Respect has been earned

SEATTLE - Yes Dawg fans, the Washington Huskies are flying high again after a two-year absence from Pac-10 relevance. With one week remaining in the regular season, the Huskies are on the cusp of their first outright league title in over five decades, but you'd never know it by paying attention to the national media.

Let's face it: The national guys have no clue what to make of the Pac-10, much less the Plain Jane, conference-leading Huskies. Sure, they've heard of Jon Brockman and his fearsome reputation; they're captivated with the story of how a talented freshman's father lost a bet and named his son after an ex-NBA star – and that's pretty much it.

The Huskies received a bit of preseason hype as the dark horse team in a down Pac-10, but a blowout loss to Kansas in the pre-season NIT quickly ended what little buzz they'd generated. Despite a face-saving showing against Florida the following evening, the game still ended in a loss. And the damage was done.

Now, with 20 wins in 24 tries since, the Huskies are about to become one of the most obscure Pac-10 champions in conference history.

"First of all, I'm a firm believer that if you take care of business, eventually, you'll get your respect," explained Washington Head Coach Lorenzo Romar recently. "I'm not one to beg and plead for respect," he added, clearly unconcerned with his program's relative anonymity. "If you earn it, it'll come. Some people thrive off that with a chip on their shoulder. I want us to be the best that we can be and reach our potential, whatever that is. Then, people will notice.

"The nature of sports is what have you done for me lately."

And he's right, even if it's wrong. His team has worked hard to get where they are, and they deserve to be rewarded with some national love. But make no mistake - the media bias towards the North Carolina's and Kansas' of the college basketball world leave little room for a blue collar story like Washington's. The players know the only way to make the country take notice is to cram Husky basketball down their throats.

"You cant just put us somewhere that we don't deserve," junior Quincy Pondexter shared. "We had some really tough losses early in the year. As the season goes on I think we'll have a great opportunity to prove ourselves to them."

Only time is growing short, and at this point it appears there's little they can do before the start of the NCAA tournament to open eyes.

Part of the problem is the overall perception of the Pac-10. The mess at Arizona over the last year-and-a-half cast a pall over one of the conference's most visible programs. Arizona's take-all-comers non-conference strategy annually showcases the Pac-10 on the national stage, and for a quarter of a century they have represented some of the best basketball the west coast has to offer.

UCLA has also been a huge part of the Pac-10's recent resurgence. Three straight Final Fours and a nationally recognized recruiting class put the Pac-10 on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Unfortunately the recognition was premature as the freshmen failed to live up to their considerable hype.

And Washington? They simply don't carry that kind of clout.

"We weren't in the tournament the last two years," explained Romar, matter-of-factly. "Before the three years of our tourney teams (2004-06), we weren't in the tournament before that either. It's not like a situation like Arizona where there's 24 straight years of the NCAA tournament. If they miss it a couple of years, it's not like people are going to forget the previous 25 years. People easily forget when you do only two or three."

The Huskies also face another obstacle that many of their west coast opponents this season don't: The lack of NBA talent earning ESPN highlights in front of a national audience. There's no James Harden, Chase Budinger or Taj Gibson throwing down rim rattling dunks. There's no Demar Derozan or Jrue Holiday being bandied about as future lottery picks. Even though the Huskies play the conference's most entertaining style of basketball, at its core it's just Brockman quietly going about his business or the guards stealing a pass and laying it in.

Grit, hustle and determination earn you respect from opposing coaches and players – but not sports show producers.

Romar singled out Brockman as an example.

"I think many people take Jon Brockman for granted," he said. "He's constantly coming at you. You'd be hard pressed to find another leader in this conference who leads his team like Jon Brockman. It's unbelievable. Because he isn't a big dunker, isn't flashy, a lot of people take him for granted."

Even if his opponents don't.

The Huskies should finally climb into the top-20 this week, and could rise as high as 15 or better before it's all said and done, but it's a pretty hollow ranking. It's not being accompanied by anything more than a token curiosity.

The only way they're going to be able to prove their worth this season is by a deep run in the NCAA tournament. Then the rest of the country will realize what Husky fans have known all season: This is a special Husky team, and they deserve some respect.


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