Did Isaiah Thomas just hit that shot? Did Kevin O'Neil really get into an altercation at the Westin bar not more than 20 feet from where I was the night before? Was that Greg Kinnear in the baseball cap and unshaven mug? And did Condaleezza Rice just walk by us, smile at us, and did Dave "Softy" Mahler just reach out and shake her hand?
Yep, it all happened for realz. Here were my top 5 memories from the 2010 Pac-10 Championship.
5. Isaiah Thomas limping out of the press-conference and to the locker room following the Oregon game. It should be no secret now what a warrior this young man is, but I wish you could've seen him after the Oregon game. He was drained from head to toe, and he could barely walk. Oregon had pummeled him and he was feeling the effects of both that as well as playing 40 minutes the night before against a very tough WSU team. As we walked under the catacombs at Staples and made our way to the Husky locker room, Thomas limped, winced, and looked like he could use about 47 straight hours of sleep. I remember thinking to myself, ‘There is no way this guy is going to be ready to play tomorrow night against Arizona. No way." Later that night at the Westin lounge, sitting and chatting with Eldridge Recasner, Mike Hayward, Dave "Softy" Mahler, Greg "Unleashed" Bell, Percy Allen, and Francis Williams, we all discussed it. Many at the table felt it might be wise to sit Isaiah for that game and let him rest for the dance, since the Dawgs were a shoo-in at that point. It might have been a much different outcome had Romar decided that Thomas couldn't answer the bell.
Oh, and by the way….Thomas did play. And he did pretty well.
4. Getting to know a little bit more about the wonder twin freshmen, Terrence Ross and C.J. Wilcox. Talking with these two kids, you wonder how they can be such unconscious shooters in the hail of live bullets. Ross is very laid back and soft spoken. He is animated, but it is not forced in any way. I asked him what goes through his head when he sees no one between him and the rim and he knows that he's about to unleash a ferocious jam. "I don't think about anything, really. I can't. It all happens so fast, it's a blink of the eye. So when Isaiah sends the ball up, I know I have to go get it and do what it is I can do. I know I can do it, so I don't really think about it. I just act."
I think my favorite part was watching Ross after the game interact with is family in the stands. They were all waiting for him to come out, and when Ross came up the stairs, he looked every bit the part of a little kid. He had his backpack on, his iPod and headphones on his person, and his expression was one of almost embarrassment. He wasn't really interested in having all of the attention on him.
Why? Because Uncle Terrence was there. The entire Ross group was all talking about the fact that Uncle Terrence had shown up and he was clearly holding court. And Ross was just fine with that.
Wilcox has no fear whatsoever, even if his shot is off for four or five trips down the floor. His approach never wavers, and large part that is because captain Isaiah Thomas tells him to shoot. In the huddle, Thomas told Wilcox, "If I come up the floor and I get you the ball, shoot it. OK? I'm just too tired right now. I'm so tired I can't even think, so if you get the ball, shoot it. And if you miss and get the rebound, shoot it again."
Wilcox was oh-for-four from three-point range before he drained that all-important game tying trey against Arizona. He also got to show his elevation when he got behind the Arizona defense, took a perfect pass and jammed it before the defender could elevate.
"I didn't think about the misses. I just shoot. Isaiah tells me to shoot whenever I can, so that's what I do. I listen to him."
And Thomas likes what he sees. "Y'all are lucky I can't shoot like C.J., because if I could, none of you would ever see the ball."
3. Watching Lorenzo coach up close. Sitting at the press row on the baseline next to the Husky bench, you really get a good insight as to how Romar runs his team. I have read the comments on the message boards that indicate that Romar doesn't have control of his team, but if you saw him in action, you would feel differently. I know it. He gives them their time during warm ups, and again right before the Dawgs take the floor when they gather without coaches, form a circle, lock arms, bow and put their heads together like a football huddle, and then start dancing. Darnell Gant was in the middle of it before they took the floor against Arizona. That is their time.
But after the Huskies are introduced and they head back to the bench, from that point on IT IS ROMAR'S TIME. And he uses it. He coaches, he cajoles, he encourages, he makes corrections, and he is constantly telling his kids what he wants AND reminding them what they are capable of. Watching the way his kids respond to his commands both on the floor and in the huddles at the bench is something. Those kids would run through a wall for Lorenzo. And while Romar's head is in the game, the players that have come to the bench are getting individual instruction and inquiries by Fortier, Shaw, and Chilious. The Husky bench never looks frenetic, it never looks out of control, and you don't see the bickering between players like you see on a couple of the other Pac-10 teams. When a Husky upper-classmen barks at a younger teammate, they are doing it with love. And the younger players take the criticism and encouragement extremely well, because they respect where it is coming from.
That is because of the tone at the top that Romar has set. It is engrained into Husky basketball culture, and therefore everyone on the team buys into it. When Isaiah Thomas yells at C.J. Wilcox for not being in the right spot or Darnell Gant screams at Terrence Ross to get ready for a particular play, and it happens more often than you think, those two freshmen nod and take the instructions with enthusiasm. This is very much a team, and that is something that Romar probably doesn't get much credit for. Fans tend to only notice the coach when things aren't going well. I wish they could see the Husky team and its operation in action from the time out huddles to the coaching that goes on at each possession. These guys are dialed in, and it is because of their Head Coach and their obvious respect for him.
2. Watching Bob Rondeau interact with the team and the fans. Washington fans are so lucky to have Bob behind the microphone to paint the action. But what they can't see is how much he prepares for each broadcast. He has notes that he has made on his own, from visiting with coaches, players, and from his own observations. He is very well informed, and it comes across in his broadcasts.
Also, his passion for the Huskies comes across not only in his voice, but also in his body language. When Isaiah Thomas nailed the final shot, Rondeau had his arms raised above his head.
He is also very good with fans. He is very approachable, and fun to talk to. By Friday evening, his voice was trashed. I have no idea how he sounded on Saturday on the air but I can tell you he could barely talk Friday evening at the Westin when he, Jason Hamilton, and Elliot Silvers were relaxing. Bob entertained a steady stream of well wishers while he was there, and he took the time to shake hands, smile, talk, and just generally be a great guy to those that wandered over to his table.
I've known Bob for close to 15 years now and I'm not afraid to show him some love. He's the best, he's humble, he has the respect of all of the other announcers in the league, and he's all ours.
1. Isaiah Thomas' final shot to end the tournament. Chris Fetters and I were sitting at the baseline right next to the Husky bench. After Parrom's trey swished through to tie the game, Isaiah Thomas took the inbounds pass, looked right at Romar and waved his right hand at him. The message? "I got this, Coach. It's time for me to end this thing."
Sometimes the best coaching is to know your guys and when to stay out of their way. Romar did just that. He looked Isaiah right in the eye, thought about it for about one second, and then signaled for the iso-play. Romar waved his arm at the other four Huskies to assume their positions along the baseline and take isolation spacing. Thomas dribbled up the floor, all business. He knew he had the green light and he knew that this was his time. He looked at the defense, made sure that the defenders had all gone with the other Huskies, creating a one-on-one match up that he craved. It all was there in front of him.
Fetters and I had a perfect view of the play, and when Isaiah dribbled to his left, crossed back to his right, scissor stepped and jumped back to create space between him and his defender, he was doing so right in our line of vision. When Zeke let fly on his fade away jay, it was on a perfect trajectory. It was coming right at us, and because of our angle, we could see that it was coming right at the middle of the basket. All that was needed was the correct distance. Would it have enough juice on it to make it there? After all, it was a deep fade away and it came from a very tired player.
As the ball floated toward the rim, it seemed like it was hanging there forever. Then, FINALLY, it ripped through the net.
The light behind the backboard came on at the same exact time the ball entered the hoop, and for a split second, I wondered if Isaiah's shot had triggered a scoreboard malfunction.
Nope. Game over. The Huskies had really won. The Husky bench in front of me was really jumping up and down, going crazy. Everyone except for Romar, who was leaning on the scorers table, just watching everything unfold. He was taking it all in, making sure he'd remember this moment for the rest of his life. Truly happy for his kids who had fought so hard for this.
And I did something you aren't supposed to do on press row. I flew out of my chair.
Oops. Go ahead, sue me.
Top Five memories from the Pac-10 tournament
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