Amendments to the NCAA rule book usually are met with a groan by anybody who isn’t an NCAA administrator. Who needs new laws when the old ones were almost impossible to interpret?
But thanks to a recent rules change regarding summer basketball workouts, it appears the bureaucrats who’ve assembled the world’s fattest nonreadable book are due a rare thumbs-up.
Until 2014, coaches’ offseason associations with players were limited to academic work. As a consequence, players at, say, the University of Washington, either didn’t get hands-on basketball advice or were getting it from noncollege coaches not intimately familiar with Lorenzo Romar’s system.
The NCAA relaxed those restrictions this past summer, enabling coaches to work up to two hours a week — for as long as eight weeks — with groups of four players or fewer. Because of the new rule, Romar’s players did something unprecedented at the school: They remained in Seattle for two months, attending class, lifting weights, practicing in an environment —sometimes organized, mostly informal — that couldn’t help but improve team unity.
“The players seem to have much more of an idea of what we want and what our culture is about,” Romar said Thursday. “The fact our guys stayed here the entire summer allowed us to be more on the same page earlier. We’ll see when we get going, but that’s the feel I get when you talk about the difference from last year to this time right now.”
On the flip side, of course, is the fact every other major-college basketball program in America also benefited from the rules change. So really, was it an advantage for Washington’s players to work out together for two months?
By remaining in Seattle, the Huskies had access to a network of former and current NBA players happy to share advice, insight and, sure, the occasional pick-up game demonstration of How It’s Done.
“I don’t know how much of an advantage it gives us over anyone else,” said Romar, “but I have to think it’s pretty special to get advice from guys who either played in the league and are still here, or are playing in the league now.
“Those older guys have made it a point to take the young guys under their wing and show them the ropes. Our guys respect that and have been very receptive to being part of a family — a Husky family, so to speak. I think it’s pretty unique.”
The “family” includes Isaiah Thomas, Spencer Hawes and Will Conroy as big brothers, along with Jamal Crawford, who starred at Michigan but whose heart has never been far from Seattle.
“After we’d finish class, we’d lift weights, then get a little practice in,” said senior Shawn Kemp, Jr. “The NBA guys started calling us about a month ago. We’d give them a call or a text and tell ‘em when we’d play, and they’d show up.”
For sophomore guard Nigel Williams-Goss, the opportunity to mix with veteran players — both on and off the court — was invaluable.
“They’d let me know things I did well and things at the next level I’ll have to improve upon in this and that situation,” said Williams-Goss, who considered an early jump to the NBA before realizing his game — he averaged 13.8 points last season — is merely a work in progress.
“The goal for all of us is to get to the next level — it’s something I’ve worked toward all my life — and I got to spend all summer working on the things to prepare me for that level. It was a big learning experience for me, and a big learning experience for all the guys.”
It also required an adjustment for those Huskies who live outside the Seattle area, which would be virtually the entire team. (Freshman forward Donaven Dorsey, a graduate of Timberline High, and freshman guard Dan Kingma, from Jackson High in Mill Creek, are the only in-state players on the roster.)
“Staying here was a challenge because I have a daughter back home in Hartford, Connecticut,” said senior guard Mike Anderson. “Being as far from my daughter at such an early age for her — she’s seven months old today — was tough.
“But last year, when we weren’t all here together, our chemistry wasn’t that good coming into the season. By staying here this summer and working out an doing team activities, our chemistry got much better. We know each other’s tendencies now.”
As for the games between the old pros and the aspiring pros, the old pros prevailed, 4-3, in a best-of-seven series.
“It was good competition,” said Anderson. “Our team wanted to beat them because they’re experienced guys from the NBA. They’ve played at the highest level — the level we’re trying to get to.”
Eight weeks of lifting weights, then hoisting shots against elite competition, apparently has accelerated the Huskies’ maturation process. Romar envisioned a 2014-15 team photo.
“A lot of those guys in that photo,” he said, “are men now.”