Now that the dust is starting to settle in the wake of Washington’s decision not to retain Lorenzo Romar, what will happen to the team? Who will stay? Who will go? What will the future hold?
Will is the operative word here, because it’s Will Conroy who is immediately tasked with the job of retaining players and keeping things together as Washington Athletic Director Jennifer Cohen starts a nationwide search for the Huskies’ 19th Men’s Basketball Coach.
“We can’t speculate yet on the recruiting class but this was a comprehensive evaluation of the program,” Cohen said Wednesday. “So you look at all the factors that were involved and really think about what’s the long-term vision for Husky Basketball. How do we build a sustainable model? When you have that commitment, when you decide that’s how you’re going to build your model, you aren’t really able to think about just one person or one recruiting class. You have to think about something a little longer term than that.”
There’s the potential for a high level of attrition as the Huskies rebuild a once-proud program. Some of that is due to the fierce loyalty built up by Romar as he led UW through 15 oft-turbulent years.
Players aren’t supposed to commit to universities just because of a coach. Coaches come and go. But that has never been realistic. And no more so than at Washington, as Romar quickly established himself as a player’s coach. He was universally respected as a man of high character and integrity.
Yet in the end, all the redeeming qualities in the world couldn’t save Romar from an unenviable fate on Wednesday. NCAA Athletics at its highest level can be ruthless, and as unfortunate as the firing was on a human level, it was also wholly justifiable.
The new job opening also delivers up a smelly can of worms, the kind that only exists in college sports. On the one hand you have high school prospects who have pledged themselves to a university, and have signed binding letters of intent to that effect.
On the other hand, you have a situation where said prospects want to play for the previous coach - in this case, Romar. They didn’t sign up to play for someone else. They were recruited by Romar, and that’s what they thought they were getting when they entered into the bargain.
Cohen said Wednesday all signed letters of intent will be honored for the incoming prospects, and based on their interaction with the new head coach they can decide what they want to do. In short, their future is back in their hands.
“What we’ll do is, we’ll wait until we get our next coach named and we ask that all of our recruits wait to meet with that next coach - their families get the opportunity to meet with that coach, hear his vision, hear his plan,” said Cohen. “And then we want student-athletes that want to be here. If after that process is concluded and we have student-athletes that don’t want to be Huskies anymore, we’ll release them from their NLI’s (National Letters of Intent).”
Now that things have been set in motion, how will the signees of the 2017 recruiting class react?
Watching them on social networks has revealed a piece of the puzzle.
The two other signees, Garfield players Daejon Davis and Jaylen Nowell, haven’t mentioned anything on their respective Twitter accounts, but Davis has stated publicly in the past he would only play for UW if Romar was the coach.
I think there’s a very good chance the two local stars stick with their decisions to play in the purple and gold. Obviously their connection with the new coach and their feel for the direction of the program will be important, as well as where Romar lands. He could end up at another college, or he could end up as an NBA assistant. The loyalty the signees have for Romar is very, very real.
Another important component to this is what I call the Porter Factor. Not just Michael Porter, Sr., but also his sons - Michael Jr. and Jontay, UW’s lone 2018 verbal commit. As much as you can read into the sons’ public statements, the fact is they can’t move on with their futures until they tie up loose ends at Washington.
In the process of doing that, they could find out UW is still the place for them. Or they could see themselves caught up in a massive bidding war, with the winner getting all of them as a package deal.
That’s how they ended up at Montlake, and in hindsight it was the wrong thing to do. The elder Porter had no experience in the men’s game at the Power-5 level, and it all clearly ended up a situation to ensure his sons would end up Huskies and nothing more.
It was the collegiate equivalent of Cleveland trading for Brock Osweiler and his unwieldy contract to obtain the more important part of the bargain, a future second-round draft pick.
The hire wasn’t supposed to end up that way, but that is how it turned out. Like Romar, Porter is a man of great character and respect. But he was unsuited to help tackle the on-the-court responsibilities the Huskies so desperately needed, and it showed.
From a distance, you could argue that both the Porter boys might benefit from staking their own claim, while the urge to play for their father is also an obvious one. Who wouldn’t jump at that opportunity if given a chance?
So it’s easy to see both sides of this thorny issue.
In due time, I expect the Porters to follow their father wherever he may find himself in the coaching spin cycle. Ironically it could be back to where they were before they moved to Seattle - the University of Missouri.
That leaves Blake Harris and Mamoudou Diarra - two players from other parts of the country without any ties to Washington than Romar. Based off nothing more than a gut feel at this point, I believe Harris will do whatever he can to jump to another program as soon as possible. There have been rumors Harris quietly made calls once Romar’s termination became a realistic possibility.
Diarra is a diamond in the rough, the kind of Romar recruit he loved to polish up and turn into a gem. Who knows how Diarra will fit in the plans of a new head coach, so his future is truly up in the air.
Turning attention to the current UW roster, it’s a little easier to play mind reader.
To view the current roster, click HERE.
Right now Washington has 10 scholarship players set to come back for the 2017-18 season.
So who are the likely attrition candidates? Let's take a look at each returner.
Harold Baruti - Known as Bitumba, Baruti is a tossup. He was a relatively late signee to last year’s class, and played sparingly. Players in a similar position would definitely think about leaving. Raw and athletic, Baruti is definitely a Romar recruit.
David Crisp - Assuming no Harris, Crisp could easily assume the role as the leader of the team for his junior season. A local kid, Crisp would have two years to leave his mark as one of the guys that created the foundation for later success - much in the same way guys like Conroy, Robinson, Roy, etc… did 15 years ago.
Dan Kingma - Wouldn’t expect Kingma to go anywhere. He’s a glue guy, a player a new coach could use because he’s got the intangibles required to fit in no matter what. He also only has one year left, so the timing doesn’t really suit a move.
Matisse Thybulle - In a similar spot to Crisp. He’s put in his time, is local, and is positioned to lead his final two years on campus. I don’t think it would be hard for a new coach to convince Matisse to stay.
Noah Dickerson - Dickerson’s eventual decision to stay or go could entirely depend on who Washington brings in. Right now, I’m sure the sophomore is reeling. He came to UW because of Romar, plain and simple. With two years left, he could move closer to his home town of Atlanta, or he could stay in Seattle and continue to develop.
Dominic Green - Green is the one player I would have expected to be a roster casualty regardless of Romar's situation. The sophomore from Renton, once an Arizona State commit before signing with the Huskies, regressed steadily during the season to the point where he offered nothing by the end. Right now, Green and UW are like oil and water - they don’t mix.
Carlos Johnson - A big piece of whatever direction the Huskies take going forward, keeping Johnson in the fold will be as important to Conroy as Dickerson. His aggression and passion are key traits and building blocks any coach can use.
Devenir Duruisseau - Another player, like Green, who just hasn’t progressed in his first two years at Montlake. The fact that he’s also related to Romar may not factor into any future decision for Devenir, but it’s also hard to ignore.
Sam Timmins - Proximity to home from the west coast should bring appeal, as well as the fact that Timmins is just starting to scratch the surface of his potential. It stands to reason Timmins could be convinced by the new UW coach to stay and focus on his development.
Matthew Atewe - The only other senior-to-be besides Kingma, he’s the one player you have to feel for, having already transferred once (Auburn). He had to sit out last year per transfer rules and still really hasn't settled in. A new coach could offer stability and player development.
The Seattle Times’ Percy Allen reported Wednesday three signees and three current players are seriously thinking about moving on.
Though Romar has not been retained, Romar Math remains.
With 10 players already at UW returning on a roster allowed to have a total of 13 scholarship players, two current Huskies would have to leave just to make room for all five incoming players anyway.
Green or Duruisseau are the likely candidates for immediate attrition, and may have left even if Romar had been retained.
With Porter and Harris likely gone too, that would drop the 2017 signee class to three - Diarra, Davis and Nowell. And if that held, technically UW wouldn’t require any current attrition whatsoever, albeit unlikely.
Bottom line, I wouldn’t be surprised if Washington’s new head coach had roughly 10 scholarship players at his disposal. That does not include the possibility said coach could bring signees with him from his prior school.
So my guess at what Washington’s 2017-18 scholarship roster could look like? Here we go.
1. F Matthew Atewe
2. G David Crisp
3. G Daejon Davis
4. F Mamoudou Diarra
5. F Noah Dickerson
6. G Carlos Johnson
7. G Dan Kingma
8. G Jaylen Nowell
9. G Matisse Thybulle
10. F Sam Timmins
Remember, this is all a huge guess less than 12 hours after Cohen's decision was made public. A wrecking ball just razed Romarville and we’ve tasked ourselves with trying to identify the remainders among the rubble.
Only time will tell how many changes are made, but on Wednesday the biggest move took place.
Regardless of who stays and who goes, Washington Basketball is on a much different trajectory today than it was yesterday. That's the only constant amidst the chaos.