Even on nights when he was tired, worried about losses, the next day’s issue, Lorenzo Romar would keep his phone on when he went to bed.
In the past three years, the Huskies’ coach had only turned it off twice before retiring. He feared – anticipated, really – that it would ring in the middle of the night.
On Saturday, Feb. 2, around 2 a.m., the expected but unwanted call came. His mother, Dorothy, 74, had died.
Each season has presented specific challenges to Romar. In the midst of this year’s tumble during Pacific-12 Conference play, when the Huskies lost seven of eight, he had the added jolt of a personal loss.
Romar told his wife and daughters. That was it. No one else knew when the Huskies played and beat Arizona State, 96-93, at home later the same day.
Ten days prior to the call, Romar had seen his mom. Because of the onset of dementia, she had a hard time recognizing him. Her health had steadily deteriorated to the point that caregivers at the Long Beach, Calif., assisted-living community where she lived had begun to thicken water just so she wouldn’t choke while drinking.
By coincidence, Washington made its Los Angeles swing the next week. That allowed Romar to begin scheduling funeral arrangements, but he kept that to himself, too.
The Huskies went to Los Angeles to face UCLA, which they play today to end the regular season, and Romar continued to not let on.
He had two reasons for the silence.
First, he didn’t want to inconvenience anyone.
“I think one of my many flaws is that I don’t like to impose on people,” Romar said. “I don’t like to put people out. Sometimes people don’t know what to say. Sometimes it’s awkward.
“People have their own lives and it’s weird because if someone wouldn’t tell me that, I would be ticked. I would want to know and try to do whatever I could to help. It’s not a macho thing, like I’m a man and I can deal with it. I just don’t like to impose on anyone, so I just didn’t tell anyone.”
The second was because of what happened in 1995 at the Kingdome.
Romar was an assistant for a loaded UCLA team led by the O’Bannon brothers, Ed Jr. and Charles. Six players from that team would eventually be drafted.
The Bruins beat Oklahoma State at the Final Four in Seattle to move on to the championship game. During the floor celebration, Ed O’Bannon Sr. sidled up to Romar. They had known each other a long time, since O’Bannon was a UPS driver and the Romar’s home was on his route.
“I think your dad is having a heart attack,” O’Bannon told him.
Romar went back into the stands to see what was happening. His father had been sweating a lot during the game, enough that Lorenzo’s daughters asked their granddad if he was OK.
Turns out Davis Romar had suffered a stroke and was eventually transported out of the arena on a stretcher to Harborview Medical Center. He was in serious condition and underwent two operations.
Because it occurred during the Final Four, a prominent event, the health of Romar’s father became a story line while UCLA prepared to face Arkansas in the national title game. Davis would never walk again and died six years later in 2001 at age 67.
It was a sobering memory. And when his mom passed, he didn’t care to go public again.
“I said, ‘Nah, this time I won’t,’ ” Romar said. “Not that you don’t appreciate (people’s well-wishing). I just decided this time I’d keep it to myself.”
Washington traveled to Romar’s home digs in L.A. – he grew up in Compton, Calif. – to take on UCLA. Larry Drew II hit a step-back jumper just before the horn went off to give the Bruins a 59-57 win. Dorothy Romar’s funeral was the next morning.
Romar told his assistants to be sure everyone was up and organized at the hotel without him.
That was the first they heard of Dorothy’s death. He went to the funeral, came back and coached practice the Friday after losing to the Bruins.
Those circumstances, and Dorothy’s passing, became known when longtime friend and television announcer Marques Johnson reported them during that Sunday night’s broadcast of the game between Washington and USC.
Romar still hasn’t told his players. And, he still feels the 2011 season, when point guard Venoy Overton was accused of rape putting the program under criticism and scrutiny, was his most difficult year at Washington.
Overton was eventually charged with furnishing alcohol to a minor, a misdemeanor, before finding trouble again after his UW career ended.
Romar wonders now how much Overton’s off-court actions affected one of his deepest and most talented teams.
Washington went on a three-game losing streak around the time the allegations against Overton came to light. That stumble hurt its NCAA tournament seeding, which led to it playing a stacked Tar Heels team in the third round in North Carolina.
North Carolina narrowly won, 86-83, to eliminate Washington. The Tar Heels eventually lost in the Elite Eight to a Kentucky squad the Huskies had hung with earlier in the year at the Maui Invitational.
Each season’s difficulties vary. From rough starts to injuries to horrid off-court judgment, Romar has navigated a variety in his 11 seasons at Washington.
This season was no different.