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A new UW tradition

Huskies cornering local market, building a contender

Posted: Friday October 7, 2005 12:22PM
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Spencer Hawes is the No. 3-rated overall prospect in the class of 2006 by Scout.com.
Spencer Hawes is the No. 3-rated overall prospect in the class of 2006 by Scout.com.
Glenn Nelson/Scout.com

From the back porch of his family's home on Queen Anne Hill in Seattle, Spencer Hawes can look east, over Lake Union and I-5, over Portage Bay, and see a portion of the University of Washington's campus. His great-grandfather attended the school, helping manage the crew team in the early 1900s; his grandfather was a UW student as well, and was a rower on the crew team in the 1930s; and his father, Jeff, played basketball for the Huskies as a reserve forward in the 1970s, at one point alongside Spencer's uncle, Steve, who starred as a Husky before going on to a career in the NBA.

Judging from that lineage, the decision Spencer made last Saturday night at the house of Washington coach Lorenzo Romar -- "that now was the time" to commit to play for the Huskies -- would appear a confirmation of the inevitable. UW is in Hawes' back yard. It's a family tradition. It's where the Hawes men go. End of story.

So why did Romar start pumping his fist upon hearing Hawes' words ... and then emit an audible sigh of relief? Because there's another perspective on Spencer Hawes -- the one seen by the greater college basketball world, to whom Hawes' defining biographic data is not the three generations of Huskies in his bloodlines. They care that he is a 6-foot-11 1/2 center with an offensive skill set so polished his AAU coach, former Utah assistant Jim Marsh, compares him to former Utes recruits Tom Chambers and Kevin McHale, because Hawes "has more ways to score than you can imagine." If not for a once-in-a-decade prospect named Greg Oden, Hawes would be the No. 1-rated big man in the Class of 2006. Even at No. 2, he is in a select group of giants who are traditionally expected to grow into NBA lottery picks by playing for powerhouses such as UCLA, UConn, Duke or North Carolina; not for a school like Washington, where success -- in the form of a 2004-05 Pac-10 tournament title and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament under third-year coach Romar -- is only a recent phenomenon. And his familial ties to UW, Hawes says, "didn't really matter as much to me as everyone may have perceived."

View it from that vantage point, and Hawes-in-Husky-purple was far from a foregone conclusion.

Which is why, when Hawes made the official announcement in a press conference at his high school (Seattle Prep) Tuesday, joining Romar's already-stellar '06 recruiting haul, a greater message reverberated across the country: Washington is not the one-year wonder of the Northwest. Rather, the Huskies are going to be a Pac-10 force for years to come. And if other programs have designs on mining Seattle for basketball talent, they're going to have to battle Romar.

The noise of Hawes' decision was heard at UConn and UCLA, whom Hawes had cut from his list in early September; it was louder at Stanford, where he had visited two weeks earlier; and it was deafening at defending national champion North Carolina, where Hawes had received the red-carpet treatment one week before, viewing a ring ceremony for the 2004-05 title team -- which included Seattle-area prospect Marvin Williams, the No. 2 pick in April's NBA Draft.

Would Hawes had made the same decision if Romar wasn't the coach at UW or if the Huskies were mired in the same mediocrity of, say, five years ago? "Definitely not," Hawes said. "I wouldn't have expected someone then, who had the chance to go to place like a UNC or a Stanford, to turn those schools down to go to Washington. But going to UW now is great opportunity for me; it's a program on the rise that I can help solidify as a national contender."

Washington has reached the NCAA tournament just four times since 1990, and finished over .500 in just six of those 16 seasons. When Seattle had a bumper crop of blue-chip prospects in the classes of '03 and '04, the Huskies lacked the reputation to keep them home, losing out first on Aaron Brooks (Oregon) and Lodrick and Rodrick Stewart (USC), then waving goodbye to Williams (UNC) and C.J. Giles (Kansas) the following year. But Romar has been steadily constructing a winner since arriving in the Northwest from St. Louis University in 2002. He went 10-17 in his first season and followed that with a 19-12 record and NCAA tournament bid in year two, and a 29-6, No. 1-seed-in-the-Dance effort last season.

The fruits of his labor began showing on the recruiting front last year, when he received commitments from two of the state's top three players, shooting guard Martell Webster, a high-school teammate of Hawes', and power forward Jon Brockman, who played with Hawes on the Friends of Hoop AAU squad. Webster went straight to the NBA, but his commitment was a nice gesture, at least, and the fact Brockman, a bullish post player, picked Washington over Duke put word on the street: For top recruits, signing with UW was now en vogue.