defensive system. So with all that sometimes I probably allowed too much slippage, trying to work through all that, sort through all that. What we have done has worked. It’s been proven that it has worked. So just like 2007 and 2008, when we didn’t make the tournament … we were 9-9 the last two years without making the tournament. We had losing records in 2007 and 2008. And when you looked at what we had coming back, I think Jon Brockman might have been the only guy who had really done a whole lot at this level. And I don’t know how much it looked like we were going to get any better, but we won the league that next year. I’m not saying we’re going to win the league. Of course that’s your goal. I never make predictions on anything. But we clean stuff up and guys get better and develop – that’s one thing, we’re working really hard on player development over the spring and the summer – then we’ll be fine.”

(Will you change the way you approach the offseason?) “We’ll spend a lot of time shooting. A lot of time shooting. Mainly in the spring, we spend a lot of time on the fundamentals – ball-handling, 1-on-1 moves, being aggressive, finishing around the rim. But we’ll spend a lot of time shooting, because we need to become a better shooting team.”

(Particularly on the perimeter, where do you envision that shooting coming from next season, with C.J. Wilcox gone?) “I think we have … Jahmel Taylor is the best shooter on the team. He didn’t get to play very much this year, but he’s a good shooter. The other four guys – Nigel, Andrew (Andrews), Mike Anderson and Darin (Johnson) – all are capable of shooting much higher percentages from the perimeter. I think we saw Nigel, he was 35 percent from the 3-point line this year, and I think he’ll get better. Andrew Andrews is working really hard this spring already, working on things like balance on his shots, shooting it the same way every time. Sometimes if your shot selection improves, your percentage improves. Those are some things we’re going to work on. So of the guys we currently have, I just think we’ll be better shooters next year. Quevyn Winters is a dynamic shooter, also. So he’s another guy that will come in. with our team coming back, it’s interesting. After our first year, we were 11-17, and let’s dial back. I don’t know if you were watching us then. So, you don’t know what’s going to happen in the future. You just know this team is 11-17, and this little guy that plays football announces that he’s going to quit football and concentrate on basketball – Nate (Robinson). And he shot 27 percent from the 3-point line, something like that, his freshman year. And people thought he was crazy. They thought he was a sideshow, just a small, little, freakish athlete that was out of control, and why is he giving up football? And we know what happened after that.

“Will Conroy was a guy that averaged 2.8 points per game his freshman year, something like that. 3.2, something. Then this sophomore year, he was still fighting to be a shooting guard – well, a point guard, but wanted to shoot all the time and not really run the team. There were guys within our own team that questioned if we should have even taken Bobby Jones, because they didn’t know what he did. He wasn’t a very good shooter, wasn’t a good ball-handler. We had an undersized center who was 6-foot-8, Mike Jensen, and then Brandon Roy averaged six points per game his freshman year. So when you look at that team, and you say, ‘how are you going to be next year? They’re going to be terrible! They don’t have anything.’ But guys got better. Within our program, internally, we got better. Now, we added Tre Simmons and Hakeem Rollins. Curtis Allen was on that team, also, who had shown a lot of promise. But on paper it didn’t look like we were going to be a great team. So I would like to think that internally, what we have with our group, guys are going to improve, guys are going to get better, and we’re further along now than we were in those other years that I just talked about.”

(Speaking of next season, is Robert Upshaw still a question-mark? Are you still waiting to find out about him?) “Still waiting. He’s just doing his thing, getting everything right.”

(Is there a list you’ve given him – ‘you need to do this, this and this before you can play?’ And he’s trying to meet these standards? Or is it something completely different?) “I’d love to go on for 30 minutes about everything, but I’d just rather keep it there. This is a situation before you can get on the court, whether it’s here or somewhere else, you just have to take care of your business away from the court.”

(When you think about what next year’s team might look like, what does it do to your impression if Upshaw isn’t there?) “It puts guys in positions that they have to step up, again. We’re still trying to add someone. But out of sight, out of mind, I just think when people look at our team next year, people forget about Jernard Jarreau. Jernard has put on weight now. He’s going to play next year around 230, 235. He came in here, he was 190. So that’s a guy that really helps us. Obviously a healthy Shawn Kemp is someone that could make strides. And some might say well, he hasn’t it done it yet. But I can point out several, namely a Matthew Bryan-Amaning, who didn’t exactly set the world on fire until his senior year, when he had a really good year.”

(When can Jernard sprint, jump, cut, play 5-on-5, etc?) “That probably won’t be until the middle of July or early August. He’ll get a good two or three months in there, should be, if everything goes well, of being cleared and gaining his confidence back in his leg and all that. So he should be ready to go. He was injured in November. Abdul Gaddy was injured in January, and by September, Abdul was doing everything he needed to do and wasn’t using a brace, and there was no swelling on his knee. And Jernard was hurt two months before that, so he should be fine.”

(Do you think three years without an NCAA tournament appearance indicates a downward trend?) “Glass half-full, glass half-empty. I’m not making this up, I’m just telling you – if your glass is half full, you’ll see that four out of the last six years, we’ve won the conference tournament or conference championship, and I was looking at it, I think we’ve won like 135 games in six years, and four of those years we won 100 games, and I think in those four years it might have been the most anyone’s ever won at Washington in a four-year period. And then we’ve not had a losing season in those six. And if your glass is half-empty, we haven’t made the tournament in three years. That is a fact. But I’d also say we did win the league, and we won a league that was down, but it was still the Pac-10, and we didn’t win it by going 10-8. We were 14-4 that year. We won 24 games. So if that’s your down year when you win the league and you win 24 games and they decide you’re not in the NCAA tournament, once in a while, I can live with that. So what I say on the ‘downward trend,’ I have to bring it up again – forgive me for continuing to bring it up – we were 7-11 one year and 8-10 another year, 2007 and 2008, and we started out 2009, 2-3. That includes a road loss to Portland. So that would look like it was on a downward trend, too. That’s when we started that streak of winning the conference tournament or league those four out of six years. Did we have a couple of mediocre seasons? Yes. Definitely. Seasons that did not match the standards that we set for our program? Yes. Absolutely. But are we on a downward trend with no recovery? With no hope in sight? Absolutely not.”

(Considering the entre history of the program and what UW basketball has been since they started playing, what do you think the annual expectations should be? If you were a fan on the outside looking in, what should people reasonably expect the UW men’s basketball program to be on an annual basis?) “That’s a tough one to answer. I know what we would like to try and do is be in a position every year to be in the NCAA tournament, and when things click, make a run in that tournament. If you look across the country, a few years ago, you look at the NIT and UConn was in it, North Carolina was in it. What someone like Kansas does is phenomenal. Every year they’re in the tournament. It’s pretty good when that can happen. UCLA, Arizona. They weren’t in the tournament just recently, a couple years ago, in the last few years. So your expectations versus somehow that not working out doesn’t mean that it’s over. It just means you didn’t necessarily meet the expectations that year. But the year or years that you don’t doesn’t necessarily mean it’s over and you can’t recover from it, as we’ve seen from those programs that I just mentioned.”

(In terms of fan disappointment, people say maybe you’re a victim of your own success. Do you look at it that way? That if you hadn’t raised the bar, maybe people wouldn’t be as frustrated?) “It’s kind of a catch-22. If we hadn’t raised the bar – we just finished our 12th year – we probably wouldn’t have got to 12 years. John Wooden teased me when I got my first head job at Pepperdine. He said, ‘this is a little bit of advice – don’t win your first couple years. They’ll expect it every year. Wait a little while.’ I’ve been following sports since I was probably 7 years old, so I know the nature of the fan, and I know how I am. No one wants us to win more than I do as a head coach and someone that went to school here. When you look, again, over the course of the history of this program, I think we’ve been pretty successful. And now we’re at a point where we’re not comparing ourselves and this program to the history of this program. We’re comparing ourselves to the last 12 years as a whole. And what my and our job is to not let it get back to where that standard is lowered. The standard has been raised, absolutely, and we want to keep it that way. I just think sometimes maybe the expectations, emotions get involved and some may tend to go overboard with it. Again, with different programs, high-profile programs around the country – an Indiana, where every now and then there’s going to be some slip-ups. I think at that point where you compare our program to the history of the program, I think we’ve earned the right to have a couple slip-ups, when you look and everyone else has. We just can’t stay there. The standard that we’ve created, hopefully we get back to that standard and we’re going to try to elevate. The goal is to not ever be complacent.”

(Has your recruiting philosophy or strategy changed at all in the past couple years?) “Yes. We’re talking about that standard. We’re talking about trying to maintain and even increase that level. And in the midst of winning a couple championships, ’09 and ’10, and even ’11, we had a situation where we had some student-athletes out there that told us early, ‘when it’s all said and done, this is what I probably want to do. I love you guys, I’m going to go through this process, but there’s a good chance I’m coming with you.’ And they were such high-profile players that it was hard to just tell them, ‘we’ll give you two months. If you don’t come with us by then, we’re going with someone else.’ So we took a calculated risk. I took a calculated risk. And one of those guys was Nigel Williams-Goss. He came. But there were several others we thought were going to come with him. So we took that risk to hold out and wait for those guys. And we didn’t get them. And because we took the risk to hold out on them, we missed out on some others that maybe would have come, but didn’t want to wait. And as a result of that, we decided that we will still recruit some of those kids, those high-profile kids, those potential one-and-done kids, but we’re not going to hold our breath on them. And if someone else comes along and we know they’re going to be able to help our program and make us better, we’ll take them and not wait on those others. I think that’s where the adjustment has been made. But if you look over the years at kids that were successful – Spencer Hawes, Jon Brockman, Abdul Gaddy and now Nigel Williams-Goss – were all McDonald’s All-Americans, and even Martell Webster, who signed with us and ended up going to the pros out of high school, was a McDonald’s All-American. But you take those guys away, there are a lot of kids that came to play for us that weren’t as highly touted but they really flourished here. I think people forget they saw the finished product and forgot when they came in, no one had heard of them. So we had kind of been recruiting like that before. But in 2012, it hurt because we didn’t take those guys that we had taken before. We tried to wait on those others.”

(Defensively, do you think you’ll have the personnel to play the way you did the first 11 years?) “We went through stretches last year where defensively, we did a really good job. We didn’t sustain it, and again, it goes back to that accountability. There were some points when we would play the old system when we weren’t supposed to, and that would throw the others off. I liked what we did. Ideally, I would love go and pressure the ball. I think a lot of teams backed off the pressure this year because of the rule change. I just don’t believe you can be very effective if you don’t have rim protectors with the new rules, if you’re going to try to pressure. You don’t want to foul, and guys are able to drive a little easier, so if you don’t have guys to block shots or alter shots, then you’re going to give up what we gave up early in the year – a lot of layups. And that’s what we don’t want to do. So we have to make a decision as to what we want to do.”

(Did you think UConn looked like a team that could win a title on Dec. 22?) “They looked like a good team, that’s for sure. What we saw, what beat us, the difference in that game, was why they won the national championship. They had two terrific guards, one in particular in Shabazz Napier, that just decided he was going to be the ultimate leader. And he did that in the second half here. He kind of took over the game. Because we were up 13, 14 in the first half. He took over the game. When they played Florida – in the championship game (against Kentucky), he hit some big shots, hit some 3s – but when they played Florida and (Scotty) Wilbekin, I thought he tried to do it himself. Napier being the leader that he was and the veteran that he was, he made his team better. And that was the difference in the game. If Wilbekin works on making his team better and Shabazz got caught up in winning it himself, Florida wins that game. But we saw that when we played them, and that was enough for them to win a championship.”

(You’ve said the return of the Gonzaga series is closer than people think. Is there a target for that?) “Like I said, it’s closer. It’s not going to be six years from now. It’ll be closer. Preliminary talks.”

(Would you imagine it would be a home-and-home, when it does happen?) “I would think so.”

(What do you envision for Mike Anderson next season?) “Junior college kids, their second year is just so much better. He shot the ball well early, then tailed off at the end of the year. I would imagine he’ll regain his shooting form. We know he can rebound the ball. We know he can defend. I just think him not having to play inside and battle guys 20-30 pounds heavier, four inches taller every night is going to make him a better player as well. He’ll only have to play one position as opposed to trying to play three positions. There was a lot on his plate. It wasn’t like this was his fourth year in our system to where he can pick it up. This was his first year he’s just trying to learn thesyste one way, then mid-stream he’s asked to learn it another way. It was tough for him.”

(Was that frustrating for him?) “Sure, it was frustrating. But being the team guy that he is, he worked through it.”

(Do you anticipate any other roster changes?) “In this day and age, you just never know. There were 544 transfers last year in Division 1. It’ll be more this year. There will be more this year when it’s all said and done. I’ve been keeping a running tab with my wife, just saying ‘watch, I guarantee we’ll read tomorrow that someone else is transferring.’ You just don’t know.”

(Do you anticipate any staff changes?) “No.”