University of Washington

John McGrath: Nigel Williams-Goss’ exit from UW is a true mystery

Among the many other accolades given to Washington men’s basketball coach Lorenzo Romar, a poll once named him “the coach opposing players would most want to play for” in the conference then known as the Pac-10.

I was reminded of that distinction Thursday upon learning Huskies sophomore point guard Nigel Williams-Goss was planning to leave school. The flattering realization that opposing players admire you means nothing if your best player isn’t on board with you.

Had Williams-Goss announced his intention to turn pro Thursday, it would have been a bummer but not a blow. News of Willliams-Goss’ apparent dismay with the Washington basketball program was a blow — the latest in a succession of setbacks for a coach whose season literally unraveled overnight.

On Dec. 28, the Huskies were 11-0, ranked No. 13 in the nation, and going places. On Dec. 29, they were 11-1, sorting out a home upset at the hands of the Stony Brook Seawolves. Next came forward Jernard Jarreau suffering a knee injury for the second time in two years.

Then came the dismissal of Robert Upshaw, a shot-blocking center with NBA potential and personal issues that could mitigate that NBA potential, and the team’s formidable interior presence was reduced to a memory.

March was maddening — a first-round elimination from the conference tournament meant a fourth consecutive absence from the NCAA tournament — and April has been downright cruel. The month began with the resignation of top recruiter T.J. Otzelberger, who announced he was returning to Iowa State.

Otzelberger is a Midwest native and former assistant of Cyclones coach Fred Hoiberg, but, still ...

There was a reason Otzelberger left Iowa State for Washington, and there’s a reason he determined Iowa State to be preferable to Washington.

There’s a reason, too, why Williams-Goss appears more willing to sit out a season elsewhere than retain his role as the Huskies’ floor leader. I hesitate to speculate on his motivations — as the father of three kids around his age, all I know is that I don’t know much — and the vague details regarding the transfer only contribute to the mystery.

But it is a mystery. Unlike Upshaw, whose troubles at Fresno State foreshadowed further troubles at Washington, Williams-Goss embodies the NCAA ideal of student-athlete. His grade-point average — 3.7 — might be more impressive than his solid basketball game averages: 15.6 points, 5.9 assists, 4.7 rebounds.

Romar rolled the dice on Upshaw and lost. There was no such gamble with Williams-Goss, a high-school All-American and pillar-of-the-team type seemingly destined to be campus/community pillar.

Or not.

Clay Dade, who calls himself a “sports executive” — he runs summer basketball camps — was first to tweet Thursday that Williams-Goss called it quits at the UW. According to Dade, the point guard has already has heard from UNLV and Arkansas, and there’s “no doubt” many more schools will be in the mix.

Nationally syndicated sports-talk radio host Doug Gottlieb, citing sources he declined to identify, tweeted that Williams-Goss’ frustration is rooted in a “lack of cohesion” with teammates and coaches.

Washington, meanwhile, provided no verification of those reports other than the obvious: Williams-Goss is “evaluating his options.”

As for Romar, I keep hoping he’ll hear some good news, or at least enjoy a week or two of solitude, removed from news that doesn’t require him to put on a brave face in the wake of the departures of his top assistant and his best player.

Romar is not a perfect basketball coach, but the way he carries himself — with humility, dignity, and a smile that suggests there’s a solution to every crisis — is pretty close to perfect.

He doesn’t berate his players in front of fans, and he doesn’t cuss officials. He doesn’t cuss at all, come to think of it, and think of it: This is a coach capable of exercising uncommon discipline.

If I could be reborn as a 6-foot-3 sophomore point guard with the skills to pass and shoot and rebound, looking at two more years of college eligibility, I’d sign off on two more years of Lorenzo Romar as my coach. I’d sign off on that in a heartbeat.

But, hey, to each his own.

Something obviously didn’t work out between Williams-Goss and Romar — a “lack of cohesion” pretty much sums it up — and the Huskies will move on, empowered by the smile of their almost-perfect coach.

There’s a word to describe Romar’s short-leash challenge to put the Huskies into the NCAA tournament next season, or else face presumable unemployment. He’d never say the word, but I can and I will.