Waves hoops coach Romar to be inducted into SoCal Basketball Hall of Fame

Pepperdine Waves men’s basketball head coach Lorenzo Romar. Photo courtesy Roger Horne with Pepperdine Athletics.

Pepperdine Waves men’s basketball head coach Lorenzo Romar’s basketball life tipped off with him dribbling and shooting on the playground at Our Lady of Victory Catholic School in Compton as a 10-year-old. 

Now, the respected coach and former NBA player is a few dribbles away from being in the Southern California Basketball Hall of Fame. 

The hoops organization announced last week that Romar, who will turn 64 on Sunday, was one of 16 Southern California basketball greats elected for its 2022 class. 

Romar was working in his office at Pepperdine when Mike Sondheimer, the executive director of the hall of fame, called and told him he was set to be inducted. Romar, who is in his second stint as the Waves coach, said the moment was surreal. 

“It was humbling,” he said. “It was, ‘Stop for a second and think about that.’ I’ve looked at inductees and those are people I have watched, admired, appreciated, and learned from.”

The coach was an assistant on the staff of Jim Harrick, a 2020 inductee, at UCLA. Romar also recruited NBA great Paul Pierce, a fellow member of the 2022 class, when he was a high school star.

“’Wow, this is really happening,’” Romar said, still recalling his initial reaction to learning he was going to be a hall of famer. “This is a special group. Its quite an honor.” 

The Pepperdine team congratulated Romar on the honor during a recent film session.  

The Southern California Basketball Hall of Fame is a nonprofit that honors legendary basketball players and coaches and also supports youth basketball through charitable donations. The hoops body covers the region from Los Angeles to San Diego and Inland Empire to Santa Barbara. 

The other 2022 inductees with Romar and Pierce are Bill Armstrong, Stacey Augmon, Mitchell Butler, Jay Bilas, Michael Cooper, Keith and Nicole Erickson, David Greenwood, Ebony Hoffman, Andre and Eugenia Miller, Tayshaun Prince, Willie West Jr., and Candice Wiggins.

The group is a combination of former high school, college, and NBA players and winning coaches. Romar has stepped on the basketball court as all four. 

The focus of his time on the hardwood has never been to be a hall-of-famer though. 

“I never played the game saying, ‘I’ve got to make the NBA or the hall of fame,’” Romar said. “I just love basketball. I’m obsessed with the game. You picture yourself playing at the highest level because you love it.” 

That love of the game got him through times when his basketball life wasn’t as easy as an open layup. Romar was cut from the varsity and junior varsity teams his freshman and sophomore years at Verbum Dei Jesuit High School in Los Angeles. Romar’s love for hoops wasn’t dampened though; in fact, he’d often watch the varsity squad practice. 

“I’d listen to every word the coach said,” Romar recalled. “He wasn’t talking to me at all, but I’d listen.”

He finally made a varsity squad after a growth spurt — from 5-foot-9 to 6-foot-1 — and his family’s move sent him to Pius X High School in Downey. 

Romar played point guard for two seasons, but didn’t receive any scholarship offers from big-time universities, so he went to Cerritos College in Norwalk. 

Romar was on the two-year school’s basketball team his freshman year, but he didn’t play. After the season, the squad’s coach, Bob Foster, approached the teenage Romar and told him not to get discouraged and gave him a job working in the gym. 

Romar swept the gym’s floors, organized the snack bar, and made sure all the facility’s equipment was functioning so offseason games could take place. He also practiced and improved his game. Romar was a starting guard for Cerritos the next season and the team’s MVP. 

That led to him being recruited by and joining the team at the University of Washington. 

Romar, who grew to be 6-foot-2, won the team’s Most Inspirational Award in his junior and senior seasons. He averaged 9.3 points a game his last collegiate year. He was selected in the seventh round of the 1980 NBA Draft by the Golden State Warriors, and also laced up his high tops for the Milwaukee Bucks and Detroit Pistons during his five seasons as a pro. 

Romar joined Athletes in Action, a sports ministry, after the 1984-85 NBA season. He played with the Christian organization for seven seasons and was also a player-coach. Romar then became an assistant coach under Harrick at UCLA for four seasons. The team won the NCAA Tournament crown in 1995. 

Romar never thought about coaching as a player, but now realizes the coaching bug bit him in the early quarters of his hoops life.

He liked teaching basketball to kids and as a college player, Romar enjoyed organizing pickup basketball games. He had the phone numbers of all the top players in the Los Angeles area and of coaches and custodians — anyone that could open the doors to a gym. 

“I could get a full-court game going,” Romar said. “That’s recruiting, that’s organizing, and bringing people together. It was always in me to do things that coaches do. I just never thought about coaching until I was with Athletes in Action.” 

Romar became the Waves coach for the first time after UCLA’s championship. He coached Pepperdine for three seasons until the 1998-99 campaign. Pepperdine won 17 and 19 games in the coach’s second and third seasons. The 1999 squad qualified for the NIT postseason event. 

Romar then coached at Saint Louis University for three seasons. He led the team to a conference championship and the NCAA Tournament in 2000. 

Romar returned to his alma mater, Washington, before the 2002-03 season. He coached there for 15 seasons. 

At Washington, Romar won three conference coach of the year awards, was named the Black Coaches Association’s Coach of the Year in 2005, averaged almost 20 wins a season, and coached 14 players that were picked in the NBA Draft. He led Washington to two regular season conference titles and three conference tournament championships. Romar’s Washington squads played in six NCAA Tournaments, three National Invitation Tournaments and one College Basketball Invitational.

Romar was the associate head coach at the University of Arizona for one season after he left Washington. He then returned to Pepperdine as the team’s head coach before the 2018-19 season tipped off. 

Romar recorded his 400th coaching victory when the Waves beat San Diego on Jan. 12, 2019. He coached Pepperdine to its first postseason championship in 27 years, the CBI title, the next season.

So far, the highlights of his basketball life have been winning the NCAA crown and being selected in the NBA Draft, Romar said. 

He is one of four current Waves coaches that are hall of fame members. Pepperdine women’s golf coach Laurie Gibbs is in the Women’s Golf Coaches Association Hall of Fame and baseball coach Rick Hirtensteiner is in the Pepperdine Athletics Hall of Fame as a player. Men’s water polo coach Terry Schroeder is in the CoSIDA Academic All-America Hall of Fame, International Swimming Hall of Fame, and U.S. Water Polo Hall of Fame. He is also in the Pepperdine Athletics Hall of Fame as a player. 

Romar and the other 2022 Southern California Basketball Hall of Fame inductees will be recognized at a ceremony in the fall of 2023 with the hall’s 2023 class. 

The nonprofit’s 2020 and 2021 selections are set to be honored at an event next May. 

Being called a hall of famer, Romar, said is something he is going to have to get used to.

“Those type of honors our for other people I watched and admired,” he said. “It’s still a pleasant surprise for me. I want be known as someone that was a hard worker and who used the game to help others.”