Rollins finds right mix

When asked what his toughest final would be this week, Hakeem Rollins said 'Chemistry'. Funny thing about chemistry. He may struggle with it in the classroom, but the 6-8 JC transfer has found the perfect blend of ingredients on the basketball court, giving his elements of rebounding and strong inside play to a Washington Huskies team in dire need of big men. Chemistry - at least in the basketball sense - has been one of Hakeem's best subjects.

"Personally I think we've done a pretty good job, given what we have to work with," Hakeem told when asked about the big men, probably the most-maligned of any position on the floor for Washington. "The guys that we have do a great job of doing what the coaches ask. And given what we've been up against sometimes, I think we've represented ourselves pretty well."

Rollins, in particular, has some on really strong of late. Despite having only played more than 28 minutes once this season, Hakeem has pulled down 5 boards or more ten times. He's also scored 8 points or more eight times, with a high of 14 on the road at Arizona.

The 89-84 victory in Tucson was huge for Washington's post-season run, and Hakeem's output couldn't have come at a better time. "Even when I was in junior college I didn't get any looks (from the local schools), so I used that as motivation," he said. "And coming into that stretch, we knew how difficult some of those final games were going to be. Coach (Lorenzo Romar) came up to me and told me that they were really going to need me to step up, so I took that as a challenge to step up my production."

Even with a nice run away from home, Hakeem was more than willing to accept going nearly scoreless in season-ending home wins over California and Stanford. He did have 5 rebounds in each of those games, contributing where he could. Rollins has taken his cue from the lone senior on the team, Curtis Allen.

"It's been very important to the team," Rollins said when asked about Allen's leadership. "Him being a senior - with his minutes and his role being smaller than it has in the past - I know it's been tough for him. But through the whole thing he's always been positive. He's always come up to us if we were having tough times throughout the season and given us words of encouragment. He's been there before. He's been through a lot. He's made a bigger sacrifice than any of us, and the way he's accepted that has been a huge part of this team. He's let us know that no matter what you go through, you're going to have to sacrifice and you're going to have to do what's best for the team.

"And whatever is best for the team, that's what I'm going to do."

Balance and sacrifice are familiar terms when talking about Washington men's basketball this season - but it wasn't always that way. When it comes to balancing personalities, Rollins is more than happy to play the role of the strong, silent type, even when on the inside he's bursting with pride. "Given how people felt during that 0-5 stretch, it's been unbelievable," he said. "Some of the guys on the team give me a hard time because at times I seem a little stoic. I'm really not that emotional. But underneath all of that, it's been an unbelievable trip for me.

"And I realized that, even though we lost the Stanford game, just being in the position to contend for a Pac-10 championship - I've never been that close to winning a championship ever. And to come in my first year here and be a part of that is just unbelievable."

And person that's helped Rollins get to today is his coach at Mesa, former NBA player Alton Lister. Lister's prior friendship with Romar and UW assistant Russ Schoene opened the doors for Rollins to matriculate to Washington. Hakeem didn't forget about his mentor when he left Mesa.

"I talk to Coach Lister every couple of weeks," he said. "So much of my development has been a product of him and how much time he took personally to spend with me. And not only stuff on the court, but also how you carry yourself and how you have to work to be successful. All of those things he's really helped me with that."

And now it's on to the NCAA post-season tournament, something that was just a dream 60 days ago. But for the man they call 'The Dream', it's simply the residue of hard work, trust and persistence.

"Given that this team is built similar to us, we just really want to get after it on the boards and make that a part of the game that we absolutely control," he said when asked about Alabama-Birmingham, the team the Huskies will face Friday evening in Columbus, Ohio. "A lot of teams we've played have been bigger than us, and we've come out even or even ahead on boards most games. We really want to dominate that part of the game."

And for one night, at least, Hakeem hopes the chemistry is right for a victory.

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