By volunteering, Husky hoops players learn life lessons

A middle-aged staffer walked into the lobby of a homeless shelter in a rugged area off Pioneer Square in downtown Seattle. “Coach Romar is fixing sandwiches back there?” the worker at the Union Gospel Mission marveled.

The Husky men’s basketball coach joined point guard Abdul Gaddy in preparing bag lunches, while teammates Terrence Ross, C.J. Wilcox and Desmond Simmons were out front serving bread, soup and ham.

“It takes a hard life to get into this place,” Twjuan Scott, a Union Gospel Mission case manager, told the Husky players. “Learn from these experiences, from the decisions you make in life.”

Romar doesn’t like to advertise it, but the 52-year-old coach and father of three grown daughters fills his players’ preseasons with a real-world education that transcends basketball. Husky players work as celebrity waiters for fundraising luncheons and visit Seattle Ronald McDonald House, a “home away from home” for families of seriously ill children who are receiving long-term care at Seattle Children’s Hospital.

The student-athletes spent time at patients’ bed sides, talking with families and entertaining kids in the hospital’s play rooms. That’s where 7-foot junior center Aziz N’Diaye, a native of Senegal whose first language is French, had a blast talking to a child in Spanish.

Back at the Union Gospel Mission, players Scott Suggs and Andrew Andrews served baked goods while listening to stories of substance abuse from the homeless. Of losing their loved ones, their jobs, their hope. “Some of the guys we recruit grew up in situations not far from this,” Romar says. “And some have never seen anything like this.

“Our guys can now see,” the Huskies’ coach adds, “that you can be one, two or three missed paychecks from being homeless.”