As an opposing player and coach, Lorenzo Romar has been walking in and out of McKale Center since 1979.
He’s known Allonzo Trier since UA’s leading scorer was about 8 years old. And he’s plotted against the Wildcats for years as Washington’s head coach.
But there were still things about the Arizona program Romar couldn’t see until he slipped on the inside, starting work as UA’s new associate head coach this week. He picked up some UA gear, including a “Wildcat basketball never stops” T-shirt he called “pretty sweet,” worked some guys out and dug into film study.
“We had to scout them (at UW), so I had an idea of what they do, but it was why. Why are you doing that? How you gonna teach it and all that stuff?” Romar said Thursday at his introductory news conference in McKale Center. “I’ve been watching film, asking questions, trying to get acclimated in that regard.”
Romar has already had a chance to work in one of the two-hour small group drills allowed in the offseason, working with Trier and other UA guards and saying the Wildcats’ fundamentals jumped out at him.
“It’s just how sound Arizona is,” Romar said. “You watch film, and you watch them defensively, you watch what they do offensively, they’re just very fundamentally sound without making a whole lot of mistakes.”
During his 20-minute media appearance Thursday, Romar said repeatedly that he is around to absorb that framework and help within it, not impose unsolicited beliefs.
Even if he is 10 years older than UA coach Sean Miller and has been a head coach for 21 years, the last 15 at Washington.
“I’m not here to run things,” Romar said. “There’s someone here who does a fantastic job of running them here in Sean Miller. So I’m here to help. On the bench, I’m sure there will be times I want to jump up but I know my role. I know my place.”
UA center Dusan Ristic, having faced Romar four times in Arizona-Washington matchups, was glad to see him jump aboard.
“I’ve heard all the best things about Coach Romar,” Ristic said Wednesday night at UA’s awards ceremony. “I met him two days ago and he’s one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met in my life. He’s going to help not only me, but the rest of the team. He was head coach at Washington, but he accepted this role and I think it’s a great thing for us.”
Romar, 58, said he was interested in being a head coach in the future but wasn’t focused on that now. He said he has seen many assistants, especially those who haven’t been head coaches, get so anxious to take a head coaching job that they’ll grab one that may not be a great situation.
“I am not coming here thinking, ‘OK, I’ll put up with this for a few months so that I can ... No. That’s not my train of thought. I’m here and locked in and we’ll just go and see what happens. I’m not in a hurry to get away from this situation.”
Romar declined to detail how his role will break down, or if Miller might absorb any of his coaching philosophies. He said he’s the one who plans to absorb the most, that “there’s no doubt” he will learn from Miller and his other staffers.
While Romar is expected to play a heavy role in UA’s West Coast recruiting efforts, he wouldn’t go that far, either. Especially when it came to his old backyard.
“It was never communicated to me by Coach Miller that, ‘we’re bringing you in because we want you to get the Seattle kids,’” Romar said.
Eventually, he may anyway. Romar said it will be a “different experience” if he is recruiting top Seattle-area players for Arizona — potentially against his old employer — but that “anybody would understand we’re all trying to be the best we can be.”
Romar has already experienced some difficulty in recruiting — that is, each time he called the members of his heralded 2017 recruiting class — most of which dissipated after his firing last month.
“None of those were fun conversations,” Romar said. “I talked to all of them. I tried to encourage them that they had something special going. I would try to get a feel for what they were thinking at the time.”
Romar will begin recruiting on the road this weekend for Arizona and, of course, that process will never stop.
In between, he’ll likely spend much of the spring and summer working with the returning and incoming Wildcats, learning more of the secrets behind the UA program and why McKale Center can be a pretty tough place to play.
From the outside, Romar knows that maybe better than anyone. When playing his first game in McKale, for UCLA back in January of 1979, Romar was on the losing end. He also lost in 11 of the 14 games he coached the Huskies in Tucson.
Now, he’s hoping to help inflict that sort of trouble on somebody else.
“When you get of the bus, and you see all the red and blue, just kind of the buzz among people that are going to the game, you know right then — the tone is set and you’re about to go on a big stage here,” Romar said of McKale Center. “There’s just a feel and a sense that this is a pretty special place to play. So now to be on this side and understand what the other side is going through should be a lot of fun.”