Huskies’ woes caused by being stuck in middle recruit-wise

February 15, 2013 

Remember way back when the University of Washington men’s basketball team was the regular-season champion of the Pacific-12 Conference and Lorenzo Romar was the Pac-12 coach of the year?

It’s a little fuzzy … how long ago was that?

What? Last year? Really? Seems a lot longer. I guess time flies when you’re watching bad basketball.

The Huskies’ loss to Oregon on Wednesday was their seventh defeat in the past eight outings. They scored a meager 52 points, dropped to 5-7 in league (13-12 overall) and fell all the way to ninth in the conference standings.

Only twice in the previous nine seasons have the Huskies finished below third in the regular season. And in a distressing symmetry, the last time they were as low as ninth was in Romar’s first season, 2002-03.

So, with hopes of an NCAA tournament appearance hanging on a long-shot conference tournament rally, the most excitement in final six games of a forgettable regular season might be the part where we all sort through what went wrong and affix the blame.

I don’t for a minute think Romar suddenly forgot how to coach. But coaching is only a part of what he has to do.

So, that brings us to the recruitment of talent. Good track record there. And there’s no major arguments on his assessment of talent, either.

But there’s another tricky little twist to this whole thing that can cause problems.

I think this UW season is an

example of a problem a number of coaches at major programs face, involving the philosophy of long-term roster construction.

It was simpler when the goal was merely to land the best players you could get. And then for a while, the absolute upper level was skimmed off straight out of high school by the NBA. And that was fairly simple, too, because you weren’t allocating roster spots and scholarships on them.

But since the NBA’s 2005 collective-bargaining agreement banned the drafting of prospects younger than 19, or those not at least a year removed from high school graduation, it all got more complicated.

Now all coaches must try to foretell the future and predict just how many years a player will be on campus.

Since draft-worthy prospects are obviously the best players on your team, losing one or two of them right off the bat can be a crippling development.

Off the 2011-12 Huskies, sophomore Terrence Ross and freshman Tony Wroten declared for early entry and were drafted No. 8 and No. 25, respectively, in the first round. That cost 40 percent of the starting lineup, taking a combined 32.4 points a game with them.

This season’s Huskies with those two on the floor would be a very different story. But Romar knew those two were likely to be short-timers.

The situation creates a challenge for coaches as they plan the architecture of their teams every season.

Do you look at video of recruits and at some point say to yourself: This kid would be great here, but he’ll be gone in a year. And do you view another prospect and say: This kid isn’t quite as good, but we might be able to keep him for four.

And then a coach wonders if the obvious one-and-done star will be focused on making the team better or on making plays that will enhance his draft status.

Although Wroten scored in transition, on athletic drives, etc., I don’t think many observers of last season’s team saw him as a well-meshed contributor to the offensive scheme.

And then he was gone. Was it worth it? Depends on your philosophy and the ability to replace him. Some fans seemed delighted that the Huskies got two seasons out of Ross.

Jon Brockman and Spencer Hawes shared the Huskies’ frontcourt for one season. Both were prep All-Americans, but the 7-foot-1 Hawes was a far more obvious NBA prospect. Brockman stayed four seasons and was part of 87 UW wins; Hawes played one season when UW won 19 games.

Trying to predict such things is part of a coach’s job now.

Kentucky has been able to pull it off, trotting out a series of gifted freshmen every season, and watching 10 of them be taken in the first round in the past three drafts. But even Kentucky hits glitches. The Wildcats are 17-7 this season and unranked by coaches in the USA Today poll.

The real problem comes when you take the chance on short-timers and you have nothing in the pipeline to replace them when they move on. To crawl back up, Romar’s got to either land more elite guys on a yearly basis, or decide to rebuild with “program” guys who are going to be around for the long haul.

Getting caught somewhere in the middle is the problem that plagues this season.

Dave Boling: 253-597-8440 dave.boling@ @DaveBoling

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