"It's been a typical off-season until now," explained a relaxed Coach Romar on Friday. "The freshmen were here for summer school but are done now, we completed our last youth summer camp yesterday, and during the month of July we're out all over the place recruiting so it's been a typical summer until now."
All of that changed today though as the Huskies held their first official practice that culminates in an eagerly anticipated trip to Greece at the end of the month. They will be playing five games in six days as part of an 11-day trip. Two of the games will be played in Thessaloniki, one in Trikalla, and the last two in Athens. They return to Seattle on September 6th.
Coming off a disappointing season that saw the Huskies miss the NCAA tournament for the first time in several years, the trip couldn't have come at a better time for the program. "You get one of these trips every four years so teams do it when their time comes up," explained the sixth-year coach. "Because we're on the quarter system we're able to go now."
Those on semester system have an advantage; they can take their freshmen with them. So that means no Matthew Bryan-Amaning, No Darnell Gant, No Justin Holiday, no Venoy Overton - so that means very little rest for those that are making the trip.
"With only nine guys, everybody has to play," expressed Romar. "But there's no set plan as far as lineups go. We'll just see how it goes. (Joe) Wolfinger isn't going to be able to go forty minutes so everybody is going to have to play. We're playing five games in six or seven days so there won't be anybody sitting on the bench."
It's nice that 'Everybody' now includes the 7-foot Redshirt Sophomore from Portland, by way of prep school in Massachusetts. 'Wolf' was sidelined last season with a stress fracture in his foot.
"Wolfinger is limited to an hour a day of practice, which will increase as long as everything is okay as he gets through every few days of practice," Romar said. "At this point we have no reason to believe that he won't be able to participate in Greece."
So what are the goals of this excusion to Europe? "We hope to gain more experience," the affable Coach said. "We're able to tinker with some things conceptionally in terms of our basketball approach, and obviously the bonding and camaraderie are very good."
But it's not all about basketball. "The educational and cultural experience that we get from this is important as well," he explained. "As part of this trip to Greece, a professor for the University is going to accompany us and the guys will receive course credit for this."
"I think it's a great, great opportunity for the guys," he shared, adding, "sometimes when you're younger you don't appreciate those things until you're older."
Romar also talked about what he expected his team to face two weeks from now. "In Greece, we're going to be playing some good basketball teams - it is a much more physical game," he said. "We're going to be facing teams where the players are all older, they're grown men and it'll be quite a challenge for us."
With 10 extra practices and five additional games, the added workout time should go a long way toward integrating several players (Joel Smith, Tim Morris and Joe Wolfinger) who didn't play last year, but will be expected to make key contributions this season.
As for the game play itself, the competition won't be the only thing foreign to the players. "We'll be playing international rules with two twenty minute halves," Romar said. "If you're playing real well, you might want to duck…" he added with a chuckle. "Because they have the biggest coins known to man, and they're pretty accurate when they throw them. They even have dugouts in some of the arenas overseas with steel canopies over the top because you'll just get clocked by some coin."
It's all a part of being an American abroad.
"Understand that, whenever anyone internationally has a chance to beat the United States, they go for it," Romar said. "The U.S. hasn't done as well as we would have liked in recent years in tnternational competition, but there's still a healthy respect for the U.S.A. so they'll be coming at us."
After a season full of defensive snafus - particularly on the perimeter - the Husky coaching staff has identified that as a key area of improvement for this year's team. "We spent a lot of time in the spring on defensive emphasis and we'll continue that theme throughout the next 10 days and on the trip," Romar explained.
Suffocating defensive pressure and fast break opportunities go hand in hand. "Last year, we did not force as many turnovers and teams shot a higher percentage against us, so consequently we weren't able to get out and run it," Romar explained, while correcting a common misconception. "Many feel that because we had different personnel that we didn't get out and run but that wasn't the total reason."
Romar singled out one player in particular that figures to be a key component to the success of the team. "Body wise, you look at Justin Dentmon, and the minute you see him you're thinking it's as if somebody carved some of his flesh off him," he said of the junior guard from Carbondale, Illinois. "He's streamlined right now and his quickness and athleticism are better.
The team hasn't yet met to talk about the competition, nor any specific difference between U.S. basketball and how it's played in Europe. He did share his biggest eye opener from his experience traveling the world.
"The toilets," he quipped as the entire room burst into laughter. "Sometimes it's just a hole. You've just got to be a good aimer.
"You just don't know what to expect. Maybe you've got to get in a catcher's stance to take a shower in this little shower. When I was in Korea it took forever just to find something to eat that I liked, that I felt was edible."
He elaborated more seriously. "The food and the living conditions - I think it has something to do with the fact that we're spoiled Americans and the rest of the world - in a lot of cases - doesn't have many of the luxuries we take for granted. That's one of the reasons it's good to go overseas so we can see how good we have it."
As for personal experiences while there, Romar does plan on doing a bit of sight-seeing on his own. "For me, some of the things I'm really looking forward to seeing are biblical," he said. "The Book of Acts talks a lot about Athens so I'm anxious to see a lot of those things and put them all together."
Have fun guys, and bring back lots of pictures!
No Holiday for Romar, Huskies
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