UW men’s basketball enters season with plenty of questions
For the first time since his arrival in 2002, Husky men’s basketball coach Lorenzo Romar has a group that didn’t include anyone who’s played in the NCAA tournament.
Seattle Times staff reporter
UW men’s basketball key dates
Oct. 23: Pac-12 media day in San Francisco
Nov. 6: Exhibition opener vs. Saint Martin’s
Nov. 14: Season opener vs. South Carolina State
Nov. 27-30: Wooden Legacy tournament in Anaheim, Calif.
Jan. 2: Pac-12 opener at California
March 11-14: Pac-12 tournament in Las Vegas
Standing on the new court at Alaska Airlines Arena, which features the Seattle skyline and Space Needle in silhouette, Lorenzo Romar gathered the Washington men’s basketball team around him Thursday afternoon.
For the first time since his arrival in 2002, the Husky coach stared at a group that didn’t include anyone who’s played in the NCAA tournament.
Romar, who led UW to six NCAA tournaments, is partly to blame for the disconnect considering the Huskies last played in the Big Dance March 20, 2011.
He understands the message needs to be different this season. When he talks to them about snapping UW’s three-year drought and returning to the NCAA tourney, he makes sure to focus on the journey and not the destination.
“That’s why we’re approaching it the way we’re approaching it,” Romar said. “About competing and about being mentally tough. If we just say, we got to get to the tournament, then they’re saying we don’t know how to do that. We’ve never done it before.
“We were in this position before in 2004 when none of them had tasted the tournament either. That year we started out 0-5, but that year guys found a way to learn how to compete and be together, and there it went.”
Entering his 13th year at Washington, Romar has never began a season with so many questions.
Last season the Huskies finished 17-15, tied for eighth in the Pac-12 with a 9-9 record and failed to reach the postseason for the first time since 2007. Early media forecasts project similar results this season.
“People are picking us anywhere from sixth to ninth in the Pac-12,” Romar said. “So you can use that as motivation, but ... if you force yourself every day and get after it, then whatever your ceiling is you’re going to get there.”
The Huskies figure to have one of the best backcourts in the conference with sophomore Nigel Williams-Goss, who briefly considered entering the NBA draft after one season at UW, and fourth-year junior Andrew Andrews, who Romar predicts will have a breakout season.
They’re the team’s leading returning scorers – Williams Goss averaged 13.4 points and Andrews 12.3 – and both were elected co-captains. However, everything else about Washington is a mystery.
Will Jernard Jarreau, a 6-foot-10 junior forward who sat out most of last season after tearing knee ligaments in the opener, return healthy and become the versatile big man seemingly ideally suited for Washington’s high-post offense?
What will the Huskies receive from Robert Upshaw, their 6-11 transfer from Fresno State who is billed as an athletic, shot-blocking center who “likes to dunk everything,” according to Williams-Goss.
And who replaces departing superstar C.J. Wilcox, who led the team in scoring the past two seasons, ranks second all-time at UW in scoring and was taken 28th overall in the NBA draft?
“We’ve got guys waiting in the wings ready to step up,” said Darin Johnson, a sophomore guard who is the third-leading returning scorer after averaging 5.9 points last season.
Washington will also need to overcome the offseason losses of senior forward Desmond Simmons, who transferred to Saint Mary’s, and freshman forward Tristan Etienne, who left the team this week.
It’s debatable if the Huskies have more talent than last season, but Romar believes UW is tougher, more mature and more versatile than before. He plans to rely less on the high-post offense and more on the up-tempo attack that had been Washington’s trademark.
Still, it may be difficult for Husky fans to focus on 2014-15 season knowing Washington is bringing in a touted 2015 recruiting class that includes Rainier Beach High star Dejounte Murray and Eastside Catholic standout Matisse Thybulle.
Romar acknowledged the future is bright, but maintains he has enough this season to break UW’s NCAA tournament drought.
“I’m just anxious and excited to get out there and see what we can do with this group,” he said.