Beach's Bits: UW Alumni Game

SEATTLE - Former Husky legends returned home Sunday afternoon in a long overdue celebration of the program's growing basketball tradition. Is it possible that a meaningless all-star game could go down as one of the most meaningful the program has ever played? It's not as strange as one might think considering the reception the players received during, and after, the game.

Nobody knew what to expect because it had never happened before. Truth be told, these types of events have been traditionally reserved for all but a handful of elite programs in the country. That's probably because not only does it take a rabid fan base to fill an arena, but it also requires enough NBA talent to fill a roster that can draw fans during the off-season. Surprisingly, one of the few programs in the country with the fan base and star power to pull it off is located right here in Seattle.

While our little hoops community may escape the notice of much of the country, basketball is woven deeply into the fabric of the region. To describe the atmosphere at Sunday's inaugural Alumni game as festive is a giant understatement. It was a joyous celebration of competition and family, for fans and players alike. A quick glance around Alaska Airlines Arena revealed a vocal audience, marveling at the energy emanating from every corner of the building. The sweltering crowd, packed elbow to elbow, erupted as the lineups were announced. The Washington administration, staff, and alumni seemed genuinely overwhelmed by the outpouring of community support.

The players themselves eagerly embraced the love, patiently rewarding the throngs of autograph seekers, young and old alike, at every turn. The commonly held perception of NBA prima-dona attitudes certainly doesn't apply to this group of beloved Husky stars. They well understand the synergy that exists between the players and of the Dawg Pack.

"This right here…this is what makes it fun," said Jon Brockman while getting mobbed by little kids looking for a piece of the Brockness Monster.

With fans lined up for blocks waiting to enter, event attendance far surpassed even the highest expectations, selling out shortly before tip off. The capacity crowd roared in delight as Washington Head Coach Lorenzo Romar emerged from the tunnel for warm up smiling from ear to ear. He didn't disappoint either, collecting the MVP award coming off the bench during the Legends game, much to the delight of the packed house.

As entertaining as it was to watch Coach Romar mixing it up with other Husky greats like Eldridge Recasner, Jason Hamilton, Donald Watts and Christian Welp, it was the younger Alumni game that stole the show.

It was almost surreal watching the fruits of the Romar era spill from the concourses and down to the floor. The collection of talent assembled was enough to fill an NBA roster and the camaraderie between players was obvious.

The loudest applause was saved for hometown hero Nate Robinson, who strolled down the aisle with fingers pointed to the sky. They didn't disappoint either.

Players didn't bat an eye when given an opportunity to play once again for the Purple and Gold. They came from all four corners of the globe - literally. Quincy Pondexter had 15 hours of flights from Singapore after an NBA Cares obligation, but he made it.

"I had quite the trip," said Bobby Jones, who came straight off the flight line after playing in the Euroleague Finals for Virtus Roma. "I came from Rome to Detroit, had plane problems so I had to stay in Detroit, and I left at about 8:30 am from Detroit to Seattle. When I arrived around 11 I had to get my keys to my house, run a couple more errands, see my daughter and then I came straight here."

Before the game, the referees asked the players: was this just for fun, or was this going to be a game? It was going to be a game, so the typical all-star game revelry ended rather quickly. It was a sloppy start, as 30-foot three-pointers missed their mark. The obligatory dunk fest never really materialized either. Pressure defense will do that, and for the most part both Husky squads were playing for keeps.

"Will (Conroy), Nate (Robinson), Brandon Roy…all them…they know," said game MVP Isaiah Thomas. "They weren't going to come in here and blow us out like they were talking before the game. We just wanted to win. We did everything we could to win."

The younger purple squad, which included Terrence Ross, Quincy Pondexter, Jon Brockman and Thomas, led for most of the game. Thomas had a game-high 24 points. Tony Wroten bulled his way to 19 points while Quincy Pondexter netted 17 despite a cold shooting night.

"The young guys - they are quick, they are fast, they get to the rim…I've got to salute coach Romar and his recruiting," said Conroy. "Those guys are in the NBA for a reason."

Tre "Murder" Simmons led the white squad in the losing effort with 23 points.

The basketball was really secondary though. After a couple of disappointing seasons, as well as the lack of pro basketball and the disappointment of not being able to bring an NBA franchise back to the Emerald City, Washington basketball needed a shot in the arm to re-establish itself. It was an event of many layers - equal parts basketball, family reunion, fan extravaganza and recruiting showcase.

The game brought together the best the program and the hoops community has to offer, and as a recruiting tool the game delivered on all counts. The Huskies had several key recruits in attendance, including 2014 standouts Zylan Cheatham, Evan Fitzner, and Donaven Dorsey. The celebrity environment was certainly there, as both sports stars and movie stars were Slam Dunk Contest judges, for instance - but the hometown family atmosphere was the focus, closely mirroring the personality of Romar and the identity he has carefully crafted over the years. Washington has never been about glitz and glamor, nor does it typically appeal to that type of player, but in terms of demonstrating the program's core and soul to future players of all ages, the program knocked it out of the park.

"It felt amazing," said Pondexter. "To be on this home court and to play with so many guys that we grew up playing with, growing together and to see where we are now - it was a great event."

As in life, you only get one chance to make a first impression, and Sunday's events set the bar extraordinarily high for future Alumni games, if there are to be more. If you go by the players' reactions afterward, they want the game to become a yearly tradition.

"It was unbelievable," said Thomas. "You never get the love you get quite like in college basketball. Coming out and being introduced…Washington is the best school, period. I hope we do this every year. I'm gonna be on Romar about doing it next year too, because this is something the fans can see each and every year, especially with the NBA players here and the Sonics not having a team it's something the fans can see."

If there is any criticism besides the overwhelmed air conditioning system that couldn't keep up with a packed house on a muggy June afternoon, it was underrepresented Dawg Pack. Sure school is out, but a Husky basketball game without the Dawg Pack just isn't the same. Top Stories