Romar Unveils High Post Offense

SEATTLE - Lorenzo Romar brought Jim Harrick to Washington this past spring to help implement the High Post Offense at UW, the offense Harrick ran while Romar was a graduate assistant at UCLA. Romar talked to Harrick about trying to run the High Post Offense to help supplement the standard Lute Olson-based motion offense that had become a staple of UW's attack.

Romar, after years of trying unsuccessfully - in his mind - to meld both into a cohesive offensive strategy, came up with a simple idea.

You can't do both.

"Nope, you can't," said Harrick. Romar wondered at the time why his mentor hadn't mentioned it to him sooner.

"He's right," Romar added. "You have to do one or the other."

So this summer, given 10 practices before their August trip to Europe and Senegal, Romar and his assistants went to work installing the full version of the UCLA High Post Offense using a one-guard front, or 1-4 set as it is sometimes called because it has the point guard at the top and the four other players aligned from sideline to sideline at the top of the key when the two posts flash from near the baseline.

"Now that we're just concentrating on this, coach (Harrick) would always say - 'Easy to scout, hard to stop'," said Romar Tuesday, a day before the Huskies start their season off with an exhibition game against Western Washington University at Alaska Airlines Arena. "Everybody knows it's coming, but if you execute it properly it can still be effective if you're spending a lot of time working on it."

It's interesting that not too many programs run the UCLA High Post Offense anymore - one that was created by the legendary John Wooden. Louisville's Denny Crum was a big proponent of it. "You can say it's an old-fashioned offense, but if there's 30 NBA teams, I bet you 25 run some form of it," said Romar. "How many people knew that Stockton and Malone were going to run a two-man game? Nobody stopped it for twenty years."

For those wondering why Romar would radically change what he's done offensively, it's not as wild a switch as you might imagine. Because of his familiarity with it at UCLA, it was the first offense he ran at Washington back in 2002. "I've always believed in this but got away from it," he said. "We had Nate (Robinson), Will Conroy, Tre (Simmons) and Brandon (Roy) - those guys were so good off the dribble making plays that it just fit them. Finally we've come to this point where this is what we want to do."

But given the fact that they have the personnel suited to do it , have had 10 extra practices to work on it, as well as the inclusion of two new coaches in Brad Jackson and Lamont Smith - both not only well-versed in the High Post Offense but also the defensive principles that Romar has used ever since he came to Montlake 10 years ago - made the timing for the switch as good as it possibly could have been.

"I really like where we are so far," Jackson said on Tuesday. "Obviously the practices prior to going to Europe were significant, and having the opportunity to play against good competition gave us a heads start before we ever began practice. But in that type of offense, which I'm been familiar with and ran for a long time as a head coach, there's the learning process to get the patterns down, the options - that type of thing - but there's another step that comes into play when it starts to become automatic and guys start to learn how to read the defense and counter and take advantage like that.

"At this point in the season, not having played a game, I feel like the players have totally bought in, they've taken ownership, and their execution level is pretty good."

The offense obviously starts with the point guard, and senior Abdul Gaddy, according to Jackson, is the kind of player where the High Post Offense will suit him to a T. "I've been really excited to see how a couple of the guys have done," Jackson said Tuesday. "I feel that Abdul has really done well here in these first few weeks. His confidence level and his leadership - he's playing with a lot of focus, but yet at the same time being relaxed - that's been really neat. I've really enjoyed watching that.

"To me, I feel like this particular offense suits him extremely well because in the 3-out/2-in motion. A lot of it's one-on-one breakdown and not necessarily coming off of screens - single or double screens. He does that extremely well. He's not a great blow-by guy, but if he gets his head and shoulders by you he's big and he can get into the key.

"Being able to use that high screen off the guard cut, to step back, to rub his man off…he's getting single screens, he's getting double screens…I think that's very, very good for him because he can catch and shoot and post up - there's times where we can get him on the block with the ball against certain matchups.

"He's cerebral, and he's done a real good job of figuring out how to use it so where in the previous offense that may not have happened as much. This is probably a much more vertical offense, which suits him more in utilizing some of the play sets we have - on-ball screens, that type of thing."

But the inclusion of some new posts, including redshirt frosh Jernard Jarreau, is what makes the move toward the High Post Offense so intriguing. "He's got a long ways to go yet, but he's got a real high ceiling," Jackson said of Jarreau, a 6-foot-10 forward from New Orleans that was a 6-foot-3 point guard just a couple years ago. "That's been very, very fun to see him become more aggressive in practice and begin to assert himself."

"Jernard would sometimes have activity with no achievement," added Romar. "Now he's making more of those (shots), so that's where his improvement has come from and he's playing with more confidence."

Romar believes this team is as advanced offensively as any he's put on the floor this early in a season, but it's still going to take some time for the players to fully take advantage of all the options the High Post Offense is known for. It'll be probably around December before all the pieces completely fall in place. "Hopefully closer to December 1st than December 31st," he added. "Tomorrow night we'll be able to play and we'll be able to function out of it. I think the guys are just now starting to take ownership of it - kind of like when you give someone a recipe and now they take it and add their own little flavor to it. And our guys are starting to do that a little bit. Is it going to be a finished product? Absolutely not. But we will be able to play out of it right now."

"I don't know if it's rocket science, necessarily," added Jackson when asked about the players figuring out the nuances of the new offense. "I will say they've picked it up well. They are very coachable and they listen well and they pay attention. They've tried to do what we've asked them to do. I think that's a real tribute to coach Romar and his staff for the collection of players we have. But I also think these guys - they have a good mindset and they are pretty serious business in terms of their practice habits and learning curve."

And if it doesn't take right away? Romar is dead-set on making sure the High Post Offense is the way to go for the Huskies from here on out, but that didn't stop him from offering up a solution in case of an emergency.

"After the game tomorrow we may go back to the motion if it's horrible," Romar dead-panned to the media.
Defense also a priority: With all the talk surrounding the High Post Offense, Romar is also making sure the defensive side of the ball is getting its due attention. "We're going to be on a mission to be better defensively - and I think we will," Romar said, matter-of-factly.

And the biggest change? "The change is, we're going to be better than we were last year at it," Romar said.

In Romar's mind, it comes down to one central detail. "Consistency," he said. "I always say if you put four all-stars on defense but one guy makes a mistake and it looks like your defense is horrible. We were too inconsistent last year defensively across the board. A lot of it had to with guarding the ball, some of it had to do with bad reads defensively…poor decisions…a number of things."

The inclusion of Lamont Smith should pay off. Smith's first job in college basketball was as a graduate assistant under Romar at Saint Louis. "Coach Smith is a really good addition overall, but defensively he knows our system and has taught our system," Romar said. "The drills that we're running now, he can run any of them. He can lead it and run the whole drill and he does it with a lot of energy. He has that eye for it, so that definitely helps."

Scheduling Switcheroo: Romar didn't remember the details of why it happened, but for some reason the exhibition game was scheduled in front of their normal closed-door scrimmage they have with another team prior to the start of the season. Even though the exhibition game is Wednesday, they will still have their scrimmage before the November 11 season opener against Loyola-Maryland at Alaska Airlines Arena.

"I do wish it was reversed, but it didn't work out that way," Romar said of the scheduling snafu. "In a scrimmage is when you can be a mad scientist and try anything. You can literally stop it, blow the whistle and work on whatever you want. You can't really do that in an exhibition game. Normally we would play a couple of intersquad game prior to these two contests, but being so early we've only been able to have one of those."

More Player Kudos - Besides Jarreau, Romar mentioned sophomore forward/center Shawn Kemp as a player that showed up during their fall camp. "Shawn always had it there, but wasn't as confident - for whatever reason," Romar said. "He has a nice little shot, nice little 15-17 foot shot he's been knocking down. Down on the block he's a threat. Defensively, we don't notice him being out of position. Those are ways where he has improved."

Romar also mentioned Scott Suggs as a player that's playing at a high level. "Scott is playing with the confidence like when he was in high school, to me," Romar said. "He's defending well, he's just playing the game. He's playing really well."

Injury Report - Thankfully, there's no injuries to really talk about, although center Aziz N'diaye did 'bump knees' last week according to Romar and they've been holding him out of recent practices as a precaution. But Romar added no player is going to be held out and no one's minutes are going to be limited due to injury.

The Mystique of the Mile - Because of the Europe trip, Romar had no mandate this summer for fitness, other than they be in shape to make the mark for the Mile Run, a yearly conditioning event. Typically every player has had to run a mile in less than a particular time - usually around five minutes or so, with the big players given just a few more seconds because of their size.

"We've had guys that couldn't sleep the night before, calling me the night before asking me the best way to make this," Romar said, smiling when he's asked about the mystique behind the mile run. "They day of, they don't talk - one word answers.

"The alumni, they show up and they want to see the guys run it, see who makes it and who doesn't make it. As much as they despise it, it's become a tradition."

Wednesday's Rotation - Shawn Kemp, Desmond Simmons, Martin Breunig and Jernard Jarreau will all be fighting for a starting spot opposite N'Diaye for Wednesday's exhibition opener versus Western Washington. The other three spots - Gaddy at the point and Suggs with C.J. Wilcox on the wings - are pretty much nailed down.

"Unless somebody gets hurt, yeah," Romar said. "But there are a couple of guys - the way they play sometimes - their body of work looks at you and says, 'What are you going to do?' Players make the decisions most of the time, not the coaches."

One of those guys could be Andrew Andrews, a 6-foot-2 redshirt freshman guard from Portland that played a little bit in last year's 77-60 exhibition game win over Seattle Pacific, including making a pair of free throws. Andrews is a player that is equally adept at running an offense or being asked to score. Top Stories