Romar transforms Huskies on both ends

SEATTLE - It's a rare day when Lorenzo Romar isn't candid about his job and his team. You're as likely to get a moment of falsehood from him as you are a unicorn sighting. But Romar was especially frank Friday when asked about the defensive performance of last year's Hoop Huskies, a performance that drew sharp criticism from the man responsible for putting said defense on the floor.

"Last year, from Day One, we didn't get it," Romar said, matter-of-factly during the Huskies Media Day. "We went at a slower pace. We just didn't get it last year."

"At times we got it and some games we would slip up," added senior guard Abdul Gaddy. "I really don't know the reason why, but I think that's a main focus for us this year. There's a lot of things we've been working on the last three weeks, we've been working on a lot of defense - our rotations and stuff like that.

"It's very important, because defense wins games. Defense is a lot of effort. You want to be able to stop somebody? You take pride in it. You shouldn't like it when somebody scores on you. It's all about intensity and having a lot of guys have a lot of energy."

When asked for a reason behind the lackluster effort on the defensive end of the ball last season, one where they gave up over 70 points per game - mostly against Pac-12 Conference opposition that is historically considered the worst in the history of the league - at least one player came up with a plausible explanation.

"I think we just had a lot of newcomers coming in and half the team kind of knew what was going on …. we just didn't totally buy in early enough and that kind of played through the whole season," junior C.J. Wilcox said. "But now we know we can't win without defense, so that's like our main focus."

"We're trying to create a situation where we know that will butter our bread and if we don't do it we can forget it," added Romar. "We're not good enough to go out there and not play defense."

A tenacious defense is something Romar's teams have been known for from time to time - so getting back to basics on that end of the score isn't that surprising. What he has in store at the other end of the game is something else entirely - a move toward making the High Post Offense a staple every time a transition opportunity breaks down.

"We're going to push that ball the same as we've always pushed it. But when it's not there someone has to take charge and make sure we're in the right spots and make sure the ball is distributed the right way - and I think that's a great, great strength of Abdul's," Romar said. "And I think as a result, he's going to really be able to define himself as a point guard."

The High Post Offense is something created by John Wooden at UCLA and utilized by other Bruin coaches down the line, including Jim Harrick and some of his assistants - North Carolina State's Mark Gottfried and Romar being two of them. Louisville's venerated Denny Crum was also a practitioner of the offense.

The offense can be played with two guards at the top of the key, or as Romar will play it - with one guard. With Gaddy as his point guard, the high post offense Washington intends to run will allow the two 'posts' on either side of the key to flash to the top of the key - where they can pass to players inside or outside depending on how the defense rotates.

The offense can be played on either side of the court, with a variety of reads. "Looking at our personnel and looking at it offensively - down the stretch we thought too much at times because we were calling sets a lot," Romar said when discussing the move toward the High Post Offense as his staple of attack. "I thought we got bogged down at times. I prefer guys to be all on the same page but still have the freedom to just play basketball - and the high post offense allows you to do that.

"You have a structure and there's many different components to it and many different ways you can be effective - but you drill it and drill it and drill it so guys know where they can get their money, so to speak. But yet there are many different options. There's 13 options in the high post without us calling one of them, just based on a read…read and react, so guys just get to play out of it. But yet there's still more to it than just penetrate and kick like we've done so many years."

Not only does Romar feel like the offense can find success for players like Wilcox who can rub off screens and shoot from all areas on the court, but it can also find plenty of opportunities for players like Suggs and Gaddy, who have been able to knock down jumpers from deep in the past. Even a freshman like Andrew Andrews should be able to find plenty of chances to score via the High Post Offense when he's not being asked to run it.

"The offense allows you to know exactly where you're going to get your shots from all the time," Romar said. "The shots will come from different areas, but you'll know exactly where those come from - and everyone else knows that. There aren't any surprises. When you know exactly where your shots are coming from you can prepare mentally one or two seconds beforehand - and I think you shoot a higher field goal percentage and you shoot with more confidence."

"I was excited," Wilcox said when asked about the challenges of moving from the motion the Huskies had run the past few years to the High Post Offense. "Coming off down screens is something that I like to do."

Since Romar has dabbled in using the High Post during years when he had players like Jon Brockman and Quincy Pondexter, he's intimately familiar with the pros and cons - especially the fact that they never got very good at it because they never really sold themselves out to it. In fact he brought in Harrick to help the UW staff familiarize themselves with the nuances of the offense. Harrick had studied Wooden's game plan so meticulously that he even had the practices down to the precise drills run and the sequence involved.

But installing an offense can't work without the cooperation of those put in charge of running it - and Romar said the team has been more than willing partners in learning the High Post Offense and how they can use it to their advantage. "The main thing about it - when you change your offense or change certain things you want to do within your team, guys fight it," he said. "Our guys have embraced it, and I think that's a really important piece in this whole thing.

"We just have so much more of an understanding right now of what we want to do. I don't know how well we would do, but if we had to play a game tonight we would be functional…and never have felt like that at this time of the year before our first practice."

As everyone knows, recruiting is the lifeblood of any top program in any sport. It's what keeps teams competing at their highest levels. The move to the High Post Offense was also done, according to Romar, with recruiting in mind.

"I have to say this is something that, as we looked ahead with players that could potentially come here, it was something that fit the immediate picture and the long-term picture - something that we wouldn't have to change every year," he said. "So if we were going to make an adjustment, make something that's going to go out long-term."

There is one aspect to the new offense that has Romar intrigued. Not nervous…intrigued. "I'm anxious to see with two minutes left in the game - who is going to take over?" he said. "We have some ideas, there are some candidates…but who is it going to be in a month when we start playing?"

Last year there was little question; it would be either one of the two eventual first round draft picks - Terrence Ross or Tony Wroten. Wroten was the more demonstrable of the two, but no one could deny Ross' ability to create offense out of almost nothing at times.

This year it could be Wilcox, who has scored 24 points in a half before; it could be Gaddy, who scored in double-digits a dozen times last year; it could be Suggs, who, before his injury last year was coming into his own as an all-around scorer.

"We don't have a lot of charismatic guys out there on the floor, but I think we've got some quiet assassins on our team that are going to do just fine," said Romar.

"The team changes each year," added Gaddy. "My freshman year I had Quincy; my sophomore year it was Isaiah and Matthew and last year it was Tony and Terrence. It changes each year, so you never know who is going to step up and be a big-time scorer. I think us as a whole team, we're going to put up a lot of points because a lot of us can score."

Those three will be seen as the prime candidates, but it could also be Desmond Simmons, who is working a mid-range game back into his offensive repertoire. It could be one of the big men - Aziz N'diaye or Shawn Kemp - who, if the Huskies work the High Post Offense to their advantage, could have some very easy looks at the rim late in games. Or it could be one of the freshmen - either Andrew Andrews or Jernard Jarreau - that could surprise. In fact, that's one of the more interesting aspects of this team - the fact that they don't have any incoming players to integrate once it was revealed that Tacoma Community College's Mark McLaughlin would not be enrolling this fall. He has since enrolled at Central Washington.

"He's a little pit bull," Romar said of Andrews, a redshirt freshman guard from Portland that is already drawing favorable comparisons to another pit bull - former UW guard Will Conroy. "You talk about that personality - he's got one of those personalities. He just hasn't been out there for everyone to see. He's a guy that's not really intimidated by any situation. You talk about having Andrew - those guys are freshmen like they were in the 2012 class - so we've got two players that are coming in this year that are just as good as anyone we would have taken in 2012."

The point is, the 2012-2013 Washington Huskies are shaping up to be a team of options, of possibilities, of getting back to the basics that has helped establish their program as one of the best in the West. But more importantly, everything points toward Washington becoming a team once again.

"I sense our team has a quiet chip on their shoulder, little bit," Romar said. "It is a close-knit group. Some of them have been together a while, and that brings a unique quality to this team. And that's why I continue to say that this is a team. We've had teams that are more talented and have been better, but comparing this group with the other 10 we've had, this team is set apart a little more because it really is a team."
Notes:
Two New Assistants - Romar spoke glowingly of UW's two summer hires - Brad Jackson and Lamont Smith. Much like the football team's defensive renovation - the basketball team did some reshuffling of their own. Gone is Raphael Chillious to Villanova and Paul Fortier has moved into the role of Director of Player Personnel & Development. That means the inclusion of Jackson and Smith.

Jackson is a name that should be very familiar to Northwest college basketball fans; he was Western Washington's head coach for the past 27 years, and last year he led the Vikings to a 31-5 record and the NCAA Division-II National Championship with a 72-65 win over Montevallo (Ala.).

"It's like having a guru/consultant on your staff that has a wealth of experience, a wealth of knowledge - but he's right there with you every day in staff meetings and right there on the bench with you in practices," Romar said of Jackson, noting that he spoke with Brad about joining the Huskies' staff when he first was hired by Washington before the 2003 season. "It's a great luxury to have."

Romar hired Smith to be one of his graduate assistants at Saint Louis in 1999, so the UW Head Coach knows all about his strengths as a coach and also recruiter. Smith was most recently at Arizona State, where he served under Herb Sendek since 2008.

"Lamont was a great defensive player," Romar said of Smith. "He knows our defensive system backwards and forwards because he was with us in the beginning. So he will be paying close attention to our defense, and he'll also be working with our guards. Brad will probably work more with the bigs with coach Fortier and probably help out offensively a lot.

"Both of those guys will be fantastic recruiters. They are really good with people, they are guys with integrity, guys that you can trust. I think they will do a great job."

Will Austin Seferian-Jenkins play basketball? - The 6-foot-6 sophomore tight end for the football team, who played in 17 basketball games for the Huskies last year - is again listed on the current hoops roster. Does that mean another year of playing both sports for the Dawgs? "He says he is, but that's a question for Austin and coach Sark (Head Coach Steve Sarkisian) - not for me," Romar said Friday.

The Rihards Kuksiks Test - Romar was about the possibility of playing both N'Diaye and Kemp in the same lineup, something they worked on during their recent trip to Europe and Dakar, Senegal - N'Diaye's home town - and Romar brought up a litmus test they created with a former Pac-12 player in mind. "You have to be able to guard Rihard Kuksiks from Arizona State," Romar said of the former Sun Devil, by way of Latvia. "If you've ever seen him, he's 6-foot-6, can shoot the lights out and is running all over the place…so big guys can't play against him. So we always say that the four man has to be able to guard Kuksiks, and that determines whether you can play with another big guy. If you can't, then you can only play one at a time. You can't do it unless you're playing zone."

Schedule Strength - With last year's misfortune of not being selected to the NCAA Tournament despite having won the Pac-12 regular conference title, fans are once again looking to Washington's non-conference schedule as something that may make or break the Huskies' chances of repeating history.

"There is an understanding that we have to be at a high level early," Romar said, noting last year's issues with winning non-conference games that could have spelled the difference between punching a ticket to the Dance or playing second fiddle in the NIT.

"Sometimes when people don't see a certain high profile name, they may think it's not that tough. Our schedule is extremely tough. The Colorado State's, Nevada's and Saint Louis' of the world - maybe some others don't hold in high esteem, but we do. Along with the tournament that we're in and playing UConn, I think our schedule is extremely competitive, strong, and will help us at the end of the year."

To break down UW's Non-Conference opponents, here they are with last year's season-ending RPI ranking:
Loyola-Maryland - 75
Albany - 222
Seton Hall - 70
Ohio State - 6
Rhode Island - 262
Colorado State - 29
Saint Louis - 28
Cal-State Fullerton - 162
Nevada - 46
Seattle - 275
Jackson State - 321
Cal Poly - 223
Northern Illinois - 334
Connecticut - 33

*NOTE - I've put both Ohio State and Rhode Island on the list, but the Huskies will play only one of them. This game could be a huge RPI swing game based on last year's numbers, as you can see.


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