The University of Washington men’s basketball team is riding high these days. They had a big win last weekend, and are currently in third place in the Pac-12 Conference. That’s quite a change from a year ago.
KNKX sports commentator Art Thiel talked with Morning Edition host Kirsten Kendrick about what’s been going on.
"It's one of the most dramatic turnarounds in Seattle sports history in one season," Thiel said.
He credits, to some degree, the graciousness of former coach Lorenzo Romar. He was fired last year after 15 seasons.
Romar returned to the University of Washington last weekend as an assistant coach for Pac-12-leading Arizona. The Wildcats lost to the Huskies.
"No one had any expectations for this team (this season) because it had lost its final 13 games to finish 9-22 last year," Thiel said.
"Some of the players were ready to leave. Noah Dickerson, the 6'8" forward, was ready to transfer. But Romar appealed to Dickerson and the other holdovers from his team to stay at Washington."
"He had no reason to do that. But Romar is an alum. He spent 15 years at Washington," Thiel said. "And he was so gracious in his departure and so willing to give (new coach Mike) Hopkins a hand with trying to keep the players at Washington. And it worked."
Hopkins' Impact Quite Visible
Thiel says Hopkins, in his first year at Washington following a career as the assistant coach at Syracuse, has brought two things to Washington that have been very instrumental in their success.
"One is a high level of energy and engagement - both a goofiness and vulnerability," Thiel laughed.
"The other thing he brought was the 2-3 zone defense, which is something that Syracuse have been famous for for 30 years."
"The Huskies are the second or third best in the country in defending the three-pointer. Most teams don't play against the 2-3 zone so well executed," he said. "And Washington, with lesser talent, has a greater chance to stay in a game than with any other kind of defense."
"As a consequence, they are doing so well and they've got a real good chance to make the NCAA tournament for the first time in six years."
"And both Lorenzo Romar and Mike Hopkins deserve an equal share of the credit."