Chalk up another high-profile recruiting coup for University of Arizona head basketball coach Sean Miller. But this time it’s not another addition to his string of top-10 recruiting class.
This time it’s an addition to his bench.
Lorenzo Romar will be sliding onto the bench to take a spot next to Miller as Miller’s top assistant for the coming season. That’s the same Lorenzo Romar who spent the last 15 seasons as the head coach for Pac-12 rival, the Washington Huskies.
And that puts two of the top coaches in the country on the same bench, directing a team that will likely be a top-10 projection when the pre-season rankings are released.
With the addition of Romar, combined with the recent announcement that Allonzo Trier will return for his junior season, the Wildcats should be heavy favorites to make another deep run into the post-season. Trier, who was considering leaving to take part in the next NBA draft, was the leading scorer this past season on a team that finished 32-5, won both the Pac-12 regular-season title and the tournament title, and advanced to the Sweet Sixteen before getting knocked out by Xavier.
While Trier’s return was a big question mark since the season ended, the addition of Romar was really a surprise to Wildcat fans – and the college basketball world.
Miller needed to fill the role of associate head coach following the departure of Joe Pasternack two weeks ago. Pasternack, who had been on staff at Arizona for the past six seasons, was hired to be the new head coach at UC Santa Barbara.
At the same time the school was announcing Pasternack’s departure, on April 4, Miller was meeting with Romar to gauge his interest in joining his staff to replace his associate head. Romar had been fired at Washington on March 15, following a 9-22 season that was capped off with a school-record 13-game losing streak, and was in the process of deciding what his next career move would be.
Romar is credited with turning Washington into a national contender and convincing fans to look at Washington as a basketball school. He was riding high through a decade that included six NCAA Tournament appearances, including three trips to the Sweet Sixteen. In just his third year on the job, his 2005 Huskies team won 29 games and finished with a Pac-10 Tournament title and No. 1 seed at the Big Dance. He won a total of two outright conference regular-season titles, three Pac-12 Tournaments, and was named Coach of the Year three times.
The Huskies reached the regional semifinals in 2010, but began a slide into mediocrity after that. They’ve missed out on the last six NCAA Tournaments. This past season was his most disappointing, despite working with a roster of talent that was the envy of the other teams in the Pac-12. That squad won just two conference games.
His ability to recruit top players, a reputation he has built over a career that spanned jobs at Washington, Pepperdine, and Saint Louis, will be a big help going forward since Pasternack was also a successful recruiter who helped Miller pull in top-10 recruiting classes in six of the last seven years.
Romar is already familiar with Trier, Miller’s current top recruiting prize. Trier was a regular attendee at Romar’s youth basketball camps.
Pasternack was reportedly making $302,000, far from the head coach’s pay Romar has been used to receiving. But Romar’s family won’t go hungry during his layover on Miller’s staff. Washington still owes him $3.2 million from his last contract.
But this move wasn’t made for money. “Of all the p0tential opportunities that were out there for me, joining the Arizona program was the one that was most appealing,” Romar said in announcing his decision to make the move to Tucson. “I truly believe Sean Miller is one of the best coaches in America. The opportunity to join him, his staff, and the rich tradition of Arizona basketball is something I’m extremely excited about.”
Ironically, Romar beat his new boss five of the first seven times the two coaches met after Miller took over in Arizona.
The two coaches have something else in common that might have been appealing to Romar. Neither has been able to get their teams to a Final Four.
Maybe together they can make it happen next season.