What is and what might have been will sit on opposite benches tonight at Hec Edmundson Pavilion.
The former is coach Lorenzo Romar and his ninth University of Washington team, which is ranked 23rd in The Associated Press men’s basketball poll.
The latter is Dan Monson, coach of visiting Long Beach State, but who once seemed on the verge of taking the Washington job that eventually went to Romar.
In 2002, Monson was the hot-item coach at Minnesota who had moved from Gonzaga after leading the Bulldogs to the 1999 NCAA tournament round of eight. The Huskies, meanwhile, were looking to replace Bob Bender after an 11-18 season.
For a time, it seemed that then-athletic director Barbara Hedges had convinced Monson to relocate back to Washington. However, after some waffling, he decided to remain in the Big Ten Conference.
“If I had a crystal ball, when Barbara Hedges talked to me, it might have been a different conversation we had in those days,” Monson said Monday after his 49ers practiced at Hec Ed. “ I remember when Barbara and I were talking and looking at it, and at that point Minnesota had had one losing season in 15 years, and this place had had maybe three winning seasons. Minnesota was averaging 15,000-13,000 people, (Washington) was averaging 3,000 people at that time.”
Monson’s rejection forced Hedges further down her coaching list, which finally led her to Romar, who was then the coach at St. Louis University.
“I never felt that she was really serious,” Romar recalled Monday. “I felt that I was an alum, I was currently coaching. People tell me that there were others that were ahead of me. I don’t know what happened. But I never felt that she was really serious until she called me (and asked) ‘Are you ready to be the new coach at the University of Washington?’ ”
Apparently he was.
Romar is 174-93 early in his ninth season at UW, 3-2 this season after back-to-back losses to then No. 8 Kentucky and No. 2 Michigan State last week at the Maui Invitational.
Meanwhile, Monson went 118-105 over seven-plus seasons with the Gophers before resigning after a 2-5 start in 2006.
He resurfaced at Long Beach State in 2007 and has gone 41-59. However, his second team was better than his first, and his third team was better than his second.
This season, the 49ers are 3-3, including a win over Iowa.
As he did at Gonzaga, Monson is trying to prepare his team for league play and postseason success by taking on an ambitious nonconference schedule. His teams have played at Duke, Kentucky, Syracuse and Texas.
And now they’re visiting Washington, which Monson believes is in the class of any of those.
“I felt (UW’s 106-63 win over Virginia in the first round at Hawaii) was the best game I had seen anybody play during the early season,” he said. “Now, does that mean they’re going to win the national championship? No, but I think if it would have been played that day, there was nobody who played better in the preseason than they did against Virginia. And even the Kentucky and Michigan State game proves that they are at an elite level, because those games were one-possession games. They (showed) that they can play with anybody in the country.”
Monson admitted his current program hasn’t been built to the point of the Gonzaga program he left, or of the Washington program he could have led.
But in a single game in late November, that may not be necessary.
“We don’t have to play them for a national championship, or we don’t have to play them 20 times,” he said. “We just need (tonight) to hopefully hang in there. ... We’re not deep now (but) my five starters have all started for three years or so, so we have a little bit of experience. ... They’ve played in a lot of these kinds of environments, and hopefully I think if it gets out of hand (tonight), it will be because Washington did their thing. Hopefully, it won’t be because we came in here and got intimidated and afraid.”