Midway through the second half of Washington’s 104-67, rope-a-dope pummeling of its Ivy League visitors from Penn on Saturday, Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar gave senior guard Andrew Andrews a well-earned breather.
The substitution of Dejounte Murray for Andrews put five freshman on the floor, and I couldn’t help but recall the sensation another team created when five freshmen played together in 1992. With their black socks, baggy shorts hanging below the knees and a flair for turning every fast break into a highlight, Michigan’s Fab Five became college basketball’s version of hip-hop royalty.
During the 23 years since the Fab Five announced its presence with a shout, the notion of a freshmen quintet isn’t as startling. Kentucky, for instance, won the 2013 national championship with a lineup that usually included five first-year starters.
And yet, watching the likes of Murray, Marquese Chriss, Matisse Thybulle, David Crisp and Noah Dickerson execute on both ends of the floor with full-throttle enthusiasm, I remembered that Romar was present at the creation of the Fab Five. Upon retiring from the NBA, the former guard traveled to Michigan on an exhibition tour with Athletes In Action and dropped 45 on the Wolverines.
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So, coach, any temptation to connect the dots?
“There’s no parallels with the Fab Five. That was a unique group,” he said. “We are not the Fab Five. OK, moving along …
“There’s something about the excitement of youth. These guys aren’t cool. They don’t go out and think: I don’t want to play too hard because people are watching. They feel it is cool to play hard. Not every freshmen group is like that.”
There’s a lot to like about the 2015 UW recruiting class that Rivals.com has ranked No. 6 in the country. (Michigan’s 1992 class, with four players considered Top 10 talents out of high school, was the best ever assembled.) To a man, the Huskies’ freshmen are physically acrobatic and mentally tough.
But the virtue most endearing to Romar is a competitive spirit necessary to sustain the kind of 40-minute attack that overwhelmed the Quakers. Washington took a 16-0 lead — its second such barrage in two games — and never stopped hustling because, well, hustling is cool.
“This is a unique group of kids,” he said. “We were able to see that from Day One, in the summer, when the guys took their visits. They interacted with each other right away.”
The freshmen-rich Huskies — there are eight on a roster of 15 — weren’t immune to making mistakes typically associated with freshmen Saturday. Imaginative, no-look passes sometimes ended up as no-chance-to-catch passes; they were whistled for 29 fouls, and their eagerness to crash the defensive boards resulted in an occasional open look for an opponent’s three-point shot.
But there’s something exciting afoot at Hec Edmundson Pavilion. A plodding team that had trouble forcing turnovers and scoring last season has evolved into a team that exerts full-court pressure and creates turnovers. And whenever there’s a turnover, it’s the Huskies’ cue to embark on a fun run.
“People watch us play and talk about up-tempo,” Romar said. “Sometimes that suggests you’re not disciplined. I will argue with anyone that slowing it down and playing deliberately doesn’t take as much discipline as playing up-tempo.
“You have to run the entire time. You have to be in the lanes, denying. You have to pressure the ball, be in the right position, and you have to do this the entire time.”
In other words, you have to be in synch with your teammates. Although Washington’s four freshmen starters arrived at Montlake from disparate points — Chriss from California, Dickerson from Georgia, Thybulle and Murray from the Seattle area — they exude the sense that they’ve been playing games together since they were toddlers.
But there still is some work to do on that front. Next up for the Huskies is a Wednesday morning match against Gonzaga in the Bahamas, an assignment more meaningful for some than others.
Murray, a Rainier Beach product, can’t wait to participate in the rebooted rivalry.
“I’m glad this game is back,” he said. “Growing up, I used to watch this game. I know how big this rivalry is.”
Countered Dickerson: “I’m from Atlanta, in SEC country. I didn’t know about Washington-Gonzaga or anything like that. It’s another game, another name on the schedule, so let’s get after it.”
The honest words of a true freshman, among several on a team in a hurry to go places.