When Lasan Kromah played basketball at Eleanor Roosevelt High School, he used to have long conversations with coach Brendan O'Connell about the sport during car rides home from practice.
There, the 2009 graduate of the Greenbelt school learned about the nuances of basketball as he picked the brain of the longtime coach.
“When I think about Lasan, I think about all the hours we spent together when I drove him home from practice just talking — everything and anything — about basketball,” O'Connell said during a phone interview Saturday. “He ate, slept and breathed basketball. He didn't live that far from school — just across the street — but ... it would be an hour later before I dropped him off.”
All of the discussions may have paid off for Kromah. On Monday, he helped the University of Connecticut men's basketball team win its fourth national championship in 15 years. He scored four points, but made a pair of crucial free throws with 25 seconds left — the final points of the game — to help the Huskies hold off Kentucky in the 60-54 victory at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
“It's just one of those moments you will cherish for the rest of your life,” Kromah said of playing in the Final Four during a phone interview Monday prior to the title game.
Kromah is the first Roosevelt product to play in the Final Four and win a national title, according to O'Connell. Delonte West played in the 2004 Elite Eight with St. Joseph's University and Darnell Dodson participated in the 2010 Elite Eight with Kentucky.
“[O'Connell] is a great coach to play for and I appreciate everything,” said Kromah, who still maintains a close relationship with his high school coach. They exchange text messages frequently throughout the season. “I learned a lot from him and he really helped me out. ... He was always preaching about just playing hard and not taking any plays off.”
It was also the third straight year a high school alumnus from Prince George's County played in college basketball's premier event at the Final Four (DeMatha Catholic graduate Jerami Grant played in 2013 with Syracuse and former Riverdale Baptist star Thomas Robinson went to the 2012 Final Four with Kansas).
“It's a big deal for us as a program,” said O'Connell, who said he watched several of Kromah's games this winter on television. “We're all excited and it has been awesome watching him change and mature through the years. He's on the court in crunch time, pressure situations.
“His freshman year at Roosevelt he wasn't even eligible to play. He then finished high school as an honor roll student and five years later, he's going to have a degree from George Washington and UConn and play in the Final Four. That is pretty cool.”
Kromah, a 2009 All-Gazette first team selection as a senior at Roosevelt, began his journey to a national title at George Washington University, where he started for the most part of three years. He missed the entire 2010-11 season as a sophomore due to a Lisfranc sprain in his left foot.
The injury, however, proved to be a blessing since it opened up a year of eligibility he would eventually use to transfer to Connecticut. Kromah, who earned a degree in criminal justice at George Washington, used a NCAA rule that allows for immediate eligibility for fifth-year transfer graduate students that have a year of eligibility remaining. While pursuing a Master's degree in Education Psychology: Cognitive, Instruction and Learning Technologies, the 6-foot-6, 201-pound guard/forward immediately became a major contributor at Connecticut. He played in all 40 games for the Huskies, starting 17 and averaging 22.4 minutes and 6.1 points per game.
Former George Washington coach Karl Hobbs is an assistant for second-year Connecticut coach Kevin Ollie. But Kromah, who hopes to play professionally somewhere next season, said his decision to transfer to Connecticut went beyond that; he just had “good conversations” and felt “real comfortable” the program.
“Not really,” Kromah said when asked if he could have imagined playing in the Final Four. “... I'm happy with the decision.”