Seattle University begins its first season of play in the Western Athletic Conference and is eligible to play in the NCAA tournament for the first time since returning to Division I.
The wait is finally over for the Seattle University men’s basketball team.
Five years after the school announced it was making the move to Division I, the Redhawks are shooting for the same goal as everyone else — the NCAA tournament. The past three years, the Redhawks were eligible only for other postseason tournaments. But now, the big carrot is there, with Seattle U. a member of the Western Athletic Conference.
“Knowing we can play in the tournament is big,” said junior guard Sterling Carter. “That’s something big that we want to accomplish this year and we are not going to take our time to get there. I feel like our goal is to win the WAC this year and make a statement.”
Fourth-year coach Cameron Dollar is similarly optimistic.
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“I think we’ve got all the components to where, in March, we will be able to do some things and make some noise, for sure,” he said.
Dollar is in his fourth year at Seattle U., with a record of 40-49. He says the past three seasons, when the Redhawks made the transition to full Div. I member, positioned the program well for the next step.
“All of us are excited,” he said. “But I’m not sure there is a different attitude. I think my guys have always competed and scrapped. I don’t think we ever used that (not being eligible for the tournament) as a crutch. If anything, we just tried to ignore it. …
“I think we used those three years wisely all around the program. We’ve gotten better, stronger and bigger.”
And, he also thinks, a lot deeper, saying “this will be the first year that guys in the 7-8-9 spots could arguably be in the mix even with the guys ahead of them.”
Still, the Redhawks have holes to fill, losing three of their top five scorers from last season — Aaron Broussard (18.2), Eric Wallace (9.4) and point guard Cervante Burrell (8.3).
But four players who started at least nine games last season return, led by Carter (10.1) and forward Clarence Trent (9.4), each juniors.
Carter, a Franklin High School graduate bothered the past two years by a nagging knee injury, is healthy. “He’s always shot it good,” Dollar said. “But now he’s defending and making hustle plays and playing like a veteran.”
Trent, who began his career at Washington, “has made huge strides,” Dollar says, becoming “better, stronger and better-conditioned.”
Also back after starting at times are guards Prince Obasi and Allen Tate, each junior-college transfers last season. Dollar says Obasi will compete for the point-guard spot and says Tate might have been the team’s best player during a five-game summer trip to China.
Also back is senior small forward Chad Rasmussen, who along with Carter was the team’s best three-point shooter last season, and sophomore Jarell Flora, one of the team’s most athletic players.
And added to the mix in the backcourt is junior point guard D’Vonne Pickett, Jr., a Rainier Beach grad who spent the past two years at Central Arizona Community College and should compete with Obasi for the starting point spot.
“He’ll have an adjustment, as most guys do, but I expect him to have a good year,” Dollar said.
Also adding depth in the backcourt is walk-on David Trimble of Davis High in Yakima, whom Dollar said has played well enough so far to potentially force his way into the rotation (guards Emerson Murray, a transfer from California, and Isiah Umipig, a transfer from Cal State Fullerton and a graduate of Federal Way, are each on the roster but sitting out this year due to NCAA transfer rules).
The frontcourt might be a little more raw. Trent and Rasmussen return as do seniors Louis Green (3.8 points in 11.3 minutes per game last season) and T.J. Diop (2.3 points in 9.5 minutes per game last season). Dollar is high on 6-9, 230-pound Deshaun Sunderhaus, who redshirted last season. “He can score inside and outside and has a chance to be really good,” Dollar said.
And one of the team’s most intriguing newcomers is 6-11, 255-pound center Jack Crook of Manchester, England. Dollar said his staff got a tip about Crook from the staff at Lamar (Colo.) CC, where Tate and Diop had played. Dollar calls Crook “really skilled.”
In an exhibition Wednesday, the Redhawks routed NAIA Evergreen 117-34, leading 61-6 at halftime. Seattle was led by 20 points each off the bench from Rasmussen and Tate
Dollar’s teams have been known for their fast-paced style (averaging 76.5 points and allowing 75 last season) and he says that will continue.
“We’ll keep going and going and picking up full-court and running our sets on offense and trying to get out in transition and get easy buckets,” he said.
And this year, doing so with the knowledge that the big prize is there for the taking.
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or email@example.com. On Twitter @bcondotta.