Halfway through his five-year NBA playing career, Lorenzo Romar started tallying up his point total off the court and found it didn’t add up to much.
“My household wasn’t perfect,” he said.
Drinking, smoking, partying — it was fun, but with a certain emptiness to it all. So the new Arizona associate head coach, who will be formally introduced Thursday in McKale Center, started picking up a Bible and reading it.
Initially, he found that depressing, too.
“I thought the Bible was saying to me that no matter how good I did, I wouldn’t reach God’s standard,” Romar said.
But Romar continued reading, and said he eventually realized he didn’t have to be perfect as long as he put Christianity first. So Romar said at age 25, he and his wife, Leona, did just that.
“From that point on, the Lord took on a whole new meaning,” Romar said. “It wasn’t just about when I die … (in life) there would be peace.”
That notion was tested severely a month ago. After 15 years as Washington’s head coach, having developed 12 NBA draft picks but reaching only six NCAA Tournaments, Romar was fired.
The University of Washington, where Romar played in 1978-79 and 1979-80 as a junior college transfer from inner-city Los Angeles, had made him financially secure. He was making $1.7 million annually at the time of his dismissal, when Washington also handed him a $3.2 million buyout check.
But all that money couldn’t cover up a crushed spirit.
Faith did, instead.
“I would be bitter” without it, Romar said. “I would be critical. I wouldn’t have handled it very well.
“But what I do understand — I really believe this; I can’t really be upset at the athletic director — is that we didn’t do well at the end. I tried. My staff tried. We didn’t do well. I really believed God was in control of the situation and that I’m moving to a different place. I wasn’t happy, but at the same time, if I really believe God, how can I be upset with a human?”
It appeared to be a difficult move for Washington AD Jen Cohen to make, too. Popular Seattle radio host Dave Mahler of KJR even called it the toughest decision in Washington athletics history, and Cohen praised Romar for his “integrity and class” during her announcement of his firing.
But, yes, there was that bottom line. Washington was 9-22 overall and 2-16 in the Pac-12 last season, failing to make the NCAA Tournament for a sixth straight year.
Even with Romar’s considerable equity in Seattle — the Huskies captured two Pac-12 titles and reached three NCAA Tournaments between 2008-09 and 2011-12 — that wouldn’t cut it.
“Obviously the performance on the court is an issue, right, but it’s more how are we going to get better?” Cohen said, according to a Seattle Times transcription of the event. “I think what I was looking for this year was a trajectory that was maybe trending up and a little bit more improvement than what I saw.
“Ultimately, I just weighed a lot of different factors and then decided that it just made sense to me — and I feel very confident about this — that a leadership change was necessary for us to build the … championship culture that we’re looking for.”
Romar thought he had such a culture going. A former UW, NBA and Athletes in Action guard who was an assistant coach for UCLA’s 1995 national championship team, Romar took over the Huskies in 2002 after three-year head-coaching stints at Pepperdine (1996-99) and Saint Louis (1999-2002).
Soon afterward, Romar began all but roping off Seattle’s considerable talent to outside recruiters, putting a long list of locals through his program and into the NBA, guys such as Nate Robinson, Brandon Roy, Spencer Hawes, Jon Brockman, Isaiah Thomas, Tony Wroten and Dejounte Murray.
Between those guys and the occasional talent from elsewhere — such as Sacramento’s Marquese Chriss (now playing for the Suns) and Maryland’s Markelle Fultz (the likely No. 1 or 2 pick in this year’s NBA draft) — the Huskies have been regularly represented at the NBA draft podium, the place every top recruit dreams of standing.
But, in some ways, Romar traces his own downfall to trying to extend that trend too far. He began investing recruiting resources and keeping spots open for five-star talents from outside Seattle who never showed up.
Guys like Terrance Jones, who appeared unconvincing when he put on a Washington hat at an April 2010 news conference announcing his college choice … and three weeks later decided to play at Kentucky instead, at the tail end of the recruiting season.
Or Aaron Gordon, whose father grew up in Los Angeles with Romar and has called Romar a “guardian angel” to his kids. Gordon, of course, chose Arizona in March 2013 and then spent the 2013-14 season with Arizona before becoming the No. 4 overall pick of the 2014 NBA draft.
“It was very difficult to go through that,” Romar said. “We had made a couple of calculated risks and it didn’t pan out.”
Romar tried to play it safer in recent years, but in 2015-16 watched Murray and Chriss blow up into first-round prospects as freshmen and leave right away, leaving the Huskies lacking veteran talent even as Fultz came in with one-and- done potential last season.
While Romar knew Fultz would likely leave this spring, he had most everyone else returning in 2017-18 to go with a loaded recruiting class that was led by one of 2018’s best two players in Michael Porter Jr. (the other being Arizona signee DeAndre Ayton).
Romar thought 2017-18 could be different. Better.
But he’ll never know now.
“We finally got in position to where we were back to where we wanted (in recruiting) and with guys coming back that we thought would be really good,” Romar said. “This was the first time we had a great class coming in but also veterans back. We were counting on these guys.
“For a while, my mind was fixed on, ‘Yeah, this year is tough but next year we’re all back.’”
Since Romar was fired, the Huskies lost Porter and guard Blake Harris to Missouri while guard Daejon Davis asked out of his letter of intent to go to Stanford. (New Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin had hired Porter’s father as an assistant coach, after he was an assistant for Romar’s UW staff last season).
Of the Huskies’ potential returnees, forwards Noah Dickerson and Matthew Atewe are shopping around for a new home after seeking a transfer.
And Romar, meanwhile, has traded U-Dub purple for UA red.
While Romar told the Seattle Times shortly after his firing that being a college assistant probably “wouldn’t be something I would look to do right now,” he said talks earlier this month with friendly Pac-12 coaching rival Sean Miller changed all that.
Now, Romar says “15 years is a long time to be a head coach at a BCS school,” and says being able to stay so long at Washington was “awesome.”
Now, Romar says he’ll still be coaching and mentoring, just in a much different role at a different place.
He’s OK with that.
There’s a plan, he says, even if it’s not always his.
“Since I’ve gotten into coaching, I’m competitive, I’m very passionate,” Romar said. “But in terms of how I teach people to do things the right way, that is driven by my relationship with the Lord. I believe the Bible is God’s manual on how to live the right away.
“I can’t tell you how many times that’s helped.”