Romar defends Fultz from O'Neill comments

Washington Head Coach Lorenzo Romar came to the defense of his phenomenal freshman guard Markelle Fultz after Pac-12 Networks' Kevin O'Neill questioned Fultz's toughness and body language in UW's Saturday loss to Utah.

What did you see on the Utah game tape? - “We haven’t been the best defensive team this year, but that wasn’t us. Utah is I believe the top, them or UCLA, the top field-goal percentage shooting team in our league. They might have even been shooting something like 53 percent in conference. So there’s no secret that they’re very efficient offensively. But we just didn’t do a very good job at all. We didn’t handle that very well. That’s mainly what I saw.”

Why was that? - “They spread us, the way we were playing, we were playing defense a lot making decisions on the fly and we weren’t communicating. We were so concerned with getting through screens. We were switching and we weren’t communicating. Many times someone in his mind would make a quick decision. I’ve got to go here because there was this cut…but normally we’re supposed to communicate and we say either switch or stay. But we would just do it without the teammate realizing what was going on. That happened quite a bit. We were concerned with our man too much. We would hug our man and then there were drives that were going to the rim. We didn’t have help there. Strong side, there were driving situations where we were caught up into denying the pass and we weren’t in help position, which is not what we try to teach.”

How much of that is due to not having Malik Dime? - “Some of it. But there were too many opportunities. A shot blocker would not have been able to block all of those. There were just too many opportunities that we made it a lot easier for them than it should have been. And again, that’s not taking anything away from them, because they’re just really efficient in how they run their offense and how they make plays offensively. But we didn’t react to it very well.”

Do players take enough pride in playing defense? - “We’ve not been like that in the last four games. I talked about consistency defensively. I think we’ve been better, take away the Utah game, I think we’ve been better lately in the last few games than not. Before, we would have five-minute stretches, ten minute stretches where we were good defensively and then the rest of it was out the window. I think that’s been reversed now. We’ve been better defensively. But then this last game was a totally different story. So let’s hope that’s not a pattern. I can’t see that being a pattern coming up where we give up that many layups. But I think our team, again, we allow ourselves to get distracted. Something else is going on, like the ball is not going in the basket for us. Really thought in the Colorado game, in the first half, that was the case. Like I said, we were 1-for-12 from the 3-point line and missing a lot of shots. I just think right now, mentally, we allow that to get to us sometimes and that affects us on the defensive end.”

On calling earlier timeouts when he sees lapses - “We would have used all the timeouts last game early if we’d have done that. Again, I think if you look at the game – there are a couple of games where at the 18-minute mark, we’ve got to call a timeout right away. You can just see it coming. We’ve had to do that. But it comes and you don’t see it coming. We’re going 10 minutes, we’re doing a pretty good job. We’re doing a good job getting stops. They’re scoring but we’re contesting shots, we’re doing pretty good. Then here it comes, one after the next, out of nowhere. Then that will stop and we’ll regain our footing, so to speak, and guard again. It just hasn’t been consistent.”

On needing guys willing to sacrifice scoring to put energy into guarding and defense - “Oh, I would say most of the guys that have played for us on our teams that have done well, including Isaiah Thomas and Quincy Pondexter, have sacrificed offense. You may be talking about guys that just didn’t look to score at all, even the guys that scored, that was a big deal to them to get stops. And I know we understand it, our guys, we talk about it a lot, it just hasn’t become second nature for us yet.”

Have you ever seen anything like what Markelle Fultz has done the last three games? - “No. It’s one thing for him to score 30 in all three games. Markelle is not perfect. Markelle makes some defensive mistakes, some freshman mistakes. But it’s not due to a lack of effort. Like I said in the Colorado game, there were a couple times where he turned the ball over and went and got it right back, whether he stole it or blocked the shot. He’s doing a lot out there, I haven’t seen that a lot. I remember Brandon scoring 30 and 35 in back-to-back, first two conference games. That’s probably the closest to it. Isaiah Thomas has had some games back-to-back. Markelle has just been all over the place.”

On the rest of the team rising to Fultz’s level - “Well, the only thing we’d be talking about, he’s really good. Everybody doesn’t have that talent level and all, but we just talked about other things other than just scoring. I just mentioned things other than that. I think that should be everyone’s goal to contribute in a number of different ways, a variety of ways. I think we can control that a little bit more. Everybody can’t score 30 in three straight games. Not everybody has those capabilities. But we can all control our effort and level of concentration hopefully.”

On Fultz playing a lot of minutes going into the second half of the season - “I worry more within the game. There were a couple defensive errors he made in the Colorado game or even last game just due to fatigue. Not just him. David Crisp, Dominic Green played 36 minutes. He didn’t come out in the overtime game against Colorado in the second half. You can see different guys making errors, they’re just tired. As far as Markelle is concerned, I’m not in the long run worried about that with him. He’s in pretty good shape right now.”

Is it frustrating that Markelle Fultz is this good but they’re not winning? - “That could be part of the frustration, but that’s not the whole frustration for me. It’s just more we still haven’t been able to get over the hump defensively. That’s more frustrating than anything for me right now.”

On Kevin O’Neill’s in-game comments about Markelle Fultz being soft or not playing hard enough - “No. I don’t know what K.O. (O’Neill)… maybe there’s some instances or something when Markelle’s competing, and you’re playing in the heat of the battle and you throw one and you’re thinking it’s about to be a dunk, but then it doesn’t happen, or we’re about to get a layup or about to score but then it doesn’t happen. I don’t see Markelle going to his teammates and saying what are you doing? A quarterback where a receiver drops a pass or something, and for that split-second, emotionally, you’re competing. You wish it would have worked out. But I don’t see bad body language. Markelle is kind of stoic, actually, through the games. He doesn’t really change expression. Sometimes people take that as a lack of care. That is not the case with Markelle Fultz. He cares immensely. But if you don’t know someone that doesn’t show emotion, you think maybe their body language is bad. I don’t see that with Markelle.”

Is he more vocal? - “Oh yes, definitely. I’ve seen growth. As good of a year as he’s having, I’ve seen growth in Markelle in the last two weeks in terms of playing the game at this level and like you said, being more vocal out there on the floor.”

On Markelle Fultz being a potential No. 1 pick but not doing enough to help UW win - “We’re not playing good defense. Pretty simple to me. We’re not guarding on a consistent basis. We’re also a very young team that hasn’t figured out how to pull out close games yet. Anyone that wants to entertain the thought for a second that Markelle Fultz isn’t doing enough or try to put it on him – I’ll just say you’re wrong, whoever thinks that. I think he’s trying to do within his power everything he can do to help this team. Again, does that mean he’s perfect? Does he get beat on defense? Does he have his lapses? Yes. But he’s not a perfect robot either. He’s human. He’s going to make mistakes just like anyone else. He’s a freshman. He’s not an upperclassman that’s been through this. So he’s going to make mistakes. But is it due to a lack of want to or trying? No. He’s doing everything in his power right now. We have to be able to guard better. We have to be able to finish games.”

Is the attention around Markelle Fultz a distraction? - “I remember when Nate Robinson played here, I would try to downplay sometimes with Nate because he got so much attention. Whenever someone is getting so much attention like that, sometimes people can be critical, jealousy can arise, that type of thing. But I don’t think he is a distraction.”

Is the attention distracting to others? - “I don’t know. I haven’t heard he’s a distraction. When you start getting in that great stratosphere where we start really nitpicking. I hear sometimes, Okay Markelle, maybe he should have passed the ball down the stretch and let someone else shoot. And you hear someone else say well, why wouldn’t he shoot it every time down the stretch? I think it shows how good of a basketball player he is. That comes with the territory when you start nitpicking Markelle Fultz. I don’t know who’s having a better year than Markelle Fultz right now, freshman or anyone, everything that he’s doing. Goodness gracious. Like I said for the third time, he is not perfect. You can find that there are mistakes. But it’s hard to find a whole lot of fault with him right now.”

How is team morale? - “I haven’t seen the guys since we walked out of the locker room after we played the other night, but I would imagine the other night the morale was down. I think our guys know we didn’t play well. But I would also think that when I see them here in a few minutes, we’re going to be ready to get back and practice and hit the road and go play and be better than we were the other night.”

Are lapses with the guards, bigs, or both? - “The other night it was across the board. Yeah. You weren’t able to just pinpoint one or two guys. It was across the board last game.”

On tolerating too much slippage two years ago and if he sees any of that this year - “I don’t feel like that’s the case. It’s hard because as a head coach, my job is, regardless of the circumstances, we’ve got to be able to fix it, regardless. I know there was a lot of toughness – a lot of toughness went out the door with Andrew Andrews, Marquese Chriss and Dejounte Murray. There was a lot of that that left. Again, we’re just trying to get over the hump. We’re just trying to learn. We’re trying to get better. It’s hard to … early on we were scoring, we haven’t been scoring as much in conference, but we’ve been able to score and all. With those guys leaving, we were still able to duplicate a lot of that scoring. We lost 20 points a game with Andrew. We have 23 a game with Markelle now. We lost 15 or 16 with Dejounte. David Crisp is close to 14. But Andrew’s years of experience, his leadership, and then the fight that Dejounte and Marquese had, that’s a lot. And I probably underestimated that part of it, of how that would be replaced.”

On role players stepping up - “I think Matisse (Thybulle) lately hasn’t shot the ball as consistently, but he’s improved. David Crisp went from 7-8 points a game to close to 14 points a game. His assist-to-turnover ratio is better. We’ve seen guys get better going from where they were last year to this year.”

On having issues before they couldn’t solve - “Two years ago it wasn’t solvable. Our first year and 2007. Our first year, Brandon Roy joined us in January, Nate Robinson joined us from the football team, Will Conroy was a sophomore. That group at that time just hadn’t figured it out yet. It was going to be hard to salvage it that year, but the lessons were being learned that year. Then the next year, still hadn’t learned it, for a while. Finally it caught on, and once that group caught on never looked back. 2007, Spencer Hawes, Quincy Pondexter, Adrian Oliver, Phil Nelson, those were a group of four freshmen that we missed the NCAA tournament by one game I believe it was. Bay Area road trip, that’s where we messed it up. But we couldn’t get it done once conference started. We just hadn’t figured it out yet.”

Are the defensive issues solvable? - “Our team has been so inconsistent on the defensive end, right now I’m still in the wait-and-see mode. Before the Utah game, I thought okay, it’s starting to click. But then we had a setback in the last game. So the jury’s still out.”

Is there a chance Markelle Fultz returns next season? - “I mean, that would be something you’d have to discuss with him. Him and I haven’t discussed that at length. It’s January, almost February. That’s something that we’ll talk about later.”

On players like Isaiah Thomas, DeJounte Murray and Marquese Chriss playing well in the NBA - “Justin Holiday is contributing over in New York also. Terrence Ross with the Raptors. Other guys are doing well. But what Isaiah is doing, Dejounte started the last two games, 24 a couple games ago, 14. I watched it last night. Really proud of those guys. They’ve been learning. I talked to Marquese not too long ago. He’s having a ball learning up there and starting to really feel comfortable up there. So it’s just been great. What a story Isaiah Thomas is. They just love him in Boston. The beauty of Isaiah is I think now he’s with a coach in Brad Stevens that is not trying to make him something. He’s just saying you go play within the structure and that’s when Isaiah is at his best. He’s probably going to be an All-Star again this year.”

Did you get his shoes? - “No, I don’t have his shoes yet.” (laughs)


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