Lorenzo Romar (Kim Grinolds/Dawgman.com)
SEATTLE - It's been a long time since UCLA's 1995 National Championship team, but two of the Bruins' assistants from that team will reunite Friday for Washington's 'Midnight Madness' at Bank of America Arena. Lorenzo Romar, now in his eighth year heading up Washington's basketball program, got a call from Steve Lavin, who has been working for ESPN for the past seven years.
Business was on Lavin's mind, and he had something to share with his former coaching colleague.
ESPN, who is already scheduled to do a 'College Gameday' at Washington February 20th when UCLA comes to town, was interested in having Washington be their west coast representative for ESPNU's four-hour Midnight Madness special, held this Friday night. Last year, it was Gonzaga, and since ESPN likes to move their venues around every year, UW seemed like a solid fit, especially considering they were the 2008-09 regular season Pac-10 champions. They finished the season No. 16 in the country, according to ESPN, after a second-round loss to Purdue in the NCAA tournament. Early returns for this season have the Huskies' ranked somewhere between 10 and 20.
Lavin pitched the idea to Romar, who had expected to be with his team for their annual pre-season training camp. Problem was, they wouldn't be in Seattle.
"We didn't know if we could do it, because we hadn't talked about it," Romar said Wednesday. "There had been no publicity at all. But I went to our marketing people and they said coach, we can do this. So we went for it. That's how it came about."
So Friday, starting at roughly 7:15 after the Huskies' nationally-ranked volleyball team hosts UCLA, the basketball team will come out and do their thing in front of a nationally-televised audience. ESPNU will also be covering midnight madness at Connecticut, Duke, Georgetown, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan State, North Carolina and North Dakota State. The Huskies will see Georgetown December 2nd, as the two will square off in Los Angeles as part of the Wooden Classic.
According to Romar, the team will come out and do a skit, then they will have a slam dunk contest. Prizes will then be handed out to those in the crowd. A 3-point shooting contest, followed by a team scrimmage, will round out the evening's events.
"I think it's great," Romar said. "It's one of the reasons the guys came here to school, to play on the big stage and get exposure and have a great college experience. And that's all part of it, if you are fortunate enough to attract that kind of attention. When you have an opportunity for your guys to be on national television, it's hard to turn down."
He also knows that with the notoriety comes a bullseye, one that plagued his 2007 team after three-straight trips to the NCAA tournament. It group was a young one, and one that didn't deal as well with the adversity that comes with having high expectations.
"The lesson learned is that you can't rest off the laurels of what people have done in the past," Romar said. "You weren't there every day to see how much sweat was put in to get to that level. You don't just show up all of a sudden because there's this hype around you and win championships. You have to work.
"You have to pay the price."
Breaking down the freshmen: Romar was asked to break down the strengths of his incoming freshmen - Abdul Gaddy, Clarence Trent and C.J. Wilcox. On Gaddy, Romar said there will be comparisons made to Brandon Roy in terms of his basketball IQ and how quickly he's picked up concepts. Romar reminded the media about how Roy learned his offense in 45 minutes. He also said that Abdul has a great on-court demeanor and knows how to lead people. For a 17-year old, that's a pretty heady thing. He's also willing to do whatever is asked of him. On Trent, Romar called him a warrior and a great team guy. He gives everything he has. He's a natural athlete and very strong. He's always involved and around every play on both ends of the court, he has a lot of energy. On Wilcox, Romar said he's a phenomenal jump-shooter, and he can also create. He can touch the top of the square on the backboard. He's long and rangy and he feels very fortunate that the Huskies were able to find him. Said that coach Jim Shaw was the one that saw Wilcox first, at a tournament in Houston. Romar also said that when people compare Wilcox to Elston Turner, Turner is more of a playmaker, but Wilcox is a better athlete.
Injury update: Justin Holiday is still recovering from hernia surgery, and according to Romar it will be a few weeks before the junior forward will be able to start practicing again. Freshman forward Tyreese Breshers is back from the leg/knee/shin injury that has kept him out for nearly a year and a half, but Romar said he's still not 100 percent. That being said, Romar added that he could still play in games right now and the injury won't affect his performance. The biggest thing right now for Breshers is getting in game shape. He also said that Breshers has a chance to be as physical or even more physical than departed forward Jon Brockman. Brockman is now in his rookie campaign with the Sacramento Kings. "He's got 'Farm Strength'," Romar said of Breshers. "The young man is strong and quick. He will surprise you. I have to keep Sark (Steve Sarkisian) away from him."
The Most Surprising Player: Speaking of surprises, Romar was asked who right now is the most surprising player to him. The answer might surprise you: Quincy Pondexter. "He's just playing at a high, high level," Romar said. He added that the senior captain from Fresno was arguably their best player in the two NCAA games in March. "Not only was he taking big shots, but he was making big shots," he added. Pondexter also played in the World University Games, further bolstering his confidence.
Three-guard Offense?: Romar reiterated Wednesday that he's not going to have Isaiah Thomas, Venoy Overton and Abdul Gaddy in the lineup to start games, but they very well could be there to finish. It all depends on the situation, and Romar added that they have other very capable guards, like Elston Turner and Scott Suggs, that can also be very effective performers during crunch time.
Conference pile up?: It's probably as unpredictable as it's been the last few years, Romar said. "I think there are just too many teams that are going to improve that people are going to count out this year." California is certainly considered a favorite, and he agreed - noting Jerome Randle, Patrick Christopher, Theo Robertson and Jamal Boykin. "You've got to put them in there somewhere. When you are experienced like that and you have good guards, that's a formula that usually means you're going to do pretty good."