So, what has Seattle University men’s basketball coach Jim Hayford excited entering his third season?
Familiarity and experience.
“What we didn’t know the first two years was how are these guys going to play together in a game — the first group we had three grad transfers and the second group hadn’t played in a game together — and now you look at it, and 96% of our playing time is going to be guys who have played with one another,” he said. “So there is a familiarity with the system, with the coaching, that will really be positive.”
The Redhawks seemed headed to special things last year, going 12-3 in nonconference play, and twice beating Pac-12 teams, knocking off Washington State in Kent and winning at California.
Then came a rash of injuries to key players at the start of the conference season, and the Redhawks lost nine of their first 10 in conference play. There were just six or seven players available at some practices, forcing assistant coaches to take part in five-on-five scrimmaging.
After getting some players back, Seattle U won five of its final six in conference play before losing to Grand Canyon in the opening round of the Western Athletic Conference tournament and to Presbyterian in the CollegeInsider.com tournament.
It all added up to an 18-15 record, and what Hayford said was a “tale of three parts.”
The ingredients seem in place for a much better story, with a senior-laden squad that lost just one key member from last season, sharpshooting forward Matej Kavas, who went to Nebraska as a graduate transfer.
Seattle U was picked to finish third in the WAC in the preseason poll, and got a rousing 98-64 victory Tuesday in the season opener against Pacific Lutheran. It has never finished higher than fourth since joining the WAC for the 2012-13 season after returning to Division I.
“I expect us to have a really good season and for us to have the best season in conference play Seattle U has ever had,” Hayford said. “I will certainly be disappointed if we were lower than third.”
The biggest starter back is burly 6-foot-9 senior forward Myles Carter, the Seton Hall transfer. He averaged 12.9 points per game in his first season with Seattle U, third on the team, and led the team in rebounding (7.9 a game) and blocked shots (60).
“I expect him to be the best post player in the WAC,” Hayford said.
Perhaps the most pleasant surprise last season was 6-1 point guard Terrell Brown from Garfield High School, who had transferred from Shoreline Community College. Brown, a physical junior, led the team in scoring (14.1) and assists (4.5) and was second in rebounding (6.4). He led the Redhawks with a near triple-double in the team’s opening victory with 16 points, eight rebounds and nine assists.
If there was a weakness in his game, it was his three-point shooting (31.8%), but he focused on that in the offseason, making 300 to 500 three-pointers per day. Brown also said he was helped by playing in open-gym games over the summer with NBA veterans Zach LaVine, Spencer Hawes, Dejounte Murray and Marquese Chriss.
“The intensity level was high, and guarding those guys helped me out,” Brown said. “Something they were teaching me is lead all the time. You’re a point guard, and always talk and always lead.”
Said Hayford of Brown: “Now, it’s, ‘I want to lead a team to an NCAA tournament,’ whereas last year at this time, he is thinking, ‘How can I make a place for myself?’ “
Morgan Means, a 6-3 senior guard, has the most experience on the team, having started 71 games for the Redhawks over the past three seasons. He was second on the team last season at 14.0 points a game.
Delante Jones, a 6-5 guard who was a transfer from American, was fourth on the team in scoring last season at 12.9 points a game. Rounding out the starting lineup figures to be sophomore Riley Grigsby, a 6-6 forward who started seven games as a freshman.
First off the bench will often be senior Mattia Da Campo from Venice, Italy. He got extended playing time when others got hurt last year and did so well and played with so much energy that Hayford could not take him out of the lineup.
“What he brings off the bench is what every coach wants in a sixth man — (someone) high-energy who can play multiple positions,” Hayford said.
Seattle U will get an idea quickly how good it is, with games at Washington, Syracuse, Mississippi, Saint Mary’s and Washington State early in the season.
“We scheduled up, and we scheduled away from Seattle, really hard games because I think that will make us tougher in conference play,” Hayford said. “If you do get a signature win in one of those games, it really elevates where you are.”
The team’s experience will certainly help in those environments and throughout the season.
“The key to being good at the mid-major level is getting old,” Hayford said. “We’ve got familiarity, age and experience.”