Lorenzo Romar, then a point guard for the NBA’s Golden State Warriors, was driving around Oakland one day in 1981 when he caught a bittersweet sight on a blacktop.
A young hoopster was shooting baskets all alone, but the form on his jumpshot was something that would have made the worst of sport’s shooters blush. So, Romar, a first-year pro from Compton, parked his car, walked to the basketball court and spent 30 minutes teaching the burgeoning ball player the proper way to swish a basketball through the hoop.
Romar, 59, recalling that Bay Area day almost four decades later, said the boy shooting hoops had no idea he was getting personal shooting instructions from someone who had played high-level college basketball and would go on to have a five-year career in the NBA.
“There was just a need to teach him to do it the right way,” Romar said. “He didn’t know who I was and probably never figured it out. I just wanted to teach him.”
Romar’s drive to teach basketball has allowed him to carve out a coaching career that has included hundreds of wins, multiple coach of the year awards, championships, berths in the NCAA’s March Madness tournament and now to the head coaching position of Pepperdine’s men’s basketball team.
In fact, the Waves’ new coach has been on the orange and blue’s sideline before. Romar’s first head coaching job—after playing and coaching for Athletes in Action and serving as an assistant coach at UCLA—was as Pepperdine’s men’s hoops coach from 1996 to 1999.
Romar, head coach at Saint Louis University from 1999 to 2002 and the University of Washington from 2002 to 2017, said it feels good to be coaching in Malibu again and seeing familiar faces that were present during his initial Pepperdine years.
“The first time I came here, it was my first head coaching job,” he said. “This time I feel a lot more confident in my philosophy, what I want to do and how to get it done. I had confidence before, but now there is more experience behind it.”
Pepperdine announced Romar as the basketball team’s head coach on March 12, around a month after the institution revealed that Marty Wilson, the team’s coach of seven years, would not be retained due to several lowly Waves seasons. Romar was nearing the end of his lone season as an associate head coach at Arizona, a highly-ranked squad, when he took the Pepperdine job.
He took the position again because of his comfort level with Pepperdine, its Christian mission, and its commitment to propelling Waves hoops to a higher level.
“When you combine that with having a relationship already with the athletic director and the president of the university, for me it was something I became excited about,” Romar said. “My battery was recharged at Arizona. I felt that if the right opportunity presented itself, I would want to be a head coach again. I’m excited to be here.”
Romar coached Pepperdine to a 42-44 overall record the first time around. Since being back, he said he has worked as fast and hard as the up-tempo, fast-breaking offense he alerted the Waves players that they will be playing next season. He has hired two experienced coaches for his coaching staff—Ken Bone and Curtis Allen—and as of press time was looking to add one more coach. The head coach has also been recruiting players.
Romar mandated the Waves players, coming off a 6-26 season, to “do the right thing in everything you do and get in great shape” before the start of practices for the 2018-19 year.
“Marty Wilson and his staff got some high-character kids,” Romar added. “They are just low-maintenance kids. They are very coachable. That made the transition good.”
Romar’s road to Pepperdine and back-again began as a player. The former Cerritos Community College and University of Washington basketball player said he used to do things coaches did without ever thinking about it as a future job.
“I had several pieces of paper filled with 50 phone numbers of basketball players that were pretty good, along with about 10 numbers of different people that could open a gym for us,” Romar said. “So, whenever I wanted to play I would call these guys, organize and get them to come play. That is a form of recruiting.”
Other times the future coach would start playing pickup games with kids, but then end up running them through basketball drills.
“It was so much fun to teach and watch them learn it,” Romar said.
When his NBA career ended in 1985, Romar played for first, and then coached for, Athletes in Action, an Ohio-based sports ministry, after he was a recruiter and scheduler for the organization.
UCLA coach Jim Harrick then hired Romar as an assistant coach. Romar was on UCLA’s bench from 1992 to 1996 and is credited for recruiting many of the players on the 1995 NCAA championship squad. Romar then coached at Pepperdine, Saint Louis and Washington.
He won 391 games, four conference tournament titles, two regular season conference titles, three conference coach of the year awards, coached more than a handful of NBA players and made the NCAA tournament several times in his 19 years between leading the Waves.
Romar counted beating top-ranked Cincinnati in the Conference USA title game, while coaching Saint Louis, and two victories coaching his alma mater—beating No. 1-ranked Stanford after losing 11 games in a row early in his second season and winning the Pac-10 regular season title another season—as his biggest coaching wins.
“Those are three program-changing wins,” he said.
Romar said the groundwork for those type of accomplishments can be set at Pepperdine by establishing a culture where the players ply their craft even when coaches aren’t watching.
“When we can’t be around them, they need to find ways to get in the gym and work to become better basketball players,” he said. “Player development is big. Also, getting our guys in a conditioned mentality to attack.”
Romar said his goal for next season is for Pepperdine to be a better team.
“The best we can possibly be,” he said.