Romar recruiting at a different level

SEATTLE - When Lorenzo Romar came to Seattle in the spring of 2002, the cupboard wasn't exactly bare. Outgoing head coach Bob Bender had recruited one of the top players in the Seattle area - Brandon Roy - earning his commitment before being shown the door. Players like Doug Wrenn, Will Conroy, Curtis Allen and Mike Jensen were already there.

A football player - Nate Robinson - had moved over to basketball full-time.

But recruiting to the Emerald City for hoops was in its infancy, and many of the top local players rarely stayed home to play. Marvin Williams, Michael Dickerson, Jason Terry and Jamal Crawford were three, and before 2004, the state of Washington produced only three McDonald's All-Americans; Kim Stewart (Ballard), Quin Snyder (Mercer Island) and Luke Ridnour (Blaine).

Only Stewart went to Washington, and that was over 25 years ago. But one of the reasons he became a Husky was because of Marv Harshman's recruiting pitch - it was honest, no-nonsense and right to the point.

Romar would use Harshman's approach to take Washington's recruiting efforts to the point where if you fast-forward to 2010, the Huskies were able to sign a top-3 shooting guard and possibly the No. 2 power forward in the country.

And they weren't from the state of Washington.

"This is our third generation of Huskies, if you will," said Romar on Monday after receiving a letter of intent from Terrence Ross, a 6-foot-6, 197-pound shooting guard from Portland, Ore., by way of Montrose Christian HS in Rockville, Md. "It's taken us this long to get our team kind of the way we want to have it. Now, I think we have shooters, we have size, we have quickness, we have playmakers, we have athletes that can go out and defend, we have a group of veterans. Across the board, it's starting to shape more like what we want it to be shaped like."

Romar's first generation was arguably his greatest effort; his message wasn't getting across to players like Williams, who eventually chose to play his college basketball at North Carolina. The Huskies' staff under Romar, always known to be excellent talent evaluators, had to recruit their butts off just to get the players considered by recruiting analysts to be average contributors.

Bobby Jones was Romar's first signee, and the former 6-foot-7 forward from Long Beach Poly went from middling recruit to impact freshman in his first year. By the time he was a senior, Jones had earned the reputation as a lock-down defender and became a Pac-10 Player of the Week, eventually drafted by Minnesota in the second round of the 2006 NBA Draft.

By 2006, things were starting to click for Romar and the Huskies as his 'second generation' was being born: UW had been to three-straight NCAA tournaments, and in 2005 entered the tournament as a number-one seed after winning the Pac-10 Tournament and finishing their regular season 24-5. At the same time, freshmen like Jon Brockman - a McDonald's All-American - had shunned Duke to stay close to his Snohomish home. And if prep players hadn't been allowed to jump straight into the pros at the time, Seattle Prep's Martell Webster was another burger boy that had seen what the local boys had done on the national hoops scene. Webster's prep teammate, Spencer Hawes - a UW legacy - followed his AAU teammate Brockman to Montlake the next year after being heavily recruited by North Carolina.

But the national powers couldn't just stroll into Seattle and take their pick of the litter like they had in the past. The Huskies had tasted success, and it wasn't just the local guys that were taking notice. "Now, the University of Washington…we watched you," Romar said. "We watched you in the tournament. We know who Brandon Roy is…we know who Nate Robinson is…we know who Jon Brockman is. They are asking questions about your team before you are explaining to them who you are. So we have more people's ear than we did when we got here."

That helps explain how UW was able to attract the interest of players like Matthew Bryan-Amaning from England, Enes Kanter from Turkey and Aziz Ndiaye from Senegal - by way of the College of Southern Idaho. But until Friday, Romar had never been able to land that whale from out of state - that blue-chip prospect so coveted that it would bring media coverage from coast-to-coast and beyond.

It almost happened with Terrence Jones. Almost, in the sense that yes - the 6-foot-8 power forward from Jefferson High School in Portland technically picked the Huskies in a hat dance that has become ritual for those players looking to bob and weave their way to what has become a tedious and unoriginal twist to their college announcement.

Jones picked the Huskies over Kentucky and four other schools, setting off a wave of applause and over 20,000 reactions via the web that no doubt ranged from excitement to utter disgust, from shock to anger, and everything in-between.

Probably the most shocked in the Jefferson High School gym was Jones' teammate, Terrence Ross. When Jones told the audience that no one knew who he was going to pick because he didn't even know - he wasn't lying.

"I had no idea," Ross told Dawgman.com Friday after the announcement. "At one point not even his parents knew what he was going to do. It was crazy and amazing."

Ross had good reason to be amazed; Jones' decision meant the two would be playing in college together. "I tried to let it go; wherever he picks I was going to be happy for him - but if he picks U-Dub I'm going to be more happy," Ross admitted afterward. "It's been a lot of ups and downs, but it's like being on a high right now. I'm so happy that he picked U-Dub."

It's true Jones picked U-Dub in front of friends, family members and thousands of visitors checking in from the world wide web; but he hasn't sent in a letter of intent to Washington, and that's where his recruitment has hit a wall.

"I'd been talking to him, even five minutes before he walked into the gym and I was like, 'Jones, you have to pick a hat," he said of his conversation with his teammate. " "Everybody is watching you, everybody wants to know. So you have to make a move, you have to decide something'. So I honestly didn't know that he was going to pick Washington."

Jones, who has been on record saying one of the reasons he wanted to wait to decide was to give his teammates recruiting exposure, went from committed to still looking around in the space of one phone call - allegedly made to Kentucky Head Coach John Calipari. It appears Jones may have a problem saying no. He may very well have picked the same school as his teammate because it was the easiest choice to make at the time, and he may very well have backed off that commitment because of a coach not ready to accept defeat.

Such is life in the fast lane of high D1 hoops recruiting, and Romar - after years of keeping to the right and keeping pace - is in a passing mood. He has the pieces in place to go on a run similar to what the Huskies experienced from 2004-2006. The 2010-2011 Huskies could potentially cause some fireworks if it can come together.

"I think we have a lot of pieces," he said. "With one scholarship to go, we'd like to add one more piece."

I wonder who he's talking about?

Romar admitted Tuesday he's not a hard-sell recruiter bent on hammering messages home like a nail to a recruit's forehead. He's more about developing relationships. That way, they get to know the player and his family, and they, in turn, get to know him and his staff.

That philosophy goes hand-in-hand with who Romar is as a person, which shouldn't surprise anyone. "You do what your personality allows you to do," he said, matter-of-factly. "Everybody is different in how they do it."

Ross was a player won over by Romar's approach, and Romar couldn't be happier. He initially verbally committed to Maryland after a sophomore year at Jefferson High that saw Ross earn state Player of the Year honors.

"He became more of a focus this year because he had committed to Maryland," Romar said of UW's recruitment of Ross. "And then he decommitted from Maryland and opened up his recruitment. At that point is when we began recruiting him."

Romar compared Ross to a more athletic Tre Simmons, and that is heady praise. Simmons came from Green River Community College averaging nearly 30 points a game and finished his UW career with All-Pac-10 honors in 2005.

"One of the things that is very important to us is to become a better 3-point shooting team, better outside-shooting team," Romar said. "And Terrence Ross definitely provides that. But not just limited to standing around shooting threes, he's active. He'll go to the boards; you've got to box him out. I think he'll be a tremendous defensive player. You look at a C.J. (Wilcox) or a Scott Suggs – guys who have size that can shoot the ball – you add Terrence Ross, now you're starting to put together a team that resembles some of the teams that we've played in that you're a lot more difficult to guard in that you can't concentrate just on one guy."

So what does Ross expect to bring with him to Washington? Besides Jones?

"Intensity, brings defense and energy, makes plays, athleticism, dunks - everything," he said, adding that he chose the Huskies over Villanova, Kentucky and Kansas. Apparently Calipari must've lost Ross' phone number, because Ross signed with the Huskies without incident.

But Jones is still on the line, and probably will be until May 19th - the last day of the regular signing period. And he may not sign a letter of intent. He may just sign a scholarship aid agreement - like another UK recruit, Brandon Knight, did. A scholarship aid agreement doesn't bind the player to a college, unlike a letter of intent.

Either way, it doesn't appear as if Romar will be able to turn the page on this recruiting class just yet after admitting Monday that until this year, every class he's had at UW has been wrapped up by Thanksgiving.

But when you are taking your hacks with the big boys, recruiting success often becomes a fleeting proposition. Good thing for Romar he knows one player won't make or break his program.

But then again, some things are worth fighting for, especially if it's the good fight.


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