Nate Robinson and Brandon Roy never won regular season Pac-10 titles, but Jon Brockman and Justin Dentmon look like they will. It's a bizarre development; in a league filled with future NBA players, a team that might not have any is poised to be the champion.
UW's overtime defeat of ASU last night lived up to the predictions of Ken Pomeroy's infallible computer and put the Huskies in a position to clinch at least a share of the Pac-10 title against Arizona tomorrow. The funny thing was, with all due respect to Jon Brockman, the two best players in last night's game were probably on the other team.James Harden was clearly in a class of his own, and you could make a strong case for Jeff Pendergraph over Brockman. The same will likely hold true against Arizona, whose Jordan Hill and Spin Doctor Chase Budinger are surefire first round picks.
When was the last time a team with no NBA players won a Pac-10 title? I can't remember it ever happening. The team with the best two or three players almost always comes out on top, unless it's coached by Lute Olson. Now, to be fair, this UW team may produce a pro or two. Quincy Pondexter, Matthew Bryan-Amaning, and Darnell Gant have the size and athleticism, if not yet the skills; Isaiah Thomas has shown a remarkable ability to score; and Jon Brockman has an outside shot at being someone's Steve Scheffler (though it would help if he actually had an outside shot).
Still, the team is remarkably star-free. It's obviously not intentional, and I'm sure this has been noted before, but perhaps Lorenzo Romar has happened upon a winning recruiting strategy: rather than picking up the one-and-done, five-star mega-talents, he can instead stockpile the super-athletic four-star kids (Venoy Overton, Bobby Jones, Justin Holiday, Darnell Gant, etc.), teach them to play manic defense, and substitute them in waves, wearing teams out like Nolan Richardson's 40-minutes-of-hell Razorbacks used to do.
That's why I occasionally get a little worried at the news that UW is recruiting big names. Spencer Hawes was really good, but the way Romar adjusted the playing style to accommodate him disrupted the continuity of the program. Don't get me wrong--I get giddy at the thought of an Abdul Gaddy-led break, or at the news that the UW has a shot at the #2 prospect in the country, DeMarcus Cousins. But neither of those guys is known for being speedy (though in Gaddy's defense, he's a very young and probably still developing physically), which could compromise the team's manic style.
It's probably a silly worry. There's no doubt that it'll be nice to have NBA-caliber scorers to take care of business in crunch time instead of cover-your-eyes Iso's for Justin Dentmon. And even a team of frenetic athletes needs its cool heads and distributors (see, e.g., Elston Turner's contributions in limited minutes this year).
Finally, speculation about next year should be deferred until this one's done, which it may not be for a while if the team continues to play this well. They may not have the chip on their shoulders that the Robinson/Conroy teams had, but they also have less talent, making this year's Huskies just as much the enjoyable underdog. Perhaps even moreso, if they can take the Pac-10 and ride their chaotic style deep into the tourney.