Washington coach Lorenzo Romar wins his way
Washington coach Lorenzo Romar proves you don't have to cheat to win in college basketball. And you don't have to lie to recruit.
Seattle Times staff columnist
SAN JOSE, Calif. — Most coaches would have called a timeout. They wouldn't have trusted the months of preparation that went into this moment. Wouldn't have trusted their players.
Most coaches would have protected themselves against the raucous second-guessing they would have heard if things had gone wrong.
But in the final seconds of a tie game, in a first-round win over Marquette, Washington coach Lorenzo Romar let the game play out. He kept the ball and the season in the hands of his senior playmaker Quincy Pondexter.
Romar had confidence in himself and his players and the hours they had spent together in the gym. He felt comfortable with everything he had taught his team. They were ready for this moment.
"You can call time out and you can draw up this wizard play, but he still has to make the shot," Romar said after Friday's practice before Washington's second-round meeting with New Mexico. "In that particular case the ball was in his (Pondexter's) hands and our alignment was set up for something that we already do. We had prepared ourselves to be in that situation without calling a timeout, so that they couldn't change their defense."
Coaches walk a tightrope. If Pondexter had missed that game-winner and the Huskies had lost in overtime, Romar would have been roasted on radio and questioned in print and on blog postings. The decision would have followed him all the way into next season.
"You go with your feel for your team and what your team is comfortable with and what you're comfortable with as a coach," Romar said. "If you do that and it doesn't work, you still did what you thought was best at the time and if people want to criticize, they can criticize."
Quietly, Lorenzo Romar has become one of the treasures in Seattle sports.
He revived a moribund program. He made Hec Ed into the place to be on cold, wet winter nights. He has made a long march into late March something that is expected out of Washington.
Before he arrived in 2002, Washington had made the NCAA tournament only five times in 26 years. But in Romar's eight seasons at the school, he has taken the Huskies to five NCAA tournaments.
His team was a No. 1 seed in 2005. It won the Pac-10 Conference regular-season title last season and the tournament championship this season.
More important, he has won the right way. Of the 23 Washington players who have come through Romar's program, 19 have graduated.
"He is an honest man in a dishonest world," Washington athletic director Scott Woodward said. "I wouldn't say basketball is particularly, singularly dishonest. But he is a good man and I always use the quote, when he brings recruits in, that I would let this guy raise my own kids. That's the test for parents."
Romar never has looked at coaching Washington as a way to build his résumé. Unlike a lot of people in his profession, he's never thought of spring as moving time. You get the feeling he could be a lifer at the school.
There isn't a hint of scandal in the program. Romar is proof that you don't have to cheat to win in college basketball. And you don't have to lie to recruit.
He is the straightest of straight arrows.
"When he was recruiting me, I remember asking him, 'Will I have a chance to play?' " Pondexter said. "Most coaches were telling me, I could come in and shoot as many times as I wanted, but coach Romar said, 'I'm not guaranteeing you anything. You're going to have to work for it.' "
In 2004, Washington was 0-5 in the conference, preparing for a game it was expected to lose against Oregon State. At practice the day before the game Romar was looking for something that could lift his players out of their funk.
Instead of drilling them into the ground; instead of punishing them for their poor conference start, Romar led them in a half-court shooting contest.
"They didn't need a beat-down," he said on Friday. "They needed something to feel good about themselves."
The idea was unorthodox and yet it was typical Romar. The next night Washington won in overtime and finished the conference season winning 12 of its final 13 games, earning a tournament bid for the first time since 1999.
Once again this season, Romar is working. He's an honest man, coaching the game his way, and proving you can win, playing by the rules.
Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or firstname.lastname@example.org
About Steve Kelley
Steve Kelley covers all sports, putting his spin on matters involving both the home team and the nation.
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