Husky Men's Hoopsters Ready to Rock

It's that time of year again, when the focus on football slowly shifts to the hardwood. And for the first time in a long time, the Husky men's basketball team might be better than the football team. Washington men's basketball coach Lorenzo Romar talked to the media this afternoon at the team's annual press luncheon, and had a lot of positive things to say about the team.

A quick glance at the UW men's basketball team, and it's obvious this team is like no other in recent history at Montlake. They have athletes across the board. Their talent level has risen considerably from previous seasons. And what makes it all the more exciting is the fact that there's only one senior on the roster.

Plenty of new faces join the team this season, bringing in more athleticism to a team already deemed last season by Husky head coach Lorenzo Romar as "the most athletic he's ever coached."

With SR Curtis Allen, JR Will Conroy, JR Hakeem Rollins and JR Tre Simmons the veterans (eligibility-wise) on this youthful team that includes the talented sophomore class of Brandon Roy, Nate Robinson, Bobby Jones, Mike Jensen and Anthony Washington, the Huskies appear headed in the right direction.

And the unity is there as well, making for a perfect scenario heading into the 2003-2004 season.

"Our guys have been very good in terms of working and being passionate about what we want to get accomplished this year," said Romar. "This group really demonstrates what team is all about."

The closeness of the team has shown since the first week of practice. With a full roster this season, Romar and his assistants have been able to get more accomplished and watched as the team has done a terrific job of distributing the basketball.

"Since I've been a head coach, I've never had a team move the ball quite like this one," said the second-year UW head coach. "That's something that has pleased the coaches."

That's just the tip of the iceburg. In fact, it seems that Romar is pleased about nearly everything through the first three weeks of training camp.

Helping the matter is having Roy and Robinson present for the entire season. Last year, that wasn't the case, as both entered midway through – Roy due to qualification conflicts, Robinson due to football. This year, Romar says they both have looked excellent.

"The last four games last season, Brandon Roy was averaging right around 14 points and 6 rebounds a game. We don't think he's going to take a step back from there," said Romar. "We think that he is going to continue right where he left off before he was injured at UCLA. He will be one of our top scorers if not our top scorer."

Romar continued with his breakdown of Nate-Rob, who will likely lead the team in scoring if Roy doesn't.

"He's in great shape. He runs and run and runs," said the Husky coach. "He's shooting the ball significantly better than last year, and that's no surprise because he's spent a lot of time shooting the basketball. He also conceptually understands what we are trying to do as a group."

It isn't just Roy and Robinson who are getting it. So is the rest of the team, many of which are in either their first or second season at Montlake. Every individual on the team is improving with each practice, says Romar, and each person is growing accustomed to the new style of up-tempo basketball that the team is going to run this season and beyond.

"We will push the basketball," said Romar. "We want to play at a quick pace but at the same time make sure that we have good shot selection and take care of the basketball.

"There is no way that someone could average 35 minutes per game for us this year, because it's going to be too difficult. The way we want to play is going to be so demanding on our guys. If one guy slips up or is not running the floor or picking up early on the press, we are going to have to give him a rest and give someone who's fresh an opportunity to go in there and do it. We feel, at this point, that we have the depth and personnel to play up-tempo basketball, and we don't feel that we drop of very much – if at all – when we go to the bench."

Talk about a drastic change from just a few seasons ago, there it is.

Once concern entering the season is the team's lack of big men. Other than Jensen and Washington, both returning sophomores, the only other big bodies who figure to work into the rotation are newcomers Hans Gasser and Hakeem Rollins. Gasser is a versatile 6-foot-9 freshman from Issaquah High. Rollins, 6-foot-8, is a junior college transfer who Romar calls "possibly the strongest guy on the team."

Jamaal Williams is a 6-6 forward transfer from New Mexico who is sitting out the 2003-2004 season per transfer rules. "He's shown that he can rebound and score," Romar said. There's no question he can finish around the hoop, as demonstrated by his 24-point outburst in a recent scrimmage.

Romar says the lack of big bodies doesn't concern him.

"Nobody on our staff thinks that we have a height deficiency," he said. "We feel our guys are strong enough to defend or neutralize another strong inside guy, but yet we feel we have the quickness and mobility to defend the position. We don't feel that we have a height deficiency that will not allow us to compete at a high level."

How far will this Husky team go, a roster filled with talented athletes still in their first couple years in the program? Romar won't commit to where he thinks the team will finish, but he does believe they will be able to play with anybody on any given night.

"I see us as a team that can compete with any team in this conference," he said. "Whether that translates into a top five team (in conference), I don't know. If we go out and play the way we are capable of playing for the most part, I don't see any team that we can't be competitive with."

Other Romar comments from Tuesday's media luncheon:

On the upcoming exhibition game: We start Saturday with our first exhibition game. At this point we are not sure who will be the starting five. I'm almost positive that whoever starts the game Saturday probably won't be the starting five when we have our first game. This year could be a year where there are a half dozen to a dozen starting lineups throughout the year. We are a team that has a lot of different options. The practices have been competitive at each position so we couldn't really just tell you that these are the six or seven that are going to be in there all the time, which is a good thing.

On Tre Simmons: Tre has not shot the ball consistently well at this point. Right now Tre is learning a lot. There is a lot thrown on him. At this time of the year a lot of players are doing more thinking than playing on instincts. Tre is just now starting to figure out what we want. There is no doubt he is a very good basketball player and that he's going to help us and have a positive impact.

On Hakeem Rollins: As of late he has started to do more of what we recruited him to do here on the basketball floor, and that is rebound. Lately, he has been demonstrating more the ability to score.

On the skills of the newcomers: Tre Simmons brings offensive punch, a overall ball-handling skills. Hakeem Rollins brings strength to the table. He's probably the strongest guy on our team. Hans Gasser is another body that has size and can really shoot the ball. Hans is a really smart basketball player. You can put him with any other four guys, whether they are quick running guys or slower guys, and he adapts. He's a player that is easy to play with.

On Bobby Jones: If you came to all of our practices, you'd think that he was a really really good shooter. I don't say that to say that he's not a really good shooter, but he didn't shoot the ball particularly well from the perimeter last year. He spent a lot of time this offseason working on his shot and he's been shooting the ball really, really well. If he's got his feet square, we think the ball is going in the basket every time.

On Curtis Allen: We all know how quick and fast he is and how he can shoot the basketball, but his decision making has been much improved since we started. He has the best turnover to assist ratio on the team right now through all of our practices, so he's probably made the biggest change in his game.

On Mike Jensen: Mike is one that you'll see that he's spent some time in the weight room. Mike is playing much stronger and playing with much more confidence this year. He's playing well so far.

On Anthony Washington: He had surgery at the end of May and had to sit out for quite some time. Then in late July he began to do some things out on the floor. Now he's practicing every day. If he goes in consecutive days at times we have to pull him. But initially when we began practices he couldn't put two or three days together because his foot would be sore from the surgery. He's getting better every day.

On Will Conroy: He loves to play so much and he has such a passion for the game. He's always working on his game, always trying to improve his game. You've got to take your hat off for a guy like that. He certainly is a guy that has a lot of heart. There were times last year where he kind of single-handedly kept us in games. He played a lot of minutes last year, so there is no telling what Will is capable of doing.

First things First: The Husky men's basketball team begins their season with an exhibition home game against EA Sports on Saturday. Tipoff is set for noon and admission is free. Top Stories