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On solid ground

Huskies lost a lot, but they still have formidable talent

Posted: Friday November 11, 2005 4:22PM; Updated: Friday November 11, 2005 4:22PM
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Brandon Roy
Brandon Roy will take over at the point for Washington this season.
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Washington coach Lorenzo Romar was sitting in his office Wednesday afternoon when he stopped, mid-sentence, to answer his cell phone. Here's how the conversation sounded from Romar's end:

"Hello? ... Hey man, congratulations. Finally! ... Thanks for getting that done ... Well, when I saw it was official I got fired up ... Alright, then. I guess some people will be trying to call you. ... I'll give you a call tonight."

Romar snapped his phone closed, smiled at me and said, "That was the big fella."

This, my friends, is what is called a very good day at the office. Wednesday was the first day of the November signing period for recruits. The "big fella" on the other end of the phone was Spencer Hawes, a 6-foot-11-inch multitalented center from Seattle who is a consensus top-10 recruit. Hawes had verbally committed to Washington in early October, giving Washington a first-rate, four-man recruiting class (only North Carolina's and Ohio State's are rated higher). That coup didn't become official until the letters of intent started rolling off the basketball office's fax machine early Wednesday morning. Hawes' letter was the last arrive.

I asked Romar what it felt like when he pulled Hawes' letter off the machine. "It's like being at your wedding," he said. "You know you're getting married that day, but it's still nice to see the bride show up."

In consummating his marriage to Washington this week, Hawes became the latest in a remarkably bountiful crop of players who have come out of the greater Seattle area in recent years. This trend has enabled Romar to keep the program on solid ground even in the wake of the slew of departures from last season's team, which won 29 games last year and was a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. This year's freshman class is anchored by Jon Brockman, a 6-7 bull from nearby Sonhomish, Wash. Had the NBA's 19-year-old age minimum been in place a year ago, the class also would have included Seattle native Martell Webster, who was the sixth overall pick in the NBA draft last spring.

To be sure, losing Nate Robinson, Will Conroy, Hakeem Rollins and Tre Simmons will hurt. The Huskies are unlikely to win the Pac-10, much less garner another No. 1 seed. (Romar marvels that he is getting questions as to why this recently-moribund program is not ranked in the preseason top 25.) But they will still be tough to deal with, not just because of their talent, but mainly because of the withering, up-tempo style they employ. "We're like a nag," assistant coach Cameron Dollar told me. "No matter where you are when you get the ball, you turn around, and we're right there."

After watching practice on Wednesday afternoon, I can see why the Huskies are so difficult to play against. Everything they do is geared toward pushing the ball and applying full-court pressure. For example, Romar put his guys through a lengthy full-court, three-man weave drill early in the workout. They had to cover the entire court in three passes without letting the ball hit the floor, which can only be done if everyone is running their absolute hardest. Romar doesn't like his guys to gamble on D; they press in order to wear teams down, not get a bunch of breakaway layups. Every player thinks he wants to play this running style, but in actuality it is very, very hard to do. On numerous occasions Wednesday, the coaches had to yell at their guys to run hard. Even the water breaks were done quickly, with no time wasted on casual chatter.

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