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"I Really enjoy watching Nate Robinson"

As I placed my phone call to Bob Houbregs, the line rang three times and it was Mrs. Houbregs that answered. She warmly said hello and then stated that Bob wasn't home at the moment, and could she take a message. When I said that I wanted to talk to her husband about the Huskies' recent string of exciting victories, Mrs. Houbregs took a deep breath and exclaimed, "Isn't this <i>fun!</i>"

It's been exactly 50 years since Bob Houbregs led the Washington Huskies (28-3) to their lone appearance in the NCAA Final 4. That was also the year that he was the only Husky to ever be named the NCAA Player of the Year. He went on to play in the NBA for 8 seasons. In the 51 years since he left U-Dub, Houbregs has followed the team as closely as his personal schedule has permitted. His retirement from a few years back has enabled him the past three seasons to purchase season tickets and drive up from Olympia to watch virtually every Husky home basketball game.

"There's been vast improvement all the way around," said Houbregs, when I spoke with him later in the day. "It's a great tribute to all of the players for sticking with it when things got tough, and the coaches too… There's been great improvement in ball movement, much more player movement, and they've done a great job of getting a good shot in deep (toward the basket). It's fantastic to see. You've heard the roar of the crowd, the excitement that has been generated. It's been great."

I asked Houbregs which players he likes watching play. "I enjoy watching all of them, but especially Nate Robinson. He puts everything into it. There aren't many like him. I appreciate his love for the game, and his work ethic is phenomenal. The team does seem to lose a little quickness and aggressiveness when he leaves the game… The way he inspires the team and is loved by the crowd reminds a bit of a teammate of mine, Joe Cipriano… Nate never gives up on a play. He'll make mistakes occasionally, but it's never from a lack of effort. And I'll take that anytime.

"I also really enjoy Brandon Roy, he is quite a talented player. And Bobby Jones, because of his hustle. And I'm really happy for Hakeem Rollins, as he has really improved his game and did well against Arizona. Anthony Washington is a big presence and is getting better. He just needs a little confidence in himself. He needs to know where his defense is, and to use their positioning to his advantage."

I asked Houbregs to compare this year's team to Husky squads under former coaches Bob Bender, Lynn Nance and Andy Russo. Houbregs made brief reference to former Washington's president William Gerberding's forced retirement of former Husky coach Marv Harshman.

"Those were different types of teams," reflected Houbregs. "Around '87-88, that was a disappointing time for me because of what happened to Harsh, so I didn't follow a few of those teams as closely. Bob (Bender) had more big guys, so it was a different type of team. This current team, they fast break, and they get steals, and they get down the floor fast. If they have a lead and lose it, they don't seem to panic."

Washington's win over Arizona on the road was a signal to the Pac-10 that the Huskies may be moving into the upper echelon of the conference. The hardwood resurgence may have been too late to get the attention of high school stars like Marvin Williams. Nevertheless, at least in regards to basketball at the University of Washington, it's morning on Montlake.

Concluded Houbregs: "This team should continue to improve. I also think the recruiting is going to get better. You're hearing more and more local players thinking seriously about the U, mentioning the crowds and the environment. This is a lot of fun!"
Derek Johnson can be reached at Top Stories