Since arriving at the University of Washington in 2003, basketball coach Lorenzo Romar has recruited and coached four All-Americans, eight All-District (West Coast) players, a dozen first-team All-Pac-10 performers, and four first-round NBA draft choices.
For all of that, only one of Romar’s proteges, the recently retired Portland Blazer guard Brandon Roy, has had much success at the professional level, a point underscored this weekend when the Oklahoma Thunder waived guard Nate Robinson (UW, 2003-05) and the New Orleans Hornets swapped guard/forward Quincy Pondexter (2007-10) to the Memphis Grizzlies for Greivis Vasquez.
Owing to lack of height — Nate is generously listed at 5-foot-9 — Robinson is now shopping for his fourth team since the Phoenix Suns made him the 21st overall pick in the first round of the 2005 NBA draft, and promptly dealt him to the New York Knicks, where Robinson had a difficult time adjusting to a lack of playing time and, at one point, was nearly demoted to the Developmental League.
Due in part to his fantastic athleticism, Robinson produced eyeball-popping games during his tenure with the Knicks. As a rookie reserve in 2005-06, he had a breakthrough night against the Philadelphia 76ers early that season at Madison Square Garden, scoring 17 points, including the game-winning 3-pointer over Allen Iverson.
On March 8, 2008, in one of his infrequent starts, Robinson tossed in a career-high 45 points on Portland in a game in which former teammate Roy finished with 27. And, on Feb. 23, 2009, Robinson again came off the bench and dropped 41 points on the Indiana Pacers.
Charles Barkley, the Hall of Famer and television analyst, has frequently called Robinson “the best pure athlete in the NBA.” No use quibbling with Sir Charles, and as supporting evidence Robinson three times won the NBA Slam Dunk competition, and three times — at 5-9 — snatched 10 or more rebounds in a game.
Maybe Robinson’s most remarkable NBA feat: In a game against Houston in 2009, he twice blocked shots put up by 7-6 Yao Ming.
But none of that earned him significant playing time. After making 26 starts as a rookie, he started just five times in 2006-07, and has never made more than 17 starts in any season since.
The Knicks traded Robinson to the Boston Celtics on Feb. 18, 2010, the Celtics dealt him to the Thunder a year later (Feb. 24, 2011), and now the Thunder have made him a free agent. At age 27, and carrying plenty of baggage (fights with teammates, feuds with coaches over playing time, overly concerned about his image), Robinson might have exhausted his options.
One columnist, in fact, recently described Robinson “as a jokester more obsessed with his public persona than the decline of his career,” adding that Robinson “might be too sophomoric to sign.”
Pondexter still has rope. He played one season in New Orleans, making six starts in 66 games, and averaged 2.8 points for a team that finished 46-36. In Memphis, he’s expected to provide depth with Darrell Arthur out for the season.
Of all of the players Romar has dispatched to the NBA, only Roy flourished as a professional, earning three All-Star berths, along with the 2007 Rookie of the Year award.
Spencer Hawes, a first-round pick by Sacramento in 2007, went to the 76ers in a trade prior to last season and has become an uninteresting journeyman, averaging 8.4 points (he’s scored 20 or more points just 14 times in 301 games) for his career.
Hawes might have had a far more productive NBA experience had he stayed at Washington for one or two additional seasons, but elected foolishly (paycheck aside) to become a professional after his freshman year.
Bobby Jones, a second-round pick by Minnesota in 2006, bounced through six organizations before leaving the NBA in 2008. Jon Brockman, a second-round pick in 2009, has played with two teams in two years and started only 10 of a possible 115 games (entering this season). Significantly, Brockman didn’t play many more minutes in his second NBA season than he did in his first.
Given the challenges Robinson has faced, 5-foot-9 Isaiah Thomas, an All-Pac-10 player at Washington the past two years and the last player taken in the June NBA draft, likely will face the same issues. He might one day count himself fortunate if he lasts as long in the league as Robinson has — or did.