Does One Bad Seed Spoil the Fruit?


People have had their opinions of Venoy Overton for a long time. I’ve watched the blogs for over 3 years and watched how people called him a thug, a gangsta, a cancer, scum. They complained about his tattoos, the way he talked, and stereotyped the urban african-american culture. People have defended him, people have tried to accept him for what he was, people have demurred claiming “we can’t judge him because we don’t know him”.

Well, after the first issue arose, there was a combination of outrage, fake outrage, confusion, and denial. Husky haters used this issue to try and support their somewhat irrational dislike of the University of Washington. They tried to claim Romar was too light on him, whether it was associated with allowing him to remain on the team unpunished while charges had not been filed in February and March, only suspending him from the Pac-10 tournament after the lesser charges were filed, and feigning outrage for him not being kicked off the team completely.

Husky supporters never condoned his activities, but often they did try to equivicate them by saying “all college students supply alcohol to minors”, the girls were “consenting”, and while unethical his actions were not illegal.  Many Husky fans, including myself, also compared Overton’s actions to the three separate marijuana busts of WSU players last year when Cougar fans trolled the Husky boards, as if 4 wrongs make a right?

While there were a few trolls who tried to accuse Romar of coddling and protecting Overton for the benefit of the team, most rational people felt Romar’s actions were completely appropriate. Lorenzo Romar felt he could not act during the regular season because they were only unofficial accusations at that point, with no name actually being released to the public, and no charges being filed. To call Overton out at that point would have denied him due process, the saying went. When the lesser charges were filed, some wanted him off the team completely, but most people felt his suspension for 3 Pac-10 tournament games was appropriate, especially when compared to similar suspensions by other coaches in the Pac-10.

Some, including myself, felt it was inappropriate to let him travel to L.A. for the Pac-10 tournament and be able to celebrate with his teammates, rather than being left behind at school. As a high school basketball coach, I certainly have left players home for much less. But, others felt the best way Romar could keep an eye on him and mentor him toward turning his life around was to have him with the team.

But, wow how things have changed! With the latest charges that have come out, I think everyone’s minds are made up about what kind of character Overton has. His detractors will certainly feel vindicated and emboldened. But, no one who follows Husky sports will be supportive. But, in many ways, Overton’s actions are somewhat irrelevant to Husky basketball now. His eligibility is up, he has graduated, and he will move on with his life, whether it is in prison, overseas, or on the streets of Seattle.

The real question is what impact does this have on Lorenzo Romar and the University of Washington from here on out? The real question is does the bad actions of one player stain the reputation of the coach and university? How responsible are coaches for what players do outside of the court and the classroom? Given the issues that have arisen at USC, Ohio State, and elsewhere, this is certainly an issue getting a lot of attention nowadays.

We fans are always quick to judge programs we dislike based on the actions of the players. Husky fans often point to the numerous arrests, charges, and scandals of players at Oregon, USC, or Washington State. It makes us feel better about ourselves to think they are not winning the right way because they recruit criminals and thugs, that they have to pay them to attend using Nike money, or they are kids who are not real students. When Cliff Harris of Oregon was arrested for driving 118 mph and having $8500 in unpaid traffic fines, many felt this was a blight on Chip Kelly.

We proudly, sometimes arrogantly, promote coaches like Lorenzo Romar and Steve Sarkisian for doing things the “right way” for recruiting good kids who succeed in the classroom as well as the field/court. We tout how they are better mentors than coaches and thus when there is success in sports it is somehow sweeter, but if there is failure it can be rationized because they didn’t play “the game”.

But, when the issues come down on us, those fans of our rivals are quick to point out the issues. None of us are really proud of the program Rick Neuheisel ran, the types of players he recruited, the run-ins with law and the sleezy stuff that came out during his tenure. But, oh did we love that Rose Bowl! The detractors are quick to seize on a Kevario Middleton or a Venoy Overton as evidence UW isn’t really any better and sometimes even worse than they are.

So, can we judge Lorenzo Romar on the actions of one bad seed?

At this stage, I don’t think we can. I believe Romar continues to deserve the benefit of the doubt for running his program the right way and doing everything he can to mentor, teach, and coach these young men to be fine upstanding adults. The evidence continues to point to a man of character who tried to recruit good kids and lead them the right way toward success on and off the court.

But, Romar is not Jesus. He can not work miracles. He is a man who is paid to find the best basketball players he can, win games, satisfy fans and alumni, and bring revenue to the University of Washington. Through those already challenging goals, he also has to find the time to make sure these athletes are good students who get their degrees.

The evidence shows he does just that. Lorenzo Romar has had 23 of the last 25 players who stayed all four years graduate. That rate is significantly higher than the average student at a major four year university who is paying to attend. In fact, the UW basketball team had the highest APR score (980) of any Pac-10 team last year, including Stanford!

By contrast, Bob Huggins did not graduate a single player in 10+ years at the University of Cincinnati! Jim Calhoun has graduated only 22% of his players. Lute Olsen only graduated 22% of his.

In addition, Lorenzo Romar has not had any other player (that I can remember anyways) get arrested, charged, or even accused of a crime since he arrived at UW.  Lorenzo Romar has never been accused of major recruiting violations, paying players, or any other sleezy deals. John Calipari has had two Final Fours vacated.

Sometimes coaches take a chance on players. Sometimes coaches take a player who doesn’t have a stellar academic record and hope that they can find ways to turn them around in the classroom. Isaiah Thomas had to go to prep school just to get eligible and ended up with the highest GPA on the team and just 2 quarters from a degree before leaving early for the NBA.

Sometimes coaches take players with not so distinguished backgrounds and behaviors and hope they can mentor them and turn their lives around. I am a high school teacher and Lord knows I have tried to help trouble kids more times than I can remember. But, you know what?

You can’t reach them all! That is the truth. You will have failures. You will have students/players who fall through the cracks. Romar tried to mentor and help Overton. But, it was Venoy who chose to go his own direction. For that we should not blame Romar, we should blame Overton. Do not punish Romar for taking a chance. Judge him on the patterns of his program. Judge him by how many graduate, how many live successful and honest lives, how many we can be proud of to call players at the University of Washington. If Romar has a failure rate of 1 out of 50 players, isn’t that what we want from a coach and mentor?