After the tittering and guffawing die down in early March, a team or teams will have won or shared the Pac-12 Conference regular-season championship. It’s the rule. If the Huskies are there, no matter how clown-car was the league, having done the deed only once in the last 53 years, the regular-season crown will be a big deal.
But a more impressive mark is this: The next Washington win will be the 20th of the season, meaning that milestone will have been reached four years in a row — a first in UW hoops history.
In the era of one-and-done for NBA-caliber players, that’s rare air.
Then, if coach Lorenzo Romar pulls off 20 wins next year, after losing two players to the first round of the NBA draft, just give him the deed to the campus.
Not saying it’s going to happen, but once Terrence Ross and Tony Wroten start getting all giggly about going pro, staying back in Montlake is going to be hard to do. Plus, by moving on, they won’t have to go through the annoyance of the question anymore.
“They’ve handled it very well,” said Romar, “but it puts a lot of pressure on players in the middle of the season.”
Sometimes it seems that our fast-twitch culture is so intoxicated with the future that it overwhelms the here and now. The intense attention given to high school recruiting and pro drafts nearly surpasses the passion for game and seasonal outcomes. We can’t be satisfied with what’s now before we demand to know what’s next.
Near the end of Washington’s win over Arizona Saturday, as Ross stood at the free-throw line, he was serenaded by bleats of “One more year!” from the Dawg Pack denizens.
Romar described the gesture, a routine ritual for premier college players with choices, as “lovingly chanting,” but noticed that Ross was shaking his head. Not, as Ross explained later, telling the crowd “no,” but because he was nearly mortified.
“He was embarrassed,” Romar said. “If he were alone, maybe he wouldn’t have been embarrassed. But he’s with his team, and he’s a team guy. It’s hard to avoid (the question) — it’s the elephant in the room, but a player of his caliber is going to get asked that question.”
The question has changed college basketball over the last six years. Since the NBA after the 2004-05 season mandated a minimum age of 19 for entry into the draft, to end the practice of having to scout high school games, the invention of the one-and-done player has made managing the college roster a more aggravating task than herding water buffaloes.
In some cases, such as with now-retired Arizona coach Lute Olson, the one and done drove him bats. With other coaches, such as John Calipari at Kentucky, he makes in a point to go after the best talents each year and expects they will leave after a season.
Romar is somewhere in the middle, managing to accept the rule while quietly selling the virtues of college life to those willing to listen.
Among those players in Romar’s 10 years who made it to the NBA, he coaxed four years out of Brandon Roy, Bobby Jones, Will Conroy, Jon Brockman and Quincy Pondexter, and three out of Isaiah Thomas and Nate Robinson . Spencer Hawes was the lone one-and-done, although Huskies signee Martell Webster left for the NBA from Seattle Prep in 2005, the final year it was possible.
Asked how he managed the feat, he answered with feet, as in, “Two feet in.”
Romar asks the recruit with pro potential to give his all in the first season, instead of “one foot in, one foot out the door.
“Nowadays in recruiting, it’s just part of the discussion — one and done, two and out, four years . . . ‘How do you feel about it? Where do you stand?'”
Naturally, Romar is an advocate of the full-meal deal, a coach who takes as much pride in Darnell Gant, one-time NBA wanna-be, finishing with his degree as he does in Thomas putting up 23 points in his first NBA start last week.
“People say all these basketball and football players don’t care about an education,” he said. “Trust me, I care about an education.”
Yet he manages to get the W’s too. Should the 19-8 Huskies win any among their final three games — at Washington State Saturday, and next week at USC and UCLA to end the regular season — the fourth 20-win season is two less that the number of 20-win seasons by his four UW predecessors combined — Marv Harshman (four), Andy Russo (one), Lynn Nance (none), Bob Bender (one).
Granted, the Huskies play a few more games now, but they also play with fewer upperclassmen. And if Wroten and Ross leave, Romar will be tested next season as never before.
For longtime Seattle basketball fans, the prodigy-to-pro story is an old one, and its origins had roots here. More than 40 years ago, Spencer Haywood left college in Detroit after one year to join Denver in the now-defunct American Basketball Association. After a single season, he was pirated away by then-Sonics owner Sam Schulman, who was promptly sued by the NBA for hiring a player before his four years of college eligibility had passed.
Schulman argued that the restriction was an unfair restraint of trade. A federal judge agreed — and changed the game.
As a 21-year-old NBA rookie, Haywood averaged 20 points and 12 rebounds. By his third year, he was averaging 29 points and 13 rebounds, doing things that fans a generation and a half later think were invented by LeBron James and Kevin Durant. Tee-hee.
Haywood established that while the NBA is a man’s game, a few special kids can play it, and must be permitted to play it. A couple of his hoops descendants are in his old town. Should they leave it shortly, they would do well to offer a virtual fist-bump to a previous Seattle baller who opened the door, and a current Seattle coach who made them jump two feet in.