Washington’s 78-73 loss to USC on Wednesday in the first round of the Pac-12 tournament signaled the end of the Huskies’ worst men’s basketball season in 23 years.
And the beginning of an offseason that could ultimately shape the future of the program.
Lorenzo Romar has never faced as much scrutiny during his 15-year tenure as head coach as he faces now, and for good reason. The Huskies just completed by far their worst season under Romar, finishing with a 9-22 overall record, a 2-16 mark in league play and on a school-record 13-game losing streak.
Bob Bender never did that. Neither did Lynn Nance or Andy Russo. And the Huskies did it despite the presence of perhaps the nation’s best player, point guard Markelle Fultz, the league’s leading scorer and the projected No. 1 pick in this year’s NBA draft.
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The numbers tell this story. In league play only, the Huskies ranked 10th in the Pac-12 in field-goal percentage, ninth in field-goal percentage defense, last in 3-point shooting, last in free-throw shooting, 11th in assist-to-turnover ratio, 11th in defensive rebounding percentage and 11th in scoring margin. To put it frankly, they were not consistently good at anything except losing.
And yet it seems more likely than not that Romar will be granted the opportunity to return next season — the strength of UW’s incoming recruiting class and Romar’s $3.2 million buyout are the primary reasons — though Romar and UW have both said his future has not yet been decided. Pat Forde of Yahoo reported earlier this week that UW plans to retain Romar, and a source close to the program said Romar is expected to return. But a UW spokesperson said no decision will be made until the administration completes a thorough review of the program, and Romar said Wednesday night that he hasn’t been told “one way or another.”
Romar said he will remain in Las Vegas for a few days to watch former UW star Quincy Pondexter be inducted into the Pac-12 Hall of Honor, then will return to Seattle to begin individual meetings with players. He said he is unaware of any timeframe for his end-of-season meeting with athletic director Jen Cohen.
“I’m not the decision-maker,” Romar said. “I know that our administration and Jen Cohen, they’re very supportive. I do know that, and a decision has to be made. We’ll see what happens.”
If Romar does return for his 16th season at UW, he will coach a recruiting class ranked No. 6 nationally by Scout.com and headlined by five-star forward Michael Porter Jr., who recently led Nathan Hale High School to an undefeated season and the class 3A state championship. Some outlets consider Porter, the son of UW assistant Michael Porter Sr., to be the top recruit in the nation, and it is a near certainty that he would not play for the Huskies if Romar is fired.
Joining Porter are a pair of top-100 players from Garfield High School — guards Jaylen Nowell and Daejon Davis — as well as North Carolina point guard Blake Harris, whom Romar has said will be the best passer he has ever coached. The Huskies’ recruiting class also includes 6-foot-9 forward Mamoudou Diarra, a Mali native who prepped in Missouri and South Carolina.
But perhaps most encouraging for Romar is that UW should finally have a few upperclassmen on its roster, barring defections. Guards David Crisp and Matisse Thybulle and forward Noah Dickerson — three of the four Huskies players who averaged double-figure scoring this season — will be juniors in 2017-18, and UW should also return sophomores-to-be Sam Timmins and Carlos Johnson, both of whom started games this year.
One player who almost certainly will not be back is Fultz. He said he will consult with his mother and UW’s coaches upon returning to Seattle before he announces his NBA draft decision. The process shouldn’t take long. Projected No. 1 picks don’t typically return to school.
Even without Fultz, the Huskies seem to believe next year can be significantly better than the horrendous season they just completed.
This year, Crisp said, added “a lot of fuel to the fire. A lot of motivation to get better, get back to work and get as ready as we can for next season.”
Said Dickerson: “We were always together. We stayed together, winning or losing. We’ve all got each others’ backs. I love these guys for that. And every game, we showed heart and fight. You can’t see that on the stat sheet, but we see it, and we know, and (we’ll) just come back next year ready to go.”
First, they will wait to see if Romar does.