Mike Krzyzewski, Tom Izzo, Jim Boeheim, Jim Calhoun, Roy Williams, Bob Huggins, Billy Donovan, Rick Pitino, an..."/> Mike Krzyzewski, Tom Izzo, Jim Boeheim, Jim Calhoun, Roy Williams, Bob Huggins, Billy Donovan, Rick Pitino, an..."/>

Can The Huskies Ever Be A National Powerhouse in Hoops?


Mike Krzyzewski, Tom Izzo, Jim Boeheim, Jim Calhoun, Roy Williams, Bob Huggins, Billy Donovan, Rick Pitino, and yes…even the hated John Calipari. This is just a partial list of the great college basketball coaches in the country. What makes these coaches so admired? Two main things I think… First, the consistency of virtually always getting to the NCAA tournament and second earning those numerous appearances in the Sweet 16 or even occassionally getting to the Final Four.

As expectations have been raised at the University of Washington, after having made 6 of the last 9 NCAA tournaments and 3 Sweet-16s, many of us have been hoping UW could make that next step, advance to the next level, and finally get to a Final Four. We have been hoping to see the consistency of making the tournament the way Lute Olsen took Arizona to 23 straight tournaments. We have been hoping to see one break out year the way West Virginia did in 2010 or Villanova did in 2009 of getting to a Final Four. We’ve been hoping to see Washington finally break away from the pack to become one of the dominant college basketball teams in the west, if not in the country.

Many people feel like perhaps it is an unfair expectation for men’s basketball at the University of Washington to become this consistent powerhouse. It’s a football school after all! We’re way the heck up in the left-most corner of the country. It’s hard to convince recruits to come up here even to visit. Our TV times don’t mesh well with ESPN’s prime time schedule or Sportcenter highlights.  Its rainy and remote.

But, I ask you this; what’s so special about Spokane? What’s so special about Tucson? What’s so special about East Lansing, MI or Morgantown, WV or Madison, WI or Lawrence, KS or Gainesville, FL?

All of these places have

top-notch college basketball programs. Yet, these are all relatively remote locations and none of them are right in the core of a vibrant urban area the way Seattle is. For those who think it is the cloudy gloomy weather that turns the recruits off, let me tell you something about East Lansing, MI. I went to Michigan State University for 2.5 years while getting my Master’s degree and it is cloudier than Seattle! It’s like Seattle without the rain, but with snow instead, and temperatures never rising above freezing for 3 months. Yet, Tom Izzo keeps getting to Final Fours doesn’t he? In fact, while I was there, Tom Izzo was winning a national championship (2000).

In addition, many of these schools are in areas that lack the abundance of local basketball talent that comes out of the Puget Sound area regularly. If you are the coach of Arizona or Kansas, Gonzaga or West Virginia, you don’t get your talent locally, you search across the country! How many NBA level prospects have you heard about coming out of West Virginia or southern Arizona or eastern Kansas in recent years?

Perhaps emulating the approach taken by coaches like Roy Williams, Bill Self, and Lute Olsen, Romar has taken on this national-level recruiting strategy in recent years as well. In fact, he even mentioned it several years ago when talking about why they ended the series with Gonzaga in talking about a “national strategy”. While Lorenzo Romar has certainly done a decent  job of keeping much of the local Seattle area talent at home, he’s also expanded his recruiting searches far-and-wide…to grab players from diverse places like Missouri, Texas, Utah, Louisiana, Georgia, and Illinois.

But, while he has been able to find some nice gems like CJ Wilcox, Elston Turner, and Justin Dentmon, he has not yet landed one of those big time 4 or 5-star recruits that the Duke’s and Kansas’ and Kentucky’s consistently get. The list of recruits Romar has gone after and “almost” gotten is quite long.

The names pop up on the blogs and recruiting websites with regularity, but always seem to end in disappointment. From Terrance Jones to Angelo Chol, Norvelle Pelle to God’s Gift Achiuwa,  Drew Gordon and Jrue Holiday and James Harden all have been near misses. In addition, Romar has lost a number of big name local talent to those schools who recruit nationally including Terrance Williams, Marcus Williams, Marvin Williams, Josh Smith, Peyton Siva, to name a few.

Of course, you’ll never get them all, but the Huskies just can not seem to get over the hump with any of the big names. They always seem “this close” to grabbing that key player that will put them over the top. But, in the end, the Huskies get players who are good, but not difference makers. And, without that difference maker, it’s hard to convince AAU coaches and handlers and parents to convince the kids to make that decision to head north as well.

But, Tom Izzo has a different approach at Michigan State. He doesn’t go coast-to-coast trying to acquire the flashiest players on the recruiting scene. He doesn’t go to all the prep schools and basketball academies from Las Vegas to Connecticut. His focus is on developing local ties and bringing in local talent. He always has an abundance of kids from the state of Michigan and nearby states. His current roster has 8 players from Michigan, 3 from northern Indiana, and one from Ohio.

He goes into the decaying industrial cores of Flint, Saginaw, Lansing, and Detroit and instills a pride in these kids to represent their state and their communities by staying home. There is talent in Michigan, so why spend all your energy trying to grab some primadona from Florida or Texas or New York City, when what you need for team cohesion and chemistry is already in your backyard?

The formula for success at the University of Washington, whether it is in football or basketball or any other sport for that matter, has always been to corral the best players in the state of Washington and then bring in those players from athletically-blessed California who want to get away from home.

Romar has done a decent job keeping many of the top in-state players home. He’s also reached into the Portland market to get Terrance Ross, Andrew Andrews, and almost getting Terrance Jones. But, I am not sure he is getting the best that California has to offer anymore. Currently on the roster all you see is 5th year senior Darnell Gant from Los Angeles and Desmond Simmons from Vallejo.

So, perhaps the path forward for the University of Washington isn’t so much about trying to go the way of Arizona or Connecticut or Kentucky and grab the top players from every corner of the country. The West Coast has enough talent to produce a major basketball powerhouse on its own. Perhaps the real focus should be on making kids in Seattle, Portland, Oakland, and Los Angeles look at the University of Washington as THE destination on the west coast.

With the new Pac-12 network coming, if the player has talent, they’ll get noticed. No NBA-level prospect will go unnoticed in a power conference anymore. Romar has a choice at this critical stage of his career as he attempts to build a legacy at the University of Washington. Will he become the next Tom Izzo and produce a winner with West Coast talent or will he try to become the next Rick Pitino or Jim Calhoun and do it by grabbing players from all over?

Given the difficulties of attracting top notch talent to come all the way up to the cloudy Pacific Northwest over the years, I just don’t see the Jim Calhoun strategy working…