A promising Redhawks season was derailed by an injury epidemic. But the team is getting healthy and there is "the opportunity for us to do something amazing."
Maybe he should have knocked on wood.
A month and a half ago, Seattle University men’s basketball coach Jim Hayford was talking about his team’s prospects heading into the Western Athletic Conference season. Despite having no seniors, the Redhawks were 12-3 and coming off a victory at California, their second win of the season over a Pac-12 team.
“I do think this group is going to be something really, really special,” Hayford said. “And I think they can be really good by the end of this year. We just need to stay away from the injury bug.”
Unfortunately for the Redhawks, they were hit with an injury epidemic unlike anything Hayford has experienced in his more than 30 years of coaching. And just more than six weeks after everything looked so bright, Seattle U is 1-9 in WAC play heading into the home game Thursday night against Missouri-Kansas City.
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But for the first time in a couple of months, the team will be whole again. Matej Kavas, the team’s second-leading scorer and best outside shooter, will return from a broken shin. Delante Jones, another starting guard, will be back after resting a knee injury that will need surgery after the season.
Seattle U (13-12) used mostly a seven-player rotation in the nonconference season. Then, when WAC play began, four of them – Kavas, Jones, and top reserves Aaron Nettles and Riley Grigsby — had to miss games with injuries. The other three – Terrell Brown, Myles Carter and Morgan Means — have played through injuries that might have kept them out in other situations.
And then, on SU’s Midwest trip to play at Chicago State and Missouri-Kansas City, several players got the flu. A couple had to remain at the hotel, leaving the team with “five or six scholarship players,” Hayford said.
“I’ve always said injuries are part of the game, but this is beyond that,” Hayford said. “There were three weeks when we needed coaches to play at practice to fill out a five-on-five.”
It has been a learning experience for the players and the coach.
“I think what the last six or seven weeks has done is make me really focus on what you can control,” Hayford said. “The players that are playing, what can I do to make them better? And they’ve really improved. We’re a really good defensive team and a really good rebounding team. We just can’t score right now.”
In their past five games, the Redhawks are allowing 60.6 points per game, but they won only one of those games. Seattle U averaged 74 points in the nonconference slate, and just 61.8 in WAC play.
In several of its WAC defeats, Seattle U led at halftime only to falter late, with Hayford saying, “We’ve just run out of gas.”
At some point, Hayford said he believes all the injuries will be beneficial as the team has built more depth. Junior guard Mattia Da Campo and junior forward Anand Hundal went from little-used reserves to starters and have impressed the coach. Freshman guard Ian Burke also has taken advantage of extra playing time.
“We will be better for it in the long run,” Hayford said.
Things should also improve in the short term. Not only are the Redhawks getting healthy, but five of their final six regular-season games are at home. With a good finish, the Redhawks could go into the WAC tournament with a lot of confidence, with the winner of that event earning a berth into the NCAA tournament.
“It does have the opportunity for us to do something amazing,” Hayford said. “12-3 and then 1-9, and how do we finish? If we get a on a roll going into the conference tournament, it looks pretty good. We are four wins away from guaranteeing another winning season. For a team that has just lost nine of 10, there is still so much we are playing for.”