No one from UCLA or USC has called him, Lorenzo Romar said, nor has he had anyone speak on his behalf to the two Pac-12 Conference schools with head basketball coaching vacancies.
“It came up last year, too, and I’ve said it so many times, and I’ll say it again,” said the Huskies coach in his seasonal wrap-up press briefing Monday morning. “If Washington wants me to be here, I’m at Washington.”
Judging by the public endorsement from athletics director Scott Woodward, Washington apparently does want him, despite an 18-15 record and missing out on the NCAA tournament for the second year in a row.
Predictably, there were grumbles about Romar from some among the purple passionates. The question came up Monday because Romar’s named was linked in media speculation to the Bruins after Ben Howland was fired at UCLA despite winning the Pac-12 regular-season championship and finishing 25-10.
UCLA thought so little of Howland’s 10-year reign, best since the 1975 retirement of the sainted John Wooden, that the school will pay him a $3.2 million settlement to not coach. Howland certainly had his controversies, which peaked last season when Sports Illustrated painted a damning picture of an out-of-control program with unrealistic goals. He seemed to have recovered nicely this season, but a first-round NCAA tourney loss to Minnesota, 83-63, apparently helped do him in, even though a week earlier star point guard Jordan Adams was lost for the season with a broken foot.
No need to feel sorry for Howland; the settlement soaks up a lot of pity. Better to lament the collective attention span of boosters that is shorter than a Hobbit infant.
Romar is a natural speculation because he is a Los Angeles native and a former UCLA assistant under Jim Harrick. But even if Romar’s teams have been inconsistent, he has been consistent for 11 years in saying UW was his dream job and has no interest in other employment, college or pro, as long as he was wanted here.
Romar said he wasn’t necessarily surprised at Howland’s dismissal, given what he had been reading. But he did talk about the unrealistic expectations of a booster base that is yet to get over Wooden’s reign, even though it ended 38 years ago.
“There’s some serious expectations,” he said. “He can say he went to three Final Fours (from 2006 to 2008), and (critics) say, ‘Yeah, but he didn’t win it.’ There are places and programs with high expectations, but people don’t understand how difficult it is to get to a Final Four, period.”
There are those at Montlake who claim Washington’s expectations should be no less soaring. And since Romar has yet to make a Final Four — not to mention whiffing on the NCAA tourney — he should be at least as vulnerable as Howland, if not more.
But despite the era of instant gratification that has swept over all sports in general and college hoops in particular, there is no need for a change now at Washington.
Romar didn’t get what everyone expected out of his senior class of Abdul Gaddy, Scott Suggs and Aziz N’Diaye. Nor was junior C.J. Wilcox able to sustain his early season scoring. But that was partly a function of double-teaming, and partly a nagging foot injury.
But there’s little doubt this team lacked the talent and depth to sustain the consistency it showed only in flashes, and Romar was quick to say that’s on him.
“We have to do better as a staff,” he said. “We never could put it together all on one night on a consistent basis. That’s the story of our season.”
It’s also the story for the other three programs that finished 9-9 in the Pac-12. And it largely the story for all the rest of college basketball — the Bell curve has a massive middle, from which escapes are infrequent.
Since Wooden’s 10th title in 12 seasons in 1975, only 18 programs have won at least one championship. And this year there are 327 eligible teams, give or take the occasional undiscovered double-wide in the Everglades that produces a Florida Gulf Coast/Carpet World storefront school.
The only other Pac-10/12 school to win a title since the Wooden dynasty is Arizona in 1997. It took the kind of single-minded devotion to one thing in a smallish city, as it has in Bloomington, Durham, Lexington, Chapel Hill and Storrs, to get Tucson’s pride and joy a shining moment.
Even when a program puts it together nearly perfectly, abetted by the single-minded support grown in adoring burgs, it doesn’t work. Ask Mark Few.
Because of the ratio of success to teams, the urgency to cheat, and the randomness generated by the NBA one-and-done rule, the hardest major American team championship to win is men’s college basketball.
Once a coach has proven his chops at the premier level, the best chance to win is with continuity, not churn.
Sophomore forward Martin Breunig of Germany, who played little last season, will transfer, Romar said. No hard feelings, he said, just a desire for playing time he obviously wasn’t going to get at UW . . . Wilcox has applied to the NBA undergraduate committee for an evaluation of his prospects prior to the June draft. Wilcox has said publicly he hasn’t made up his mind, but his mediocre second half did not enhance his chances. He has until April 16 to withdraw his name from consideration. Only first-round picks receive guaranteed contracts. . . .
Romar said bluntly the Huskies “will not have a depth issue” next season as they’ve had the past two years. Besides incoming freshmen Nigel Williams-Goss and forward Darin Johnson, they have two redshirts, 6-9 Perris Blackwell and 6-11 Gilles Dierickx. The Huskies also have a scholarship available for super-recruit Aaron Gordon of San Jose, a 6-foot-8, 210-pound power forward who is expected to make a decision April 3 from among Washington, Oregon, Arizona and Kentucky.
Romar said he expects three returning players to take big leaps forward: guard Andrew Andrews and forwards Jernard Jarreau and Shawn Kemp Jr. He said Andrews can succeed Gaddy at the point and Blackwell, at 260 pounds, will complement Kemp inside . . . He lamented the lack of pressure defense, saying the 5.2 steals per game average was the lowest of his tenure and a partial explanation for poor offensive production from the transition game.