With the recent loss to Utah in the PAC-12 tourney and the debates to follow over whether Washington even makes the NIT this year, I'm sure the overarching debate for the summer will be this: should Lorenzo Romar keep his job? How much of this do we as fans have to take before he gets the boot?
Chris Landon of this fine blog already wrote an excellent piece supporting another year for Romar, and I would not like to do anything to take away from that. However, I'd like to step away from the stats for a little bit and look at a different side of things: roster construction and coaching tactics.
Now, I'm no coach. And chances are, you likely aren't either. Really, we don't know the ins and outs of coaching a college program completely unless we've done it. But here's what we do know. Lorenzo Romar has failed to bring the Huskies to the NCAA tournament in the last three years now. That's what we care about, right?
Many will argue that Romar doesn't know how to construct a roster properly. The Huskies always seem to be undersized or undermanned. Why does he leave scholarships on the table? Part of this question can be answered pretty simply: he did spend a lot of resources in the past few years trying to recruit the studs, only to end up as second place in the running for such players. This shines true for Aaron Gordon, Jabari Bird, DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Bennett and many more. And we could spend all day talking about this. Yes, it's true that that has been a recent flaw of his. However, he appears to have moved past that given that he is now focusing more on in-state kids more (look at 2014 and 2015 commits compared to 2012 and 2013 ones) and already appears to be heading in the right direction with the two recruiting classes coming up, where he has clearly been working on recruiting a larger number of quality players rather than a star and two scholarships left unused.
In terms of his recruiting, some may argue he hasn't been doing a good job keeping the in-state recruits around and has failed to defend his "backyard." But really, if a player wants to play for historical basketball Meccas like Louisville (Shaqquan Aaron), UCLA (Zach LaVine), Kansas (Anrio Adams), and the like and those schools are eager to take them, who can blame them? You try to convince a player whose childhood dream has been to play big time that he should pick a football-first school over a chance to become part of a basketball nation. It's not easy. And Romar deserves credit for keeping some of his recruits from going to such places (Gaddy considered Zona, Wroten considered UConn and Louisville, Darin Johnson considered San Diego State, etc.)
In terms of the Huskies being undersized this year, that was almost completely from a bad spell of luck. The player who was supposed to be the focal point of his high-post offense in Jarreau (who looked to be breaking out and poised for a great season) had a freak accident two minutes into the season which prematurely ended it. Desmond Simmons, the "energy guy", was out for half the season. Kemp turned out to have an illness that stopped him from playing as much and as effectively as he otherwise would have. This forced Romar to use Mike Anderson, a shooting guard, at the power forward position. Is it Romar's fault all these injuries happened? Certainly not. And I say he deserves a ton of credit for keeping the ship afloat and coaching to a winning season despite the fact that he had essentially no forwards for most of the season. He completely revamped the defensive scheme halfway into the season to adjust to the personnel, and had some early success with it in conference play.
In reality, the real killer has been that ever since Isaiah Thomas left, there hasn't been a leader who stepped up and took charge. Nobody who had energy or seemed to get fired up about playing. I mean, have you ever seen C.J. Wilcox get worked up in a game? I've spent the whole season begging for him to just become emotional about something and draw a technical. Is he a great player? Of course. And he's just one scapegoat I'm using here, but nobody in recent Husky teams has really shown any emotion on the court. Emotion and leadership aren't things that can be coached. You can't coach your players to change their personalities. Romar gets fired up all the time. It isn't like he doesn't care. I'm sure he tries to get into his players' heads about that kind of thing.
And trust me, I know what it's like to watch this bunch of stoic robots play basketball. I've been a season ticket holder since Wroten enrolled, and I've sat through painful losses like South Dakota State, Albany, and UC Irvine. You know what those teams had? Energy. You know what Romar has on the court? Energy. More than any other coach I've seen play in this building. He is not his players. He doesn't take the ball up the court or execute the plays. If his players are un-coachable or complacent that isn't something he can control. You give Romar the boot and chances are the coach who comes in is not going to care as much as Romar cares.
And I know for some of you that isn't good enough. You don't care that Romar cares, you just want to see them win games. And yes, you could argue that Romar is at fault for not recruiting leaders. And that's fair. But I think that was something that came along with him originally spending a good portion of his resources on the star recruits. However, I'd like to believe those days are over. Nigel Williams-Goss recently came into the fold, and he looks like the kind of player the Huskies need. The vocal leader. It wasn't really his place to be that this year as a freshman, but I'll be interested to see him take more of a leadership role going forward.
All in all, I say give Romar two more years. If the results don't show by then I'd consider searching for a coach elsewhere. But Romar has set the standard for Washington basketball. The fanbase now expects the team to make the tournament every year. There are 351 division one schools, and only 68 make it every year. I don't know if people realize how impressive it is to make the tournament year in and year out, especially when basketball isn't the primary sport here.
Call me a Romar apologist. Call me whatever you like. All I want is for Husky basketball to be good again. And Romar has proven before that he is capable of doing that. Go Dawgs.