In the mid-1990s when Washington basketball teams were as beaten down as any time in the program’s 100-year history, coach Bob Bender talked about building blocks.
Even in 1994 when that team went 5-22 the fewest wins since 1918 – Bender said players such as Jason Tyrus and Bryant Boston were part of a foundation. They maintained integrity and character and one day when the program turned around, they would feel justifiably proud of their contributions.
Within three years after passing the torch, players such as Donald Watts, Todd MacCulloch and Thalo Green helped lift the Huskies to back-to-back NCAA appearances. Their example and legacy were carried on by Deon Luton, Grant Leap, Doug Wrenn and eventually to the special collection of guys — Will Conroy, Brandon Roy, Nate Robinson, Bobby Jones and Tre Simmons — who were part of the greatest teams in Husky history.
It has continued, from Jon Brockman to Quincy Pondexter to Isaiah Thomas. From bleak circumstances, the Husky program now runs with the big boys. And they all had a part, links in the chain.
Cameron Dollar has seen it. He lived it. He was the Huskies’ assistant coach under Lorenzo Romar during those glory seasons, from 2003 until he took the top job at Seattle University last year to rebuild the Redhawks’ basketball program.
Related SPNW video: A chat with Seattle U coach Cameron Dollar
Dollar also played at UCLA and was part of the last Bruins NCAA Championship in 1995. It was the school’s 11th title. Roots went back through the first 10. No program passes along the legacy better than the Bruins.
Tuesday night, the fledgling Redhawks (10-16), with ambitions to follow UW’s blueprint, take on the established Huskies (18-8). It will be the most watched game since the Redhawks returned to Division I if the 10,000 expected fans show up at KeyArena. The upper bowl will be open up for the first time.
I always subscribe to the philosophy that if you have goals and visions and want to be good and have substance, then you need to play teams that are already there,” Dollar said. As much as it may hurt, some butt-whippings early can set you up for success later.
We have no problem competing, not only against Washington but against any team in the country. Our motto is anytime, anyplace, anywhere. We’ll be ready to go.”
Are the Redhawks where the Huskies were in 1994? Is this the humble beginning of a potentially successful era at Seattle U.? No one can answer those questions but it’s going to be a significant challenge, partly because of Dollar’s own good work. His recruiting ability and coaching have made the Husky program the envy of the Northwest, if not the Pac-10. They generally can get the best players out of the city and state.
Beyond beating his head against the Husky juggernaut, Dollar also will face off over Northwest recruits with Washington State’s Ken Bone, another former Romar assistant, Gonzaga’s Mark Few and — now with a spectacular new arena in Eugene — Oregon’s Dana Altman.
The SU program already has taken a step back at least record-wise from a year ago. They were 17-14 last year before losing three seniors as well as top scorer Charles Garcia, a junior who declared early for the NBA. This year’s team started 1-5. They have lost four of the past six, although the Redhawks beat Northern Illinois (60-48) Saturday.
We’re a little younger than last year,” Dollar said. We’ve developing. We’re building. I like my young guys. They’re working hard. My upperclassmen are doing a good job. We continue to grow and push each other.”
However, it means taking their lumps. They lost by 47 points a year ago to the Huskies, 123-76. Tuesday might be closer, but the Huskies won’t be in a charitable mood after their 87-86 loss Saturday to Arizona.
I wouldn’t say it’s a rivalry but it’s a big game,” said freshman Sterling Carter, who played with UW guard Venoy Overton at Franklin High. We’re not losing by 47 this time. I’m not saying we’ll win, but we’re not losing by 47.”
The Redhawks made some noise this year. They beat Oregon State, 83-80, on Nov. 17, a team that beat the Huskies, 68-56. They also won at Virginia, 59-53.
The Redhawks, once known the Maroons, then the Chieftains, left the West Coast Conference and Division I in 1980 to play in the NAIA. In the early 2000s, the administration began getting ambitious about Division I. It hopes to be eligible for the Division I NCAA tournament in 2012-13.
In the meantime, it’s an independent school with a need for conference affiliation. The school made a pitch last fall to join the Western Athletic Conference but had a lukewarm response. The WAC has accepted Texas-San Antonio, Denver and Texas State into the conference after losing Hawaii, Brigham Young and Boise State. Seattle’s lack of a football program may be the hang-up.
A more natural fit is returning to the WCC, which is full of private schools and most without football teams. BYU is set to join the WCC but Seattle has not been invited.
We feel comfortable as an independent. But as always, we’ll continue to make ourselves as attractive as possible,” Dollar said. “We’re interested in listening to all suitors. If a conference is out that’s best for us, as a university and athletic department, we’ll definitely look at it. Right now, independent has not been bad for us.”
But it doesn’t help in advancing the program as fast as the school would like. It’s tough going it alone. Opponents don’t want to come to Seattle’s home court, despite a large venue at Key Arena. The Redhawks have to travel to get decent match-ups and better gates. They will play only 12 home games of 31 this season. The Huskies play 17 at home.
It’s going to be at least another two years before NCAA allows them into tourney eligibility. In the meantime, they have no conference crown to play for and no promise of the postseason no matter how well they finish. That’s a tough sell for recruits.
Hopefully, in the near future we become eligible for the NCAA tournament. That’s when we can make our mark,” Carter said. Now we’re just building up our program. In a few years , we should be there.”
Aaron Broussard, a 6-foot-5 junior forward from Federal Way, added, we’re getting better each year. We’re definitely bringing in some great players. Hopefully, we’ll just keep getting better and better.”
The Redhawks will tap into the Husky talent base next year. Clarence Trent, a 6-5 redshirt sophomore guard, is sitting out this season after transferring from UW. He’ll be eligible in the fall.
Our hope is not necessarily to build around a rivalry. We want to build a legit program,” Dollar said. There is a broader vision of what we’re trying to do here. A part of being good is being competitive with your cross-town team, but that’s not necessarily something bantered about every day. We want to be a legit national program at the end of this.”
It all begins with these guys.