Fourth-year men's basketball coach Cameron Dollar is focused on the big picture, not small obstacles, in the Redhawks' transition to Division I.
After Sunday’s 87-64 loss to Boise State in front of a quiet crowd announced at 2,182 inside KeyArena, I expected Seattle University coach Cameron Dollar to be downcast, disappointed with his team and just a little bit grouchy.
After all, Dollar is accustomed to winning. As a player on a national championship team at UCLA and as an assistant coach under Lorenzo Romar at Washington, Dollar was used to competing for championships, used to staying alive deep into March.
I thought maybe Dollar, now in his fourth season at Seattle U, would be getting impatient, that he would be expecting to win big, that he would be frustrated with the pace of this project.
But Dollar came into the tiny interview room off the Redhawks’ locker room with a smile on his face and the kind of disposition that says he understands the big picture.
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He joked that there should be yellow tape around the court that says, “This is a construction site; work is in progress.”
Against a very good Boise State team that has won six of seven, beat 11th-ranked Creighton on the road last week and earlier lost by only four at Michigan State, the Redhawks (2-3) committed 21 turnovers, shot 40 percent and fell behind 30-11 in the first 10 minutes.
“You caught us on a bad night,” Dollar said. “A part of building and being under construction is that sometimes you walk into the house or the building and it’s just a bad day. Like, man, the pipe’s busted or you’ve got a problem on the second floor. You start thinking, ‘I thought this building was built right. What’s going on here?’
“But then you find out that it was built right. Everything’s fine. The foundation is good. This was just a bad day. A part of sustaining and being good is when you see it on a bad day, you just keep plugging through it.”
Dollar doesn’t blow smoke. He won’t look at a losing record and tell you his team is close to making the Final Four. If he doesn’t see improvement, he’ll let you know.
But he sees his work progressing. He believes he is developing a pair of go-to big men, junior Clarence Trent, the transfer from Washington, and redshirt freshman Deshaun Sunderhaus.
He sees the progress of junior backup point guard D’Vonne Pickett Jr., who had 11 points, five assists and two steals in 30 aggressive minutes. And he likes the look of all of his big men. The Redhawks outrebounded BSU 44-27.
This is a team still learning the game at this level. In this loss, the Redhawks wasted too many possessions and took too many rushed jumpers.
“You just got to keep getting better every day,” he said. “That’s what I tell them. Stay the course. Trust the system. Look how far the system already had brought you.”
Seattle U is still a transition program and should be compared with similar schools. Dollar called them the “peer schools” — the other programs that came into Division I at the same time as the Redhawks: North Dakota, South Dakota, Bryant College, Southern Illinois-Edwardsville and Houston Baptist.
The Redhawks, who are in their first season in the Western Athletic Conference, are 42-52 under Dollar. The Redhawks have road wins over Virginia, Oregon State, Utah and Longwood since he took over. Sunday’s loss snapped a 10-game home winning streak.
“I’ll put up our success at this point with anyone,” Dollar said. “This is a unique situation. You look at the other transitioning schools and typically they only win like four, five games a year.
“Typically they don’t get to a point where they’re recruiting as well as we’re recruiting, bringing in the guys and developing them the way that we’ve developed them. Typically they don’t go on the road and have big time victories like we have.”
Even after a loss this dreary, Dollar saw the building as half full and saw his program as overflowing.
“I still see us as being way ahead of schedule in comparison with how it normally is,” he said. “Would I like it to be accelerated? Of course I would. But I took this project on knowing exactly what I was getting into. Now I’m even more excited about how it’s going and what we’re doing.”
Dollar is a coach with perspective. In an impatient business, he understands the importance of patience. Slowly, he’s building something enduring at Seattle U. And that’s why he still was smiling at the end of this bad day.