March 4, 2006

The seniors recall their Husky highlights

One of the most successful classes in Washington history attempts today to do something few Husky teams have done before-win at the University of Arizona. With the 2004 triumph in Tucson, the then-sophomore trio of Brandon Roy, Mike Jensen, and Bobby Jones became just the second UW squad in 21 years to return victorious from southern Arizona. This group of seniors, with the addition of transfer Jamaal Williams and walk-on Zane Potter, has already written their name in the Husky record books. Their credits include the first win at Pauley Pavilion in 19 years and the longest home winning streak in school history.

On the final Saturday of the regular season we here at Husky Digest celebrate one of the winningest senior classes in the Washington annals. Their 71 combined wins over the last three seasons is the most since 1951-53 when a span of 77 wins culminated in a trip to the Final Four. They have made inroads against the two most successful Pac-10 programs, claiming three consecutive wins over UCLA for the first time since 1952 and five wins over Arizona in the last seven showdowns.

Over the last 10 days each of the seniors shared some of their favorite memories in the purple and gold. While several of them stressed that their UW scrapbook still has several pages to fill with highlights, their favorite flashbacks are like a tour of the greatest hits, as memorable as that "Husky Fever" theme song from the late Seventies.

"I think my favorite would probably be beating Stanford when they were undefeated and ranked No. 1 (March 6, 2004)," said Jensen, whose game has taken flight recently despite dislocating the same wing twice. After leading the Huskies in 3-point FG percentage as a sophomore (.414), Jensen has been lighting it up this season at .444 clip. "Watching the guys beat Gonzaga this year was great. Winning the Alaska Shootout and turning the program around. That's an amazing thing whenever you go from 10-20 to 20-10. There's been too many (memories) to count."

Potter, a Dawg Pack favorite for his Captain Everyman appeal, said he'll cherish the camaraderie of his teammates, as well as what they've all accomplished. "There's just a sense of pride knowing that I was, albeit not a large part, a small part of the turnaround for Husky basketball because for the looks of it, it looks like it will continue to be a top program," said Potter, who acknowledged feeling the students' love when he checks in.

The walk-on from Boring, Ore., who turned out for basketball after a year with the crew team, was asked what was next for him. "I'm going to forego my final year of eligibility and declare myself for the NBA draft," he joked.

Jamaal Williams, who transferred from New Mexico following his sophomore season, noted the difference in environments. At the Pit in Albuquerque, the crowd around the court is comprised of boosters only, with the students' energy somewhat lost in the rafters.

"To come here and be in a student section where they're loud and packed out, and camping out before the game, it feels good," said the native of Corona, Calif. "It's great to know that people are excited about watching you play."

Roy has proven himself to be not just the best player in Seattle, but amongst the conference and national elite. He is the odds-on favorite to become the first Husky since Chris Welp in 1986 to win the Pac-10 Player of the Year. The Garfield grad's list of favorite highpoints was almost as long as his list of honors.

"The win against No. 9 Arizona my sophomore year, that was like our first big win over a ranked team since I've been in college-the fans rushed the floor-that was pretty exciting. Nate's (last-second) shot at Oregon State-the shot that kind of turned around our (2004) season and got us going the last few years here," said Roy, who has been instrumental in the Huskies going 66-15 since the Jan. 17, 2004 overtime win in Corvallis. "The No. 1 seed-to get a No. 1 seed, that's incredible."

Jones, the first official recruit of the Lorenzo Romar era, remembered several late-season accomplishments.

"When we beat Stanford at home when they were undefeated, to give them that first loss as late as March, that was such a statement game. We need that game so bad to get into the NCAA Tournament," Jones said of the group's first trip to the Big Dance. "Another one would be last year's Senior Night when we beat No. 8 Arizona because there was so much at stake in that one.

"I can always say the Senior Nights. Just to see that we won and the seniors (past and present) went out on top and it helped us out in with our position. It's always a memorable experience."

This afternoon Jones and Co. have a chance to add to their Senior Day scrapbook. Traditionally, Tucson has been a tombstone for the Huskies. And coach Lute Olson believes the Wildcats are playing their best basketball of the season. His 'Cats will have special red uniforms for their Senior Day game, with the entire McKale Center crowd encouraged to wear red as well.

The Huskies will have their work cut out for them as Arizona holds a 22-5 advantage over the UW at home. The Wildcats likely wrapped up their 22nd consecutive trip to the NCAA Tourney with Thursday's win over Washington State. And they have an impressive 21-1 record on Senior Day in the Olson era.

But these Dawgs can add another historic notch to their belt. Pending the result of the Stanford-UCLA game, they can play for a share of the Pac-10 title and can post the school's first four-game winning streak in conference road play since 1959. It's hard to put it passed a team that has pulled together and rallied so well since falling to 5-5 in the conference four weeks ago.

"I always feel like I've got three daughters at home and 15 sons here," said Romar. "Wins and losses determine if you keep your job or not. It's just that simple. To me, I have a job within a job. My staff and I need to be responsible for these guys and try to help mold them for their future. If it were just about wins and losses, that would get old.

"But when you can have, every year, guys that you can work with and help them prepare for the rest of their lives, that's a big-time investment. The wins and losses, they come and go. But when you can invest in someone's life, that's one of the greatest gifts you can be given," remarked Romar, who was quite candid about his emotions on the Huskies' Senior Day last weekend. "It's a great, great responsibility, but one that's really important to us here at Washington."

Their next win will be the 82nd in Romar's four-year tutelage. And it will engrave their name on the third consecutive invitation to the Big Dance. The Class of 1986 is the only other Husky group that can claim such a distinction.



 

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