Seattle U hired a friendly, unimposing man who continually tells players he loves them but is willing to show tough love when they aren’t giving it their all. “I just want them to be the best they can be,” Hayford says.

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The five players who just lost a free-throw-shooting contest stand in a row at midcourt, facing the five winners.

“T.T., I want you to piggyback Aaron to the end of the court,” Jim Hayford instructs. The players laugh, but the Seattle University men’s basketball coach is not joking.

So Aaron Menzies, all 7 feet 3 and 285 pounds of him, gets a free ride on the back of guard Mattia Da Campo, 6-5 and 210. It’s quite a sight, with Da Campo seemingly disappearing below the big center, and the players crack up.

But the laughter soon stops. It’s time for the other four losers to pay up.

“We want to make it fun for them,” says Hayford, who took over the Seattle U program in March.

If Hayford is a bit unorthodox and does things a bit differently than most Division I coaches, maybe it’s because he was never trying to become one. It happened by accident, he says.

But here he is, in charge of re-energizing the Seattle U program, which has seen little success since returning to Division I in 2009.

The school hired a friendly, unimposing man who looks more like a computer engineer than a basketball coach, who takes pride that a lot of his friends aren’t coaches (“because I try to live a normal life outside of this basketball thing”) and has been successful at every coaching stop in his career.

It hired a man who is continually telling players he loves them but is also willing to show tough love when players aren’t giving it their all.

“I just want them to be the best they can be,” Hayford says, speaking about not just basketball but life.

Seattle University men’s basketball coach Jim Hayford leads his team with speeches and song before the game against Eastern Washington. Hayford is the former coach of the Eastern Washington Eagles. (Courtney Pedroza / Seattle Times)

Saturday Dec. 2, 2 p.m., on the bottom floor of KeyArena

It is less than 24 hours before what certainly will be the most emotional game of Hayford’s first season at Seattle U. Eastern Washington, the team Hayford coached the previous six seasons, is coming to play the Redhawks.

But Hayford couldn’t look more relaxed, wearing gray sweatpants and a Seattle U sweatshirt. He has brought his lunch, fast food from the Safeway deli, and is ready to talk a bit about his journey.

Hayford, who turned 50 in May, is not a young coach looking to leave Seattle U in a year or two for a bigger job. He came here after 16 years in Spokane, the first 10 as the coach at Division III Whitworth, which became a national power during Hayford’s reign and at one point was ranked No 1.

His success was noticed 16 miles west in Cheney, and Division I Eastern Washington made the rare move of hiring a coach from a Division III school.

“To be honest, it’s probably the only Division I job I could have gotten,” Hayford says.

But once he got it he excelled, just as he had at the University of Sioux Falls (S.D.) and Whitworth. Hayford revitalized the Eastern program, leading the team to a 66-37 record in his final three seasons, and took the Eagles to the NCAA tournament in 2014-15.

What brought him west after two seasons at Sioux Falls to Spokane had nothing to do with basketball and everything to do with family. His 6-year-old daughter, Jayme, was diagnosed with leukemia, and the family needed to move closer to treatment centers.

Hayford — who said he would have changed careers if necessary — got the job at Whitworth, and Jayme got treatment in Spokane and at Seattle Children’s hospital.

After a several-year battle, Jayme has been cancer-free for almost 12 years and graduated this month from Eastern Washington. But going through that ordeal gives Hayford a perspective on family and work that many people don’t have.

“That was a very tough time,” he says.

Despite being happy in Spokane, the timing was right for Hayford when the Seattle U job opened this spring. Jayme was finishing up at Eastern, and Joe, her younger brother, was off at college in Arizona.

“I would not have left if it meant disrupting their lives,” Hayford says.

But he and Robin, his wife of 26 years, were now empty-nesters. And the potential of Seattle U, a team he had regularly beaten at Eastern, intrigued him. The fact that his parents live in Mill Creek was a bonus.

And when he was able to negotiate free tuition for son Joe at Seattle U, that was the clincher. Jim was coming to Seattle, and so was Joe.

Now on the job since March, he sees no reason why Seattle U can’t be successful.

“We’re in one of the greatest cities in America, we have a great institution and we have great resources, so why not us?” Hayford says about the potential at Seattle U. “I believe in what we can do here.”

Seattle University men’s basketball coach Jim Hayford reads the newspaper as his players warm up before the game against Eastern Washington. (Courtney Pedroza / The Seattle Times)
Seattle University men’s basketball coach Jim Hayford reads the newspaper as his players warm up before the game against Eastern Washington. (Courtney Pedroza / The Seattle Times)

2:15 p.m. in the coaches’ meeting room

Hayford is surrounded by his three top assistants, Chris Victor, Nick Robinson and Ryan Madry. All three are quite a bit younger and share Bay Area ties with Hayford, as does Pat Mulligan, the director of player development.

Meet the Redhawks

#0 Dashawn McDowell: The 6-foot-5 sophomore guard averaged 1.4 points and 8.0 minutes last season at SMU. Transferred to Seattle U and has to sit out this season.

#1 Morgan Means: After starting 29 games as a freshman, the 6-3 sophomore guard is a key role player, averaging 6.8 points and 3.6 assists.

#2 Jordan Hill: The 6-5 senior point guard played four seasons at Wisconsin (one as a redshirt), and because he earned his degree, was eligible to play immediately upon transferring to Seattle U. He is averaging 13.2 points, 4.4 rebounds and a team-high 4.2 assists.

#5 Matej Kavas: The 6-8 sophomore from Slovenia was a member of the All-WAC freshman team last year after redshirting the previous year because of a knee injury. He leads the team in scoring at 18.3 points per game.

#10 Richaud Gittens: A graduate transfer from Weber State, where the 6-5 guard averaged 7.6 points and 4.3 rebounds through six games last year before a season-ending leg injury. Scored eight points in Weber State’s loss to Xavier in NCAA tournament in 2016. Averaging 10.5 points and 5.5 rebounds as a senior starter.

#11 Scott Ulaneo: A 6-10 sophomore forward from Rome, Italy, he averaged 4.4 points and 3.2 rebounds last season. He has started three game this season and is averaging 2.8 points and 2.8 rebounds.

#12 Mattia Da Campo: A 6-5 sophomore guard from Venice, Italy, he has worked his way into the rotation and has played in all 12 games and started once. He is averaging 2.1 points.

#13: Josh Hearlihy: The 6-8 graduate transfer guard/forward has made an immediate impact as a starter,averaging 13.9 points, second most on the team. Spent two seasons as a deep reserve for Tulane, before spending two years at Vermont (one as a redshirt), where he also did not get much playing time.

#14: Eric Alperin: A 6-2 sophomore guard, he transferred from USC, where he did not play basketball. He took two years off from basketball to pursue fashion, modeling and clothing design.

#15 Jake Spurgeon: The 6-5 sophomore started 12 games as a freshman but redshirted last season after suffering a foot injury. He is averaging 1.1 points and 6.3 minutes this season.

#21 Colin Huun: The 6-0 junior guard played two seasons at Chemeketa CC in Salem, Ore. He has scored a total of 11 points in the two games he has played for Seattle U.

#23: Aaron Nettles: The 5-11 freshman guard from Seattle Prep has become a key reserve, averaging 5.0 points and 11.5 minutes. He is shooting 46.7 percent from three-point range and is fourth on the team with 14 three-pointers.

#24 Delante Jones: The 6-5 guard is sitting out this season after transferring from American, where he was a two-year starter and averaged 11.5 points last season. Will have two years of eligibility.

#30 Latio Cosmos: The 6-0 sophomore walk-on guard from Overlake High School in Redmond has not played in a game this season after playing in three games last season.

#35 Brennan Corrigan: The 6-4 freshman walk-on guard/forward from Oaks Christian High in Westlake Village, Calif., has played in two games and has yet to score.

#41 Aaron Menzies: The 7-3 junior center from Manchester, England, missed the second half of last season because of a foot injury. He is third on the team in scoring at 11.4 points pe game and first in rebounding at 6.4 a game.

#42 Myles Carter: The 6-9 junior forward played 11 games at Seton Hall as a freshman, then was dismissed from the team last December. He is sitting out this season because of transfer rules.

(No number) Matt Owies: The 6-0 sophomore guard averaged 2.6 points as a true freshman last season at Hawaii.He is sitting out this season because of transfer rules.

The assistant coaches

Chris Victor: The associate head coach, he spent the past two seasons as one of Hayford’s assistants at Eastern Washington. Spent five seasons as coach at Citrus Community College in California, going 103-39. Was the point guard on Concordia’s NAIA national title team in 2003.

Nick Robinson: Graduated from Stanford in 2005, where he was a team captain two seasons and started 67 games. Was the coach at Southern Utah for four seasons (2012-16).

Ryan Madry: Was a co-captain playing for West Georgia and has spent the past six seasons as an assistant at UC Santa Barbara. He was the co-coach at West Valley Community College in California in 2007-08.

Patrick Mulligan: The director of player personnel, he graduated from Gonzaga. Was a longtime high-school coach at Wallenberg High School in San Francisco.

Jesse Nakanishi: The director of operations, he spent the past six seasons as an assistant at Hawaii Pacific and was the associate head coach from 2013 until taking the job with the Redhawks this season.

Mike Odland and Arvid Isaksen: The two serve as video coordinators. Odland, who played at Roosevelt High, played four seasons for Hayford at Whitworth. Isaksen played at Pacific Lutheran and was the associate head coach at PLU before joining Seattle U this spring.

Scott Hanson(All stats are through Friday)

“If you come and watch our practices, you see that these guys are coaching,” Hayford says. “A lot of head coaches, it’s not what they want; it’s their classroom, and they’re the teacher.

“All three of these guys have been head coaches before, and they are going to lead a program again, and we are going to do it all together.”

After putting his staff together, Hayford had to assess the talent he was inheriting, and the new staff did a detailed analysis of each player’s production.

“We had to improve the talent level,” he says. “You have to check your pride at the door, because the better your talent level, the better your coaching.”

So to fill empty roster spots, the team picked up three graduate transfers (players who have earned their degrees and can transfer without sitting out a season) who are now senior starters, and another group of transfers who are sitting out the season and will be eligible next year.

“In your first season, if you go though a season and you’re something like 5-26, it’s hard to keep people motivated and engaged,” Hayford says. “We felt some urgency to get some credibility this first year, so that’s why we went into the grad-transfer market.”

2:30 p.m. in the Seattle U locker room

The 15 players are sitting down. Hayford approaches each to ask how classes are going. Each answer is met by an encouraging response and a fist bump from the coach, who then tells the player he loves him.

If the coach wasn’t sincere, you could imagine some eye rolls. But it’s obvious these aren’t empty words from the coach, and it’s just as obvious the players love him back.

Hayford is equally committed to his players succeeding academically. Each day after classes, his players have to text him about how things went.

As for his own college experience, it is unique for a Division I basketball coach.

“I am the only Division I basketball coach who went to college on a soccer scholarship,” he likes to say.

The athlete of the year at tiny Berean Christian High School in Walnut Creek, Calif., he went to Azusa Pacific in Southern California and played center midfield for a year. Then he transferred to Life Pacific for a year and was a point guard on the basketball team.

Hayford then bounced around a few colleges while finding time to coach a couple of seasons of high-school basketball. Father Jim Sr. was a pastor, but the son decided to choose a different path. Still, he wanted to do something that would have a big impact on people’s lives.

“I looked back at the people who had the biggest impact on my life, and it was coaches,” Hayford says. “But I realized: I’ve got to get my degree.”

So he went back to Azusa and got his degree in 1989, having gone to five colleges in between, then buckled down and got his master’s in 1991 at Claremont.

Soon he was back at Azusa Pacific as an assistant coach, and spent nine years there before moving to Sioux Falls for his first head-coaching job.

3:30 p.m., on the KeyArena floor

Hayford’s teams spend at least 25 percent of each practice doing shooting drills, and often more. His teams are known for having great shooters, and they always shoot a lot of three-pointers.

“At the end of every great play is a made shot,” he says.

He asks each player to make 200 3-point shots a day, on his own time, during the season — and 500 in the offseason.

The only exception is Menzies. His assignment is free throws: 100 a day during the season, 200 in the offseason. Perhaps not coincidentally, his free-throw percentage is 73.5, up from 60.7 last season.

“They are supposed to text me when they’re done,” Hayford says.

Those shots often come late at night, said Seattle U’s leading scorer, Matej Kavas, who says his best streak was 100 made three-pointers out of 107 attempts.

“Sometimes, I’ll get a text at 1:30 a.m. telling me they’re done,” Hayford says, then jokes, “but I get them back when I get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom and I text them back at 3:30.”

But Hayford is not joking at this particular moment as he orders three players to begin doing push-ups.

“Hit the floor, and don’t get up until I tell you to,” he says, raising his voice at the offenders, who are being penalized for not being tough enough while allowing multiple offensive rebounds.

Hayford doesn’t wear a whistle at practice (“that’s for dogs and dolphins”), and he seldom yells.

“If you get to that level all the time, it starts losing its impact,” he says.

But Hayford clearly wants to make an impact after watching his first unit fall behind 12-5 to a group of redshirt players and reserves in a mini-scrimmage. Hayford stops practice, raises his voice again, unleashes some choice words at his starters for not being ready and makes them do running drills.

It has an immediate effect. The emotionally charged first unit rips off seven consecutive points. But Hayford is unimpressed.

“There are no do-overs,” he says to them. “There was no do-over against Washington State (when they let an 10-point second-half lead slip away), and there won’t be any do-overs against Eastern Washington.”

4:40 p.m., practice concluding at KeyArena

Hayford gets his team together and tells them about the great desserts at Glen Acres Golf & Country Club south of Seattle, where the team will gather for dinner. If the players want dessert, they’ll have to earn it, he tells them.

Each of the top 10 active players will shoot two free throws. To get dessert, the team has to make 16 of 20. After two of the first five are missed, Hayford teases them that it’s not looking good:

Seven shots later, it is over. The players are 7 of 12, but Hayford has an offer.

“If you make 7 of 8, you get dessert,” he says. “If you don’t, you each owe me $1.”

The players don’t succeed, and Hayford has them do running drills to pay off the debt. The earlier yelling and the stopping of practice seems a long time ago. It is fun again.

6:30 p.m., Glen Acres Country Golf & Country Club

Dinner is over and one of the players asks, “Coach, can we have dessert?”

Hayford says sure, which seemed fair considering the team is leading the nation in free-throw shooting.

But he asks the players, who are spending the night together at a Seattle hotel, to behave responsibly.

“I want this to be the greatest experience of your lives,” he says of their Seattle U careers. “I am not coaching high school, and I am not coaching boys. I am coaching college, and I am coaching men, and that is how I am going to treat you as long as you act like that.”

Hayford has few strict rules on the road, but the players know what’s expected, and Hayford has confidence in them.

“I learned a long time ago: no knuckleheads,” he says. “The players know that one guy (doing something bad) would ruin it for all of them, and that’s the greatest pressure of all.”

Dec. 3, 8:30 a.m. outside KeyArena

Hayford looks a bit pained as he gets ready to enter the arena for his team’s shoot-around.

“I wish we didn’t have to do this,” he says of playing against his former team in 4½ hours.

He still loves his former players at Eastern and its coach, Shantay Legans, who was Hayford’s top assistant there.

“I guess I kind of win no matter who wins,” he says.

It went without saying he would also kind of lose no matter who lost.

9:15 a.m., center court at KeyArena

After going through shooting drills, Hayford gets his team together. The players are going to breakfast, and he tells them to turn off their phones and spend the next few hours getting their minds into the right place, where they can focus on the challenge that awaits.

10 a.m., St. James Cathedral, downtown Seattle

This is where Hayford goes to get his mind in the right place Sunday mornings when he is home.

“It’s also a weekly reminder to try to be a better person,” he says.

Hayford is attending Mass with several friends. Hayford went to his father’s Protestant churches as a kid, and is not a Catholic, but he says the formal nature and rituals of the Catholic Church suit him.

The inside of St. James is comparable to some of the great cathedrals in Europe. It is indeed awe-inspiring. “In this setting, with the beauty and the great music, you can’t help but find peace,” Hayford says.

11:30 a.m., on the drive back to KeyArena

The driver of the van is getting ready to go through the green light, when something catches Hayford’s eye.

“Stop, pull over,” he instructs.

He gets out of the car, and runs to a group of five young women who are fruitlessly trying to take a selfie with the Space Needle in the background.

Hayford takes a picture for them.

“Well, I’ve now been to Mass and I’ve done a good deed,” he says.

Seattle University men’s basketball coach Jim Hayford sits down with his players during a timeout to go over a plan in the first half against Eastern Washington at Key Arena, in Seattle, on Sunday, Dec. 3, 2017.  (Courtney Pedroza / The Seattle Times)
Seattle University men’s basketball coach Jim Hayford sits down with his players during a timeout to go over a plan in the first half against Eastern Washington at Key Arena, in Seattle, on Sunday, Dec. 3, 2017. (Courtney Pedroza / The Seattle Times)

11:35 a.m. on the KeyArena floor

Hayford walks toward the court, with his team warming up on one end, and Eastern Washington on the other.

“OK, let’s get this over with,” he says, as he walks toward the Eagles.

One by one, he shares embraces.

A few minutes later, he is hugging Legans.

This is not going to be an easy day.

12:30 p.m. in the Seattle U locker room

After a final review of strategy, Hayford asks his team: “What do we play basketball for?” The players quickly answer: “To have fun.”

The coach tells his players that Eastern Washington is going to want this game badly, and that they have to be ready for that.

He lists three things they need to do: focus on your assignment, take responsibility and have fun while playing with passion.

“Lean on your confidence,” he says.

Ready or not, it’s time to play.

1:50 p.m., at halftime in the Seattle U locker room

The Redhawks are ahead 43-30 at halftime, but Victor lights into the team for failing to go hard enough for loose balls.

Like the head coach, he is not a yeller, and he has the team’s attention.

Then Hayford addresses the team.

“Let’s have pride in our performance all the way to the very end,” he says. “Give your best for the whole 40 minutes. They are not going to lay down. Let’s have a great first five to seven minutes of the half.”

2:50 p.m., and Seattle U has just won, 84-65

After consoling the losers, Hayford makes his way into the jubilant Seattle U locker room.

“That was an ass-kicking,” he tells his team, his voice rising for the occasion.

“I am so proud of you guys. We are now 5-4, and there is no looking back.”

3 p.m., at Hayford’s news conference

As happy as Hayford was for his team, he was clearly torn by what had happened.

”Winning against players who called me Coach last year, and before that, it’s hard to be too happy,” he says. “I don’t really feel a sense of satisfaction, because my heart is also with those guys in the other locker room. Every game Shantay Legans coaches is a game I will cheer for them.”

Hayford had told his players a few days earlier that he did not want them trying to win the game for him.

“He told us not to want it for that reason, but we all huddled up, and we said we had to win this one for Coach and let him know he made the right choice,” says guard Jordan Hill, a graduate transfer from Wisconsin.

But the coach gets the final word:

“I love my team.”

Seattle U schedule
The Redhawks are 7-5. They begin Western Athletic Conference play Jan. 6 vs. Grand Canyon.
Nov 10 at Saint Louis L, 62-46
Nov. 12 Puget Sound W, 121-70
Nov. 15 at Washington St. L, 75-59
Nov. 18 Detroit Mercy* W, 102-71
Nov. 19 Belmont* L, 90-77
Nov. 24 at Washington L, 89-84
Nov. 27 Idaho State W, 73-67
Nov. 30 Kennesaw St. W, 66-54
Dec. 3 Eastern Washington W, 84-65
Dec. 4 Pacific Lutheran W, 99-69
Dec. 9 at Saint Mary’s L, 97-73
Dec. 13 Saint Martin’s W, 88-72
Dec. 16 Portland 7 p.m.
Dec. 19 California 7 p.m.
Dec. 23 Nicholls St. 1 p.m.
Dec. 28 Grambling St. 7 p.m.
Dec. 30 UC Riverside 1 p.m.
Jan. 6 Grand Canyon 7 p.m.
Jan. 11 Chicago St. 7 p.m.
Jan. 13 Mo.-Kansas City 1 p.m.
Jan. 18 at New Mexico St. 6 p.m.
Jan. 20 at Texas-Rio Grande 5 p.m.
Jan. 26 CSU Bakersfield 7 p.m.
Feb. 3 Utah Valley 7 p.m.
Feb. 8 at Mo.-Kansas City 5 p.m.
Feb. 10 at Chicago St. Noon
Feb. 15 Texas-Rio Grande 7 p.m.
Feb. 17 New Mexico St. 1 p.m.
Feb. 22 at Grand Canyon 6 p.m.
Feb, 24 at CSU Bakersfield 6 p.m.
March 3 at Utah Valley 6 p.m.
Jim Hayford’s coaching record
Seattle University coach Jim Hayford has a career record of 367-180 entering Saturday’s game vs. Portland.
1999-00 Sioux Falls 15-15
2000-01 Sioux Falls 22-12
2001-02 Whitworth 20-7
2002-03 Whitworth 23-4
2003-04 Whitworth 19-6
2004-05 Whitworth 13-11
2005-06 Whitworth 20-7
2006-07 Whitworth 24-4
2007-08 Whitworth 21-7
2008-09 Whitworth 23-6
2009-10 Whitworth 26-3
2010-11 Whitworth 28-2
2011-12 Eastern Wash. 15-17
2012-13 Eastern Wash. 10-21
2013-14 Eastern Wash. 15-16
2014-15 Eastern Wash. 26-9
2015-16 Eastern Wash. 18-16
2016-17 Eastern Wash. 22-12
2017-18 Seattle U 7-5