Romar all about the hoopla

Washington Head Basketball Coach Lorenzo Romar breezed on in Thursday, fresh from coming off the road and ready to get started on what he hopes will become an annual event at Hec Ed; Husky Hoopla. It's a little like Midnight Madness, but with oh so much more. With a young, but talented group of players returning, Romar faces a brand new challenge from the one he had just 12 months ago.

Husky Hoopla will start roughly 30 minutes after the WSU-UW Volleyball game at Bank of America Arena Friday night, and it will include appearances by both the men's and women's basketball teams, dunk and 3-point contests and maybe some special surprises along the way.

The event, as well as parking, is free of charge.

"The first year here, we weren't mature enough to handle a Midnight Madness," Romar said. "After that, we just didn't know how well attended it would be. We're going to try it, and if the excitment is there and the people come out, we'll make it a tradition. But if we can't get anyone to come out, we could probably get more accomplished with a regular practice."

And what kind of turnout would guarantee hoopla for the immediate future? "We played Arizona a few years ago and we had 8000 people in there and it looked like it was packed, Romar said. "Something like that."

If it gets too full, Romar can always find room for fans on the UW bench. In fact, with five-on-five games expected to be played Friday night, it's going to be difficult for the Huskies to find ten healthy bodies. Right now Spencer Hawes (knee), Joe Wolfinger (foot), Joel Smith (foot), Hans Gasser (shoulder) and Brandon Burmeister (foot) are sidelined with injuries that will either severely limit their hoopla activity or curtail it altogether.

"It's slower because you don't have the full compliment of members on your team right now, but we will make sure that those that aren't able to participate pay close attention so that they aren't behind," Romar said. "In a couple of weeks, a couple of guys come back anyways, so it won't be that long."

With this group of returners, getting the youngsters all on the same page appears to be critical. Case in point; Jon Brockman became the first UW sophomore to ever take the mantle of Captain. A sophomore! "It's different, because you can't assume...you have to start from scratch and teach everything from the ground level up," Romar said of this year's challenge. "It's very similar to our first year here, but the only two difference are that the coaches all know what's going on and the old guys can help the new guys. We don't have 14 new guys...we have 4 or 5, so that makes a big difference."

This year also marks a change in the sense that - other than Brockman's spot at forward - the rest of the starting positions are entirely up for grabs. "Jon (Brockman) works so hard, I think it's going to be hard to beat him out. Outside of him...everyone better work. They better bring it. Four-fifths of it is unclear."

But finding the challenge and taking it head-on is what Romar has been all about from the beginning. "Every year there's a different challenge," he said. "The first year was, can we win a game? The second year was, can we get to the NCAA tournament? Can we get further? Now that there's a new era, a changing of the guard, can this group duplicate or surpass what the last group did? It's a fun challenge to go after and the challenge is on both ends. I think it's a challenge the guys want to."

Perhaps Romar's first challenge will be to make sure all his players get through Husky Hoopla with all limbs intact. "If something happened tomorrow (Friday), it could happen in practice too. And the dunks they are doing? Some may view it differently, but I guarantee you that at some rec center, they are doing them anyways. I never understand how guys jump off cliffs from 75 feet. When do they practice that? They don't just run up and jump off cliffs. These guys practice these dunks. They've done 'em before and they had to do them successfully to know that they could do them.

"And I don't think it's like the skateboard deal where you get jacked up 100 times and they just keep trying. We should be OK."

But hearing Romar talk about the identity that's emerging from this group of young pups, they appear more to be like Pavlov's dawgs than Romar's. "It's a very compliant group," he said. "'What do you want us to do, coach. We'll try to go and do it.', and that goes for everything...from school to volunteering to doing things off the floor. They want to do things right, and that's a positive going into the season.

"This group is going to try and do everything we ask them to do. They may not be able to do it, but they are going to try."

There should be enough leadership culled from last year to smooth any early bumps in the road, but one thing is clear - there is no Brandon Roy anymore. There is no guy the Huskies can go to down the stretch, knowing he can put the team on his back. Romar just looks at that as another one of the exciting challenges that faces this particular group.

"If you have a group of competitors, if you have guys that want to compete and want to be on that floor, it makes for some very intense practices. And that's how you improve," he said. "But when a game is on the line on the road and you're down by four, who is going to step up and say 'We're not going to lose'? We'll see. I think Justin Dentmon has been very good in those situations before, but he doesn't have his chaperones anymore. He doesn't have Brandon (Roy), Bobby (Jones), Jamaal (Williams) and Mike (Jensen) looking over his shoulder, making sure everything's OK. He's kind of out there on his own with this team."

But the foundation for success has been created...in layers. "Our first year, we didn't have very good chemisty at all," Romar said. "Each group got better at that. It was like passing the baton, with the baton being a little shinier each time. I think what those guys did was help create an environment where this group understands that there's a lot of work."

And it's something the coaches can talk about until they are purple in the face....but until the new guys see it in action, they just don't know.

"They've been told what's going to happen, but they don't really know what's going to happen," Romar said. "When you're really out there and you're dog-tired and no one cares...you've got to push. They've heard enough and watched enough. During the recruiting process, we told them it wasn't going to be easy. But to actually go out there, it's a different story."

Even with the chemistry that has already been built up over the spring and summer.

So who are these Huskies going to look like, version 4.0? Well, with twin towers Hawes and Wolfinger out, it's doubtful they'll look anything like what they'll ultimately resemble, but don't expect their newfound height to alter Romar's thinking.

"Our style will be no different," he said, matter-of-factly. "That was probably the number-one most-asked question all summer. I've said many times that the only difference is that we'll demand that the ball will go inside more. In terms of style - attacking pressure defense, pushing the ball up the floor - slashing, attacking offense - that's not going to change. Mike Jensen - if you want to call him the 5 man - was a four-year starter and ran a 5:33 mile. Spencer Hawes just ran a 5:22 mile. But people want to assume that if you're bigger, you have to be slower. Why not? Kevin Garnett is 7-2, and if he played for us, we wouldn't change. We recruit guys to get up and down the floor...to fit our style. There may be a little different emphasis. We might be more balanced, but we don't want to take our perimeter guys away."


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