'Fab Four'? Romar likes class

Lorenzo Romar has seen his share of top high school basketball talent. And when he announced his 2006 recruiting class on Wednesday, he did it knowing that the work put in by him and his staff was paid off ten-fold. Arguably the finest class to ever sign at UW, Romar couldn't help but equate it to another great recruiting class - the 1994/95 UCLA Bruins. That class helped to win a national championship their first year at Westwood.

"We're excited that all four letters have come in," Romar said. "Adrian Oliver, Phil Nelson, Quincy Pondexter and Spencer Hawes. They are all official. Obviously when we combine last year's recruiting class with this year's class we are on solid footing. We have established a foundation for the future to continue to be successful at the University of Washington."

Last year's class - Jon Brockman, Artem Wallace, Harvey Perry, Justin Dentmon and Joe Wolfinger - just received their first taste of playing for the purple and gold this past Sunday in a 114-48 whitewashing of the Simon Fraser Clan. You can say it's been a nice week for Romar and the Husky Hoops program.

"It ranks right up there at the top," Romar said when asked if he felt the quartet of Hawes, Pondexter, Nelson and Oliver were the finest he's seen. "You can have a great class, but you may not have a player or two that can contribute right away. This class is as close as any class of having guys that can come in and contribute and make an impact right away."

omm'A Givens, Toby Bailey, Kris Johnson and J.R. Henderson comprised UCLA's 1994-95 recruiting class. By the time the Bruins had wrapped up the NCAA title, Bailey and Henderson were integral parts of their championship run. Washington isn't in that same class. Yet.

"Are we at a level in terms of respect where people think Washington is going to be pretty good?," Romar queried. "I think we've reached that level of respect."

What makes Washington's hoops recruiting efforts even more impressive is Romar's batting percentage. He only set up five official visits with prospects, and of those five visits, four signed with the Huskies. Kentucky signee Derrick Jasper, from Paso Robles, Calif., was the only player to visit Montlake and not sign on the dotted line.

"We targeted the guys we wanted and we did everything in our power to get them," Romar said. "And that's who we got."

Some of them were easy targets. Hawes, playing alongside UW signees Brockman and Martell Webster with Seattle Friends of Hoop, was more than happy playing second fiddle in 2004 while the seniors to be soaked up all the attention and acclaim. But this past AAU season, Hawes went from second fiddle to first chair and never looked back.

And the whole time, Romar was watching.

"He might be the toughest type of player you can get because he's a 7-footer that can play," Romar said when asked to describe Hawes' potential impact at Washington. "You don't have to wait for him to learn how to play. Today, right now, he can play. And those guys are in the NBA, and rarely do you get a chance to get a guy like that in college. He's a rare, rare student-athlete that you're able to get on your team."

And his style? Think Tim Duncan, said Romar. "He can step outside and hit that little bank shot all night," he said of Hawes. "He can step out to the top of the key and hit a guy for a backdoor. He'll recognize it but won't force it. You can throw it on the post, you can double-team him and he won't get flustered. You can throw it to him on the block and he'll score. He can run the floor. His versatility and completeness reminds me of Tim Duncan."

Many a hoops pundit has opined in the last year that whoever was lucky enough to get Hawes would immediately become a Final Four contender. "That's fun to speculate, but I remember when Kansas got Jacque Vaughn, Paul Pierce, Raef LaFrentz and Scot Pollard, and they didn't make it to the Final Four," said Romar, matter-of-factly. "One thing you love about Spencer is that he doesn't shy away from those expectations. And it's not in an arrogant way. For him it's, 'Bring it on!'.

"If you want to be successful and things start to happen in a positive fashion for you, there might be unrealistic goals. But you would rather have that excitement there than having it like it was before, where nobody was expecting anything."

All you have to do is go back to the time when Marvin Williams was deciding between North Carolina and Washington. If Williams - then playing his high school basketball in Bremerton - would have been playing there now...who know what would have happened.

"We were a losing program at the time," Romar said. "It was tough not getting Marvin. He has so many of the characteristics that we want of our guys. He's a great, great guy and teammate.

"That seems like a long time ago now."
Romar was dreading a 'Marvin Williams, Part 2', but it was clear that North Carolina - fresh off winning a national championship - wanted Hawes in the worst way. They rolled out the red carpet in a way that only a select few would truly know what it's like to be coveted by the Tar Heels at the highest levels.

Spencer Hawes was one of those select few.

The weekend Hawes was in North Carolina, Romar was hosting another future signee - Phil Nelson - that weekend It was a good thing too, because if Romar hadn't of had something important to do that weekend, he probably would have driven himself crazy with all the thoughts going through his head. "To me, it was like Charles O'Bannon going to Kentucky during their Midnight Madness and the whole place is chanting his name," said Romar. "Those are some scary moments. And what a compliment it is to Spencer Hawes that the national champions considered him a priority."

He would wait a bit before contacting Spencer. "I talked to him that Monday," he said. "He was pretty pumped at the time about Carolina. I felt that we had our work cut out for us."

But Romar had not fired his final bullet - the official visit. And when that visit came, Romar - who publically said he only 'bugged' Hawes about what school he was going to sign with a few select times, had to know. During dinner at Romar's house with Spencer and his parents, the curiosity of knowing had reached Defcon 5 in Romar's brain.

He had to know. So he asked.

"I like it," said Hawes.

"What does that mean, Spencer?" Romar said.

"I think it means I want to be a Husky," Hawes said. And that was it.

"He said he didn't want it to come out that way, but it just happened that way," Romar said of the announcement. "I was obviously fired up."
Other players usually come with a lot less fanfare. A LOT less. Such was the case with Adrian Oliver. For the 6-foot-4 guard from Modesto, Calif., his recruitment didn't truly begin until this past spring evaluation period. It wasn't because Washington didn't know about him - it was just that the two couldn't make a connection.

"We kept hearing about him and we needed to go see him," said Romar when asked about Oliver's recruitment. "We went to Vegas to see him, but he got hurt. This past spring we went to his school and went to his open gym. Then we watched film and was convinced he could play. I don't think we wavered from that point on. Once he committed, a lot of people tried to get him."

Considering the importance of guard play in the college game, Romar thinks Oliver could be a special player, maybe even the one people talk about the most when looking back at this magnificent group. "He probably gets mentioned the least, but when he comes here he won't," said Romar. "Adrian can really shoot the three, can really handle the basketball and has a high basketball IQ like Brandon Roy. He's about 6-foot-4 and is a serious competitor. A great competitor is what he is. He rebounds the ball extremely well for a guard and there's no doubt that he'll make an impact for us as a freshman.

"If you are in a foxhole, he's a guy you want with you. He's extremely tough. He played against San Joaquin Memorial - the same team Quincy Pondexter is on - and he's guarding the Lopez twins. And he's not backing down, and is actually upset when they get a rebound on him. He's tenacious, feisty, and not only knows how to win but has the ability to help you win."

When Romar saw Oliver during that open gym session, it conjured images of some other guards he's had the pleasure of recruiting - Jason Terry, Gilbert Arenas, Chauncey Billups, Baron Davis, Tre Simmons - guys he knew were the real deal literally minutes after watching them suit up.

"You don't need to see much," Romar said. "When I watched him - he was the first guy there. When they started playing, he was just handling the ball. And I was like, 'He can handle it'. And then he starts passing - crisp passes to guys that didn't even know they were open. I was like, 'He can pass, look at this!'. Then he starts penetrating, and he's doing 360 (degree) layups and reverse layups and you're thinking what a great finisher he is. Then he hits one three, and then another three. And then he steps backs and hits another three! Then he took a dribble from the wing and dunked it with two hands.

"Enough said."
It's a rare time when Washington usually taps Oregon for college talent - be it football or basketball. But Romar did it last year with big Joe Wolfinger, and when he saw Phil Nelson shoot, he couldn't help himself. "I'm not exaggerating, he's got range out to 25 feet," Romar said of Nelson, comparing him to former UCLA standout Tracy Murray. "And he's not a one-dimensional player. He's a great passer. He doesn't have to depend on a small guard to do it. As a wing, he can make those plays himself.

"He'll hit 40 in a row if he gets the opportunity. He'll just keep shooting it, even if he's missing - that's his mentality." Washington's version of Salim Stoudamire, perhaps?

"I would say he's comparable to Salim when he shoots," Romar said. "He's not as good a player as Salim, but if both went out and shot 100 balls from 22 feet - he'd make as many as Salim."

Defensively, Nelson's probably the weakest signee of the class, but Romar explained why that might be the case in high school, but it won't be once Phil comes to Montlake. "When you're the franchise, you just get in a habit of not getting after it defensively," Romar said. "But is he capable of it? Yes. But we've had guys that haven't been good defenders in high school but become stellar defenders because they have to get after it and are put in a position where they have to bust their tails."
Last, but certainly not least - we have Quincy Pondexter. With Bobby Jones finishing up his eligibility this year, it looks like the 6-foot-7 forward from Fresno, Calif. picked a perfect time to be a Husky. From Romar's description of his game, he sounds like a Jones clone, but with a little more offensive game right off the bat. But it's his defense that will win over the fans.

"He is just beginning to tap into his potential," Romar said of Pondexter. "Jim Harrick used to always say that potential means you haven't done it yet. In his case, he's done some things. He's already a good basketball player. But he can still get so much better, it's scary. He's a big-time athlete. He really runs the floor well. He really gets after it. He'll be a guy that not only scores a bunch of points for us, but is also comfortable guarding the other team's best perimeter player. That's the kind of player he is."
And with that, you have a pretty good idea about the four players that make up Washington's 2006 hoops class - one that is high on level of talent, but didn't scrimp on character.

"It's very important to have character in your program," Romar said. "It gets you through the low times, the bad times. If you have a high level of character, it helps you in every area. It overflows into the streets, into the classrooms and away from the basketball floor."

Looking forward to 2006, Romar is going to have some decisions to make. With the level of players coming in right away to the Washington program, he will have a nice problem making sure everybody gets their share of playing time.

"I've always found that the hoopers, the serious ballers, don't care (about playing time)," he said. "The really good ones, they are more concerned about the fact that the number of good players you have means you're going to win. Guys that are really good look to where they are going to be successful."

The Huskies don't expect to sign any other players for this class, but that doesn't mean the shop is closed. "You always have to keep your antennas up," said Romar. "Maybe guys at the end of the year and decides to transfer, guys get hurt - you just have to always still see what's out there so you're prepared."

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