Roy's all-around game remains under the radar
Don't know who Washington's Brandon Roy is? He might be the most underrated Pac-10 Player of the Year in league history.
SAN DIEGO -- His team had just advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. He had congratulated his players, spoken with the media, done one-on-one interviews with seemingly every television and radio station in the Pacific Northwest and was ready to head back to the team hotel to begin preparations for Illinois.
"He just has incredible footwork," Romar said, stepping back, bending his knees, pivoting in his dress shoes and pretending to hold a basketball. "You can't teach that.
"If the defender is here," Romar said, extending his arm to signify the defense had sagged back, "Brandon steps up and shoots it.
"If he is here," Romar continued, tapping his chest as if the defender had gotten in Roy's face, "Brandon can attack the basket in one simple step."
The demonstration went on for two-plus minutes, culminating with the 46-year-old head coach shooting an imaginary finger-roll in the tiled arena hallway. Romar was gushing like a little kid. And who could blame him?
"From day one as a freshman," Romar said, "he's been our best all-around player."
Truth be told, the demonstration shouldn't have been much of a surprise. For that's what it has taken for people outside the Pac-10 to appreciate Brandon Roy. And even then, he might be the most underrated Pac-10 Player of the Year in history.
For nobody else this season came close to being ranked among the conference leaders in 10 of the 13 individual statistical categories. Nobody else scored 20 or more points in 17 games. And no one else earned a record-tying three player of the week honors while leading his team in points and assists and finishing second in steals and rebounds.
As a 6-foot-6 guard.
On Saturday, Roy will lead the fifth-seeded Huskies in a second-round NCAA Tournament matchup with fourth-seeded Illinois. Much like the Illini's Dee Brown, Roy is the lone star left behind from a No. 1 seed from a year ago trying to recapture some postseason magic.
A birth in the Sweet 16 is on the line.
"He's as complete a player as you can get," said the Illini's Brian Randle, who will draw the assignment of guarding Roy. "He's a matchup nightmare for anybody."
That's because Roy has the ability to do it all. Drop back on him and he hits a long jumper. Get in his face and he goes to the basket. Collapse on him, double-team him and he wiggles his way free to find the open man.
"Watching film, I'm wondering why he's still in college, to be honest," Illinois coach Bruce Weber said. "He has size, ability and athleticism, plus the ball-handling skills. I guess he's a little bit of a Kobe Bryant. He can get you on the pull-up, he can get you on the three, he can take it to the basket, he can post you up. And he's smooth at it. He seems to do it effortlessly."
Roy's story is one of perseverance. Of overcoming academic struggles, injury problems and being overshadowed by teammates to become one of the greatest players in school history.
As a heralded high school senior from Seattle, Roy tried and failed three times before geting the needed SAT score for a Division-I scholarship, pushing back his acceptance to Washington until January of his freshman year. During basketball games that fall, he'd sit up near the rafters of Washington's Hec Edmunson Pavilion, hoping fans wouldn't recognize him.
"You always see good players leave high school and you always ask, 'Where are they at?' " Roy said. "For a minute, I felt like one of those guys. I wasn't in the newspaper and I wasn't on television. It really made me work even harder. It's made me not only a better basketball player, but a better person."
When Roy finally stepped onto the practice court, Romar said, the freshman picked up the Washington offense in 45 minutes.
"He just has that basketball IQ," Romar said. "We had guys who had been learning the offense since October that weren't as far along as he was in those 45 minutes."
Last year, a torn meniscus kept Roy off the floor for nine games and relegated him to the role of sixth man. As Nate Robinson dominated the spotlight at Washington, Roy gained an appreciation for Brown, who was going through a similar thing with Deron Williams and Luther Head at Illinois.
"I became a fan of Dee's because of the things he was going through," Roy said. "I thought he was a bit overshadowed considering everything he does for his team."
|“||Watching film, I'm wondering why he's still in college, to be honest. He has size, ability and athleticism, plus the ball-handling skills. I guess he's a little bit of a Kobe Bryant. ”|
|— Illinois coach Bruce Weber|
At the end of last year, Roy said he considered leaving early for the NBA but as a likely second-round pick decided against it. Now he's put the Huskies on his shoulders and plans on carrying them as far as he can. In Thursday night's NCAA opener against Utah State, he scored 28 points, single-handedly providing an answer for just about every Aggie run.
Against Utah State, "the consistent play we kept calling was, 'Give Brandon the ball,' " Romar said. "You can't go wrong. When you have a player who is that good, he makes a coach look good."
And the coach returns the favor, regularly pointing out that his superstar rarely acts like one. He doesn't beg for the ball. He doesn't harass his coaches. He doesn't relax on defense. In fact, more often than not, he's a superstar player who needs to be reminded to be more aggressive.
Maybe that's why he's overlooked. When the U.S. Basketball Writers Association originally listed its 10 finalists for the 2006 Oscar Robertson Award, Roy's name was nowhere to be found.
"I try not to get upset," said Romar, who believes Roy's senior season is better than that of Ed O'Bannon, the national player of the year in 1995 when Romar was an assistant at UCLA. "But it's ridiculous."
Maybe it's because he plays on the West Coast. Maybe it's because there's no porn star moustache like Gonzaga's Adam Morrison, no look-at-me swagger like Duke's J.J. Redick. Instead, there's simply one of the most talented all-around players in the college game today.
"What else can I say?" said Ben Howland, UCLA's coach and Romar's Pac-10 counterpart. "Illinois, have fun."
Wayne Drehs is a staff writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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