Bob Bender – Part III

If you go down the UW men's basketball roster, you'll find that all but two players (senior center David Dixon and incoming freshman guard Charles Frederick) are from the State of Washington. For the years under coaches Lynn Nance and Andy Russo, the Huskies were unable to keep homegrown talent home.

That has changed. Bob Bender has been able to keep a great deal of talent in his yard, and no recruiting class proves that better than the one he brought in this year. All but Frederick prepped in Washington. Shooting guard Erroll Knight has already cracked the starting lineup. Forward Jeff Day is the first big man off of Bender's bench, guard Will Conroy plays significant minutes at the point, and shooting specialist Josh Barnard is already a calming presence on the floor for the young Huskies.

Before separating his shoulder, Mike Jensen was slated to play some meaningful minutes as the season unfolded. Now he'll redshirt.

Leading scorer Doug Wrenn, although a transfer from Connecticut, is one of the most prolific Seattle high school players in recent memory. Now that he's back home he's easing into life as a college basketball player and looking better each game. His return to Seattle could be the final piece of the puzzle that was missing from the in-state connection that will make this team go.

"I feel good about that," said Bender when asked about the Washingtonian flavor to his team.

"That is certainly what we want, that is what we work hard for. When we put that class together last year, a lot of people commented or asked, ‘have your priorities changed?' Our priorities have never changed. It is always been to predominately have the roster made up of Washington kids. Every year, the first people we offer are always in-state."

That won't change much in regards to his current recruiting class he's still building. He'll welcome two from Seattle's Garfield High School for the 2002-03 season. Anthony Washington, a 6-10 player who was slated to come in this fall until the NCAA Clearinghouse ruled one of his classes not acceptable for core credits, has signed once again with Washington. Silky-smooth Brandon Roy, the top recruit in the state this year, has also cast his lot with Bender. He chose the Huskies over Arizona, something that never used to happen.

Bender feels somewhat fortunate that his team's needs appear to be right in sync with the in-state high school talent. "The strength from class to class is matching up with our needs. You can't have all the best players from in-state be in the same position, or back up from one year to the next at the same position. That is not fair, one kid might not be able to play – those things have an effect on in-state recruiting."

"Right now we are really fortunate. The cycle of what our needs are from last year to this year, and as we look ahead for the next few years, is perfect. We have an opportunity to always have our needs based upon what the strength of the class is in-state. That is always what we've wanted. We are going to be there. We are going to continue to be there based on where this whole thing is going right now."

Bender has made definite inroads during his tenure, and plans on keeping those roads wide open into Montlake.

"I think in-state recruiting – we should always be the first on anybody's mind because we're always there from the beginning. We are going to know about the best young kids. We are going to make sure we are at their games. We are going to make sure they are coming to our games. There should be a relationship first and foremost with any kid in our own state. I think we are doing that. We will continue to work hard to do that."

Of course, the bottom line is in the wins column, and Bender knows it. After back-to-back 20 loss seasons, no one has to tell him that he needs to turn that statistic around regardless of where the talent comes from.

"The last part of the whole equation, in-state wise, is that we've got to win. Number two is that these kids have some really good individual success, because the younger kids will look up to them and say ‘that's what I want to do and that is where I want to be."

The high schools in Washington appear to be noticing that the best players from the state over the past two years are now staying home to play their basketball. The excitement level of Husky basketball appears to be on a rise and the younger players are taking notice.

"I think one of the big reasons is, while next year's roster will have three Garfield kids (Conroy, Washington, and Roy), they really do represent a lot of different programs," said Bender. "The way that summer basketball works, some have even played with each other. Now, what you have is a lot of young kids who are playing on the developmental teams and having competed against our guys when they were seniors and juniors in high school. So there are not only relationships that we are trying to build with the young kids as a staff, but also through basketball competition and playing during the summer and the winter, kids know each other longer. That's good."

Washington is currently 5-1 on the season and have sold out the December 11th game against Gonzaga. Could this be the season that Husky basketball fans jump on board and start packing the Bank Of America Arena?

"Winning is always the biggest factor in sellouts. If it is the opponent, there are always match ups that draw the average fan, it may not even be a Washington fan, into Bank of America arena. But at the same time, winning and winning with local kids, it does help that. There is no doubt about it," said Bender.

"And understandably, if I was a Washington alumnus, that is what I would want to see as well."

If Washington can beat UTEP tonight and New Mexico State on Saturday, both on the road, they'll welcome Gonzaga to Hec-Ed with an impressive 7-1 record and a packed house of 10,000 fans.
If you missed them, here are the first two parts of this interview:
Part I
Part II Top Stories