Lorenzo Romar remembers his first visit to McKale Center.
It was during the 1978-79 season — his freshman year as a student-athlete with the Washington Huskies, which was also the same year the Arizona Wildcats joined the Pac-10.
The atmosphere made a lasting impression.
“When you walk into this place,” Romar said, before amending his choice of words. “I’m sorry, when you get off the bus and there’s people around and you see all the red, you see just the buzz that’s going on amongst the people that are going to the game, you know right then the tone is set and you’re about to go on the big stage here.
“Then you come out on the floor and (see) all the fans that are out here”
Fans who Romar called “really knowledgeable.”
“They appreciate good basketball because they’ve been trained to appreciate good basketball because there’s been so much of it here,” he said. “But there’s just a feel and a sense that this is a pretty special place to play.”
Romar has been a regular visitor in McKale Center for decades now. In the ‘70s, he visited as a player at UW. In the ‘90s, he was an assistant coach at UCLA. Then, from 2002-2017, he was the head coach at Washington.
Romar has coached and played against Arizona on nearly a yearly basis, and it’s safe to say he knows a thing or two about Arizona basketball.
And now he is a part of it, as he has officially joined Sean Miller’s staff as an associate head coach.
“Now to be on this side and understand what the (opposing teams) are going through, it should be a lot of fun,” he said.
But while there is already a high level of familiarity between Romar and Arizona basketball, it’s surface level.
Romar knows what Arizona does, but now has to learn why it does what it does. And how it does what it does.
This week he is starting to figure that out.
Romar joined the Wildcats for their two-hour weekly workout, in which he worked with the team’s guards. On the side, he studied film and even joined Miller on the recruiting trail.
“I was able to get out there with them, again trying to learn exactly how they go about doing things,” he said.
“I’m somewhat familiar with Arizona because we’ve played against them so many times and had to scout them. ... I have an idea what they do but why? Why are they doing it? How are you going do teach it and all that stuff? So I’ve been watching some film, asking questions, just trying to get acclimated in that regard.”
One facet of Arizona basketball has already stood out to him.
“Just how fundamentally sound Arizona is,” Romar said. “You watch film and you watch them defensively, you watch what they do offensively, just very fundamentally sound without making a whole lot of mistakes. That’s one of the reasons why they win so many games.”
Romar did not expect to be an assistant coach again at the collegiate level after becoming a head coach in 1996, but Arizona offered a unique opportunity that he could not pass up.
“You want to be, if possible, in a situation where you can compete at the highest level,” he said. “And that’s what Arizona basketball does.”
“Here to help”
Arizona has the third-ranked recruiting class coming in, but Romar isn’t just impressed by the talent coming in, but the character of the players, too.
“One thing I’ve picked up on in these short few days is the type of character Coach Miller and his staff are going after in recruiting,” he said. “That’s been very impressive.”
Romar couldn’t hide his excitement about coaching them, either.
“They’re really good,” he said, purposely understating things. “It’s going to be fun helping coach those guys because of the talent they have.”
The key word there is “helping.” Romar has been an assistant coach before — albeit it was in 1992-1996 — and he knows not to overstep his boundaries.
“I’m here to help. I’m not here to run things,” he said. “There’s someone here that does a fantastic job of running things in Sean Miller, so I’m here to help. On the bench, I’m sure there will be times I will want to jump up, but I know my role, I know my place. I’m here to help.”
Together at last
Romar has known Arizona guard Allonzo Trier since he was “a youngster”, and now finally has the chance to coach him.
“We were hoping (at Washington) we could’ve worked together a couple years ago, but he decided to come here,” said Romar, who tried to lure the Seattle native to UW in 2015.
“This is a kid, and I’ve said it before, as a youngster just had a great love for the game,” Romar said. “There’s a gleam in his eyes when a basketball is in his hand or he’s watching basketball. Anything to do with basketball, there’s a gleam in his eye.
“To be here everyday with him, it’s something that I’m looking forward to.”
The feeling is mutual, as Trier wasn’t exactly shy about expressing his excitement about the Romar hire.
“There are other guys on the team we recruited (at Washington) like Parker [Jackson-Cartwright],” Romar said. “I know him and a couple of the other guys, so walking in the door there is some familiarity.”
“Those are some of the things I won’t get into”
It’s no secret that Romar and Miller have differing views on basketball.
Romar’s teams generally played an uptempo brand of basketball and played a high-risk defense that looked to generate turnovers.
Miller’s teams slow the game down and play conservative, packline defense.
So what type of changes could Romar bring? That remains to be seen.
“Those are some of the things I won’t get into,” Romar said. “But we’ve definitely talked about the philosophy here, the concepts here, how that will all work.”
He added: “The mission he laid out for me was something that was very, very appealing.”
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