You want a feel-good story? A weekend pick-me-up? Capitol Hill is where you’re going to find it.
That’s where nets were cut down and championship T-shirts were donned Saturday afternoon. It’s where Cameron Tyson jumped into a herd of teammates in celebration. It’s where the Seattle U men’s basketball — for the first time ever — claimed a share of the Western Athletic Conference title.
“This team’s been so special all season, and we had an idea of what we were capable of — our goal was to win a WAC championship,” said Seattle coach Chris Victor, whose Redhawks beat Chicago State 74-66 Saturday. “To meet that goal is amazing for the squad, for the university and for the city.”
Four months ago, Seattle U’s hoops program was in an oh-so-tenuous position. In the middle of November, head coach Jim Hayford resigned after reportedly repeating a racial slur.
This came eight months after a COVID-condensed season, in which the Redhawks went 4-5 in conference — and that came a year after Seattle U finished 14-15 overall.
Climbing a ladder with scissors in hand didn’t appear to be a likely ending to this regular season for Seattle U players. Earning an automatic bye to the WAC tournament semifinals didn’t, either. But that’s what happened Saturday at the Redhawk Center on Seattle U’s campus as Mayor Bruce Harrell and others looked on. How did the they get here?
Well, on the personnel front, the first three names to highlight are guards Darrion Trammell, Riley Grigsby and Cameron Tyson. If that trio is rolling next week in Las Vegas, we might see this team cutting down nets there, too.
Trammell is the Redhawks’ leading scorer and assist man, and came into Saturday’s game averaging 16.5 points and 5.2 dimes (as well as a team-high 2.6 steals). The California native put up 20 points vs. Chicago State, 14 of which came in the second half.
Grigsby, also from Cali, came into the game third on the team in scoring at 12.7 points per game, then went on to put up a team-high 22 points Saturday.
And then there’s Tyson, the Bothell native who played on the Houston squad that went to the Final Four last year — the man Trammell said “changed the culture” when he transferred to Seattle U.
Tyson came into the game averaging 14.7 points but was held to just four in the first half Saturday. Then the god of outside shooting possessed him.
With 6:25 left and the Redhawks down by one, Tyson knocked down a three-pointer. With 5:19 left and the game tied, he hit another one from distance. With 4:33 and Seattle U up three, Tyson again put a three-point attempt through the net, and the Redhawks coasted to victory from there.
“I mean the first phone call I had with (Trammell), I was like if I come home, I want to win it and win it all,” said Tyson, who finished with 20 points and four three-pointers Saturday. “He believed in me, everybody believed in me, and I believe in everybody on our team, our squad, our staff. This is an amazing feeling, and we deserve it.”
It wouldn’t have surprised many people if Seattle U was again mediocre this season. A coach resigning amid controversy could prompt a downward spiral. The Redhawks didn’t go that way, though. They won seven of their first eight games of the season and then their first eight games in conference play.
Victor said every pregame board has the word “united” scrawled across it. It’s a mentality the team has seemed to embrace from the moment he took over. Whether that will lead to Seattle U’s first NCAA Tournament bid since 1969 remains to be seen.
As mentioned earlier, this was a share of the WAC title. Stephen F. Austin and New Mexico State each won Saturday and finished with the same conference record as Seattle U.
No matter to the Redhawks, who hold the No. 2 seed in the WAC Tournament. They’re getting their banner, they’re getting their bye into the semis in Vegas, and they’re getting their respect.
“I interviewed with the WAC conference when we did the opener and I said it — I said we’re the top dogs,” Trammell said. “Today proved it.”
Is there still more to prove? Yeah, probably so. But regardless of the results this next week, this team his proved enough.