Accolades tumble in for Huskies

As if the school's first outright Pac-10 title wasn't enough. Despite having only one player honored during the season as a Pac-10 Player of the Week, Washington saw four Huskies earn mention for their dream season. Headlining it all was Lorenzo Romar's award for Pac-10 Coach of the Year, guiding UW to a 14-4 league record.

"He works harder than anyone I've ever seen," Washington senior forward Jon Brockman said of Romar. Brockman earned a spot on the All-Pac-10 Team, along with teammate Justin Dentmon. "He's been the ultimate role model. I came to UW mostly because of him. I wanted to learn from him and wanted to be a part of what he's got going on here. He's been the ultimate example and role model for me on and off the court. He stresses teamwork so much."

And to a man, that lesson on teamwork was the x-factor that pushed these Hoop Dawgs to newfound heights. It started just one week after the 2008 season, when Sports Performance Coach Matt Ludwig led the strength and conditioning sessions when the coaches couldn't be around the players due to NCAA off-season restrictions. It continued through the leadership of the seniors and the selflessness of those willing to sacrifice personal glory for collective gain.

"We held each other responsible," Brockman said. "And that's been the key for everything we have going on this year."

"It really speaks to when no one cares who gets the credit," Romar reiterated Monday after hearing about the award. "When you set out to be a coach, (earning an individual award) is not a goal. You set out to do the best job you can possibly do. It means I've been really blessed with a tremendous staff. They don't get enough credit for how good they are. There's no way I do this alone. You also have a pretty good group of guys who are willing to do whatever they can for the team. When you have those basic ingredients and you're able to win some games, it just happens. It's definitely something that has to be shared with the staff and the players. It's the truth."

Romar said the first thing he looked for on the list when he received it was the All-Conference list and who was the Player of the Year. "I saw that Jon wasn't Player of the Year and felt bad, although it's hard to argue with James Harden," he added. "I was hoping that Jon would be at least co-Player of the Year. The other thing I looked for was Justin Dentmon's name on the All-Conference, and that hit me. You talk about me being Coach of the Year? I'd trade my Coach of the Year award for him being All-Conference any day of the year."

Dentmon was also named the Most Improved Player of the Year. This call was a no-brainer, as Dentmon's numbers have risen to 15.3 points per game, up from 9.8 ppg his junior season. He's transformed his game and come full circle as a pure scorer, his forte in high school.

"I give all credit to my teammates," Dentmon said.

Guard Isaiah Thomas was named the Pac-10 Freshman of the Year, and ironically he did it by throttling his game down a little bit, finding a comfort zone that worked within the structure of what the team needed to be successful.

"Although it may not look like it, Isaiah has sacrificed for the team," Romar said. "Isaiah really wants to go out and shoot 20 shots a game. It's not because he's selfish; it's because that's what he's always done. He can go out and score 30 points. He'll score 30 or more before he's done at the University of Washington, maybe even 40. He's got that ability. But he's really tried to run the team. He did a better job of picking his spots. He's held back from what he could do offensively."

According to Thomas, the light went on for him in Washington's two-point loss to Florida, a game that saw him dish out nine assists. "It was difficult," Thomas said Monday, asked about adjusting and finding his role. "But I'm doing what's best for the team, we're winning. So I can't complain.

Sophomore guard Venoy Overton was named an honorable mention pick for Pac-10 All Defensive Team. "I would have hoped Venoy Overton would have been on the All-Defensive team," Romar said. "I think he really came into his own and made an impression down the stretch defensively, became more consistent. Maybe that's why he didn't get more votes, but I think at this point he would have to be one of the top defenders in this league."

Overton's story just might one of the most compelling of all. With a strong freshman season behind him - one that saw him start in 26 of 33 games - the Franklin grad probably thought a starting role this season would be a lock. That didn't happen.

"You could have made a great case for Overton being the point guard of the future after his freshman year," Romar said. "But he ends up on the bench. I know it bothered him early. There came a point where he just looked forward and just said, 'I'm going to bust my tail and help this team in any way I can'. And that's what he did. We tried to help him understand that we needed him to play well. If he doesn't go out and do the things he did in the latter part of the season, we would have not won the conference. And we can say that about a lot of guys on the team.

"Coaches kept preaching defense and no one was really trying to accept that role and step up - so I did," Overton added.

Once he pressures the ball, it gives me more time to pressure the wings and get into the passing lanes to steal the ball," Dentmon said of Overton's impact on the game. "If you don't have him pressuring the ball, players get comfortable. But with him out there, it messes up everyone else's offense.

And the partial snub? Overton is going to try and make amends. "Maybe there are a few coaches out there that don't like me," he said with a smile, adding a wry 'no comment' when asked if he thought he may not have gotten a vote from USC Head Coach Tim Floyd. "I'm a harasser. I'm loud, I'm always talking. It just means I'm going to have to step it up a little harder in the tournament. Maybe I waited to long to turn it up, but no biggie. We still have some games left.

"We're not done."

"I call us a 'triple threat'," Dentmon said of the guard trio of Thomas, Overton and himself. "A lot of people forget about us because we aren't on ESPN like other teams are. When the tournament hits, people will really see."

And you can't really talk about the 'Impact Dawgs' without talking abut Quincy Pondexter. The junior from Fresno has been as instrumental as any one player during the second half of conference play, accounting for 16 points and nearly seven rebounds a game. If there had been another five or six league games, it may have been tough to keep him out of the conversation for All-Pac-10 honors.

"However you slice up this group, it comes out team," Romar said. "That's what you see."

It's clear when you listen to the team talk, they feel like they've just started to mine the depths of their potential. Romar, in particular, felt that it was their defense that won them the Pac-10 crown, no hint of irony coming from his comment whatsoever.

"Down the stretch, I don't think we were clicking offensively," he said. "We could have played better."

And yet, the Huskies have been able to continue their winning ways, even when they weren't doing it with a lot of style.

"This team hasn't leveled off, hasn't plateaued, hasn't stopped getting better," Brockman said. "I don't think this team is close to being as good as we could be." He noted the need to eliminate the sloppy, 'mindless' turnovers, for starters. "It's the little things we can tighten up that will make us even more efficient," he added.

"It's a testament to what our whole deal has been the entire year. We don't have the Player of the Year, we don't have anyone on the defensive team...we do everything as a group. That is a testament to how our team has played this year and how we worked together to get it done instead of one person putting it on their shoulders.

And that's what makes this team just a little different than the one Brockman, Dentmon, Artem Wallace and Joe Wolfinger were a part of in 2006. That Brandon Roy-led squad were an overtime away from making the Elite 8. Does this team have what it takes to take the next step forward in the evolution of Washington Basketball?

"When we're all firing on all cylinders, this team can be a little more special than that team," Brockman said, admitting that his youth didn't allow him to completely understand the gravity of the moment when the Huskies lost to Connecticut.

"I'm a lot more aware now."

The first step toward the NCAA tournament starts Thursday at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, where the Huskies will face either Stanford or Oregon State. According to the Huskies, who they play that night is the least of their problems. "It really doesn't matter," Brockman said, matter-of-factly. "If we play the way we need to play, that will solve all our problems."

"Stanford doesn't play as much zone; Oregon State plays all zone," added Romar, saying they'll spend the next couple of days 'cutting the fat' and tightening up their own game. "Stanford tries to be a little more up-tempo; Oregon State tries to take the air out of the ball.

"This conference, more than any other year, has prepared us for the post-season because we've faced just about everything. We've had every defense thrown at us imaginable, and we've had to battle and overcome tough, difficult match-ups for us because of our lack of size. It should prepare us for what we're about to face."

By sharing the wealth and epitomizing team play, the Washington Huskies have become a dangerous out in tournament play. "We can attack from so many positions and have strengths from so many different areas, it makes us tough to deal with and makes us tough to scout for other teams to figure out what exactly they are going to do to try and stop us," Brockman said.

He is one Husky that's thrilled the Pac-10 tournament comes at a time when they welcome the chance to play more games. This team, we're definitely not content, not complacent," he added. 'We're not happy with where we're at. We want to keep climbing the ranks.

"This team will continue to get better every single chance we get to play. That will be until the end of the season, when they don't let us play anymore.

This senior class has only played four Pac-10 tournament games in three years, with Brockman out of last year's event due to a high ankle sprain. Their hope? To play in three more.

"It's going to be a slugfest," Romar said of the tourney. "There should be some great games this week." Top Stories