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December 14, 2005

Washington cherises national status

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SEATTLE - Brandon Roy was thinking about going straight from high school to the NBA in 2002 when his father, Tony, started discussing the merits of playing for his hometown University of Washington instead.

Tony Roy saw was an opportunity for his son. Washington coach Bob Bender had just been fired after his third consecutive losing season. And unknown entity Lorenzo Romar was on his way in from Saint Louis to try to resuscitate the Huskies.

"He told me, 'Duke had to start somewhere. Why not help Washington?"' Brandon Roy recalled Tuesday.

Just three years after Roy listened to his father's suggestion, the senior and his Huskies are entering Duke's elite national level. Roy said Washington was "disrespected" last month when it was unranked in the preseason. Now the Huskies (8-0) are ranked 11th after getting off to their best start in 30 years.

This comes one season after they finished 29-6, won their first Pac-10 Conference tournament championship and earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament for the first time.

They lost three starters from that team - including the forceful, often astounding Nate Robinson - yet are ranked higher than they were entering the last March's postseason.

"It is mind-boggling," said Roy, Robinson's successor as team leader. "To actually see all the hard work that you have done pay off, to see the program where it is today, it's incredible."

The pressing, run-and-gun Huskies lead the nation in scoring at 96.4 points per game. Their 81-71 win last Saturday over New Mexico in the Wooden Classic was their lowest scoring output of the season.

It was also closer than usual. They have won by a national-best average of 26.5 points - even though they start two freshmen: point guard Justin Dentmon and forward Jon Brockman.

Washington has done this without playing a true road game away from Hec Edmundson Pavilion, where it owns the nation's longest home winning streak of 29 games. The only one of its 11 nonconference games outside Seattle was Saturday's at the quiet neutral court of Anaheim's Arrowhead Pond.

So, no, Romar isn't as surprised with his team as the rest of the country may be.

"Not being arrogant at all, but being realistic, I'd be more surprised if we lost two or three," Romar said.

As senior forward Bobby Jones said: "We feel we can't lose at home."

Especially while playing only one ranked team outside of the Pac-10 - No. 10 Gonzaga. Washington beat the Zags in a 99-95 thriller Dec. 4. The rest of the non-conference lineup has included or will include not-so-mighty Morgan State, American, Idaho, Eastern Washington and Cornell.

But Romar isn't about to apologize for a schedule that has helped him develop Dentmon, Brockman and freshman post man Artem Wallace.

It has also allowed the discovery an inside scoring force in Jamaal Williams (averaging 14.9 points per game, second to Roy's 16.1), a 3-point shooting whiz in sophomore transfer Ryan Appleby (45 percent from long range) and an unexpected scoring and rebounding boost in reserve Hans Gasser.

The Huskies have nine players averaging at least 14 minutes of playing time.

"I mean, Syracuse does it every year," Romar said of the cozy schedule early. "It is not uncommon for major teams of the high-powered conferences to play many games at home. It's just new for us.

"We didn't set out to say, 'Every game is at home and let's play only one team that is in the Top 25,"' he said. A game planned against North Carolina fell through when Bremerton, Wash., native Marvin Williams left the Tar Heels for the NBA last summer.

"But the way it worked out, I wouldn't change it."

Yet Romar knows the nation may be generously assessing his still-developing Huskies.

"Maybe it gives you an unrealistic feel for where you are at this point," he said.

After Washington plays Eastern Washington (4-3) Friday, Lehigh (5-6) visits seven days later. That is when the Huskies are expecting senior forward Mike Jensen to play for the first time this season after September surgery on a dislocated left shoulder.

The conference tests begin Dec. 29 at home against Arizona State, which lost at home to Utah Valley State last weekend. No. 24 Arizona comes to Seattle Dec. 31.

Until then, Roy is enjoying the ride while it lasts.

"We know the Pac-10 is going to be different," Roy said. "I keep telling the young guys, 'Trust me, it's not going to be that easy."'

For more coverage of the Washington Huskies, check out HuskyDigest.com.

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