We continue our season preview coverage with new Pepperdine head coach Lorenzo Romar. Many coaches are known as great recruiters but 1 thing the last 2 NBA draft #1 overall picks had in common was Coach Romar: 2017 top pick Markelle Fultz played for him when he was head coach at Washington and 2018 top pick Deandre Ayton played for him when he was associate head coach at Arizona. If you think that you have seen this Malibu movie before then you are correct: after winning the 1995 NCAA title as an assistant coach at UCLA he spent the next 3 years as head coach of the Waves. HoopsHD’s Jon Teitel got to chat with Coach Romar about winning an NCAA title and why he left Tucson.
You spent 5 years in the NBA and made the 1984 Eastern Conference Finals with Milwaukee before losing to the eventual-champion Celtics: what was it like to face that legendary Larry Bird/Dennis Johnson/Kevin McHale/Robert Parish team? It was just obvious how good they were: great coaching/experience/talent was their formula for success and they played really well together. There was 1 game where we were down big at the half: Coach Don Nelson told us to try to cut their lead to 10 PTS before the 4th quarter…otherwise we should just focus on the next game because their team was really good.
You were an assistant to Coach Jim Harrick (along with Mark Gottfried/Steve Lavin) on the 1995 UCLA team that beat Arkansas to clinch the title: what did it mean to you to win a title, and how do you feel about facing Mark’s new team at CSUN next month? It was very surreal but a couple of things stood out. I had been to several Final Fours before as a spectator when my own team did not make it. We were driving to the semifinal game against Oklahoma State on the bus and got to drive past everyone else who was waiting in line to enter the building, which is when it really hit home for me that we were playing in the Final 4. When you walk out onto the floor it is a really different feel even when compared to the Elite 8. Our entire staff had great camaraderie and we had great leadership from our senior class of Ed O’Bannon/Tyus Edney/George Zidek. We has won 18 straight games entering the Final 4 and had an unbelievable feeling that we could win even if we were down by a lot of points. Years removed from that I prefer not to go up against my friends: I have played Coach Harrick once and Coach Gottfried a few times. It feels different when you face a friend.
In the 2010 NCAA tourney as head coach at Washington, Quincy Pondexter had 18 PTS/11 REB and made a bank shot with 1.7 seconds left in a 2-PT win over Marquette: where does that game rank among the highlights of your head coaching career? That was a lot of fun! I remember another game when Cincinnati had beaten us by 43 PTS in our regular season finale in 2000 when I was head coach at St. Louis and we upset them 5 days later in the CUSA tourney quarterfinals when they were ranked #1 in the nation. As far as NCAA tourney games that definitely ranks up there, but a few years before that in 2006 we beat Illinois by 3 PTS to advance to the Sweet 16 (before losing to UConn in OT).
You were a 3-time conference COY at Washington: what did it mean to you to receive such outstanding honors? It lets you know for sure that you have great players/coaches. All of my assistants were very special and I think of them, along with some outstanding players like Brandon Roy/Isaiah Thomas. You need people around you who help you do that.
You are known as 1 of the top recruiters in the country, having coached each of the last two #1 overall NBA draft picks (Markelle Fultz at Washington and Deandre Ayton at Arizona): what is the secret to recruiting? I do not know if I could give a seminar on it but you try to be honest/genuine and get to know people as opposed to just selling them something. Whether it is dating someone or developing a friendship, being honest will help you a lot more. We have also had success developing players who made it to the NBA. They need to trust you as a person but also trust that your work will help them be productive.
1 of your long-time friends is Michael Porter Sr., who you hired to be your assistant in Seattle: how do you think his son Michael Jr. is going to do in the NBA? I see no reason why he will not become an All-Star.
In March you were hired as head coach at Pepperdine: why did you take the job, and how does it compare to your 1st go-round as head coach of the Waves almost 20 years ago? At this point in my career I did not want to move to an area that I was not familiar with. I was perfectly content being an assistant at Arizona but I am familiar with coaches/schools on the West Coast and wanted a situation where it was not a total rebuild. I knew the Pepperdine president back when he was vice-president and 1 of my night-school teammates is now our athletic director. You have a great recruiting base in California and I like the school’s spiritual mission so it met all of my criteria. We also have grandkids now so we wanted to stay in 1 place where they could all come visit.
Your non-conference schedule includes a game against Oregon State: what do you remember about the Beavers from sweeping them last year as an assistant to Sean Miller at Arizona? They have some dangerous personnel with Trey Tinkle and the Thompson brothers. Coach Wayne Tinkle always has teams who are hard to play against, as they were last year and even back when I was head coach at Washington.
After making the WCC All-Freshman team in 2016, Kameron Edwards sat out the next season due to a fractured jaw and missed 9 games last year due to a concussion: how is his health doing at the moment? So far so good! Hopefully it stays that way because he is someone we will be definitely be counting on.
What are your goals for the upcoming season, and what are your expectations for the upcoming season? We have that goal of not having many days where we do not put out our best effort: if we work hard then everything else should take care of itself. Right now we just have to develop the habit of being the best that we can be.