Duty to make a difference keeps Romar committed to college

by | CBSSports.com Senior Writer
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LAS VEGAS -- When Lorenzo Romar's name was tossed around as a candidate for the Minnesota Timberwolves vacancy earlier this month, there were those that were surprised -- even shocked.

Not in college basketball circles.

"He'd be perfect," said Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett, who worked under Romar at Pepperdine and Saint Louis. "He's got the right temperament."

"He's got a great demeanor," added Paul Hewitt, who was on a staff with Romar in the World Championships a few years ago. "He's got a great way of getting his message across to guys without having to get up in a player -- and he's a terrific tactician."

Lorenzo Romar has led the Huskies to six NCAA tournament appearances in his nine years at the helm. (Getty Images)  
Lorenzo Romar has led the Huskies to six NCAA tournament appearances in his nine years at the helm. (Getty Images)  
According to several reports that surfaced, T'Wolves general manager David Kahn was interested in Romar -- and sources told CBSSports.com that Minnesota wasn't the only team that reached out to the Huskies coach in the last few years.

While Romar didn't want to comment on specific NBA jobs, he did say it's highly unlikely that he'd ever leave the college ranks for the pros.

C'mon, Lorenzo. Cut the B.S.

Then I listened to his story.

Romar was selected in the seventh round of the 1980 NBA Draft after playing two seasons at the University of Washington. He went onto play 291 games in the league and score 1,731 points over a five-year span with three different NBA teams.

His NBA career came to a close when he was in his mid 20's and he decided to join Athletes in Action, where he and his wife -- for the next seven years -- were in the athletics division of the Campus Crusade for Christ, a non-denominational ministry.

"Seven of the best years of my life," said Romar, who had to raise his own salary and was a player/coach the last three seasons. "Basketball was used as a platform to serve the gospel. It gave us a chance to subtly share the gospel without it being threatening."

He'd speak at halftime of games, in prisons and just about anywhere that he could -- or was asked.

Romar wasn't always religious. Growing up in a tough area of Compton, Calif., he attended church on Christmas and Easter -- but it wasn't until he suffered a knee injury late in his playing career that his mindset changed.

That's when he picked up the bible.

"That's what changed me," Romar said. "I sat down, read it for eight hours that first weekend and couldn't put it down."

"In 1983, when we became Christians, it felt like we found a cure for a disease," he added.

Romar was persuaded by Jim Harrick and a few of his closest friends to join Harrick's staff at UCLA. After being a part of the 1995 national championship team, he was hired at Pepperdine -- where he spent three seasons as the head coach before leaving for Saint Louis. Then it was off to his alma mater, Washington, where he has led the Huskies to six NCAA tournament appearances in his nine years at the helm.

"I love where I'm at," Romar said.

Now, a half-hour into the conversation, I finally understand why he didn't jump at the opportunity -- like many of his colleagues would have -- to coach in the NBA.

Despite having the resume and the personality that would make him a rare fit for the league, Romar doesn't have any interest.

Largely due to his beliefs and values, Romar isn't one of those guys who yearns for the fame or the money. The notion of coaching at the highest level isn't what ultimately drives him.

"I want to impact lives," he said. "Change lives."

And he feels as though the ideal venue to do so is in college.

"It doesn't mean this is the only place in life I can impact people," Romar said. "But this is where we feel as comfortable as anywhere."

"The time from 17 to 22 is a pivotal time in kids' lives," he added. "To be in a position to impact them in that time is important to me."

So far, though, it's been bad NBA jobs that have come knocking. Minnesota, Sacramento, etc.

What about if his hometown Los Angeles Lakers had come calling?

"I wouldn't do it." Romar said. "At least not today."

I know it sounds nuts, but I actually believe him.

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