Perhaps Lorenzo Romar has a second act in store at Washington.
Perhaps the Huskies have some hope of rebounding yet, and relatively soon.
You can be forgiven for having wondered if Romar had peaked during his tenure in Seattle. In a Pac-12 that has seen Arizona once again become the signature program, while Utah has risen and Oregon has become a steady contender, Washington has gone from being a contender to almost a forgotten team. The 2014-15 season was perhaps a microcosm of this stretch in that it started out with a lot of promise, but crashed and burned.
In 2013-14, injuries dogged the Huskies’ frontcourt. They had a terrific backcourt with promising freshman Nigel Williams-Goss running the show and one of the real hidden gems in C.J. Wilcox on the wing, but the lack of bodies up front hurt early and often, both on the glass and in letting opponents score in the paint. That appeared to be remedied this past season, and despite Wilcox’s graduation the Huskies ran out to an 11-0 start. Big man Robert Upshaw was a big part of that, remedying the problems inside as a game-changer.
The Huskies went to 10-0 with a win over Oklahoma in Las Vegas. Two nights later, they went into Christmas with that 11-0 mark, looking ready to enter Pac-12 play on a great note. Then everything changed. A home loss to Stony Brook – a good team, but one with growing pains at the time – sent them into conference play reeling, and they lost the next three for an 0-3 start. Then a 77-56 home loss to Stanford marked Upshaw’s last game, as the Huskies booted him from the team the next day for off-court issues, which have been a problem his entire career.
It was all downhill from there, as that began a seven-game losing streak. The Huskies would then lose four of five to end the season, including in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament.
It only got worse after the season. Guard Darin Johnson and big men Jernard Jarreau and Gilles Dierickx transferred. Jarreau was a starter, though he missed some time last season, while Johnson seemed to come along and may have been ready for a bigger role. Dierickx was a bit player whose transfer mainly hits depth. The real hit came when Williams-Goss transferred to Gonzaga. Transfers are now very much part of the landscape of college basketball – over 700 players transferred since the beginning of last season – but this one hurts. Besides being one of the nation’s top point guards, Williams-Goss is practically a local boy (he’s from Happy Valley, Oregon, a few miles outside of Portland) and a leader.
In light of that, it would be easy to see the Huskies as trending severely downward, and even wonder if Romar might enter next season on the hot seat. Sure, he’s about halfway through a 10-year contract extension he signed in 2010, but we all know what contracts mean nowadays in coaching. The Huskies had a nice four-year run from 2008-12, finishing in the top three of the Pac-10/Pac-12 each time. But they have not been the same since, and it wasn’t looking good for 2015-16.
There is hope that a repeat of history can happen. After all, Romar led the Huskies to three straight second-place finishes in the Pac-10 from 2003-06, before they were in the second division for a couple of years and then had the aforementioned run. So he’s proven he can reboot one time, and if recruiting of late is any indication, he may do it again soon.
The Huskies bring in a solid group of freshmen this season, and they will be pressed into immediate duty since the roster will have 12 freshmen and sophomores. Dejounte Murray and David Crisp should produce right away on the perimeter, and Matisse Thybulle should help as well. Noah Dickerson and Marquese Chriss should contribute in the frontcourt early and often. That’s a good starting point to go alongside the holdovers; though it didn’t get much notoriety, the class is among the nation’s best.
Where there is really hope is when you look at who will follow them into the program. The Huskies are en route to following up this haul with another good one, as they recently landed Markelle Fultz, a late bloomer from powerhouse DeMatha Catholic High School who could be a McDonald’s All-American. He joins Sam Timmins, a big man from New Zealand, in next year’s group. The talent base is being upgraded over more than one class.
Make no mistake about it: the Huskies will be no one’s pick to win the Pac-12 this coming season. Besides the youth mentioned earlier, senior Andrew Andrews is the only full-time returning starter, as sophomore Donaven Dorsey started eight games last season. Andrews and Dorsey are the only two of the top eight scorers and rebounders to return. That’s why the freshmen will have to play and produce right away. In other words, this team will have a new look. But after the way last season went, maybe that’s exactly what’s needed.
It will be an important team, however. They will begin another attempt at rebooting for Romar. They will try to reverse the clear downward momentum and get the program on its way. It’s entirely possible we could see Washington contending in the Pac-12 again before long, and this could be a team that could win a few games they shouldn’t come February or March.
Lorenzo Romar may have another act in store at his alma mater starting this season.