In the final 15 games, Brendan Westendorf was the points leader nine times and SU was 8-7. His scoring was imperative on a team that averaged just 64.8 points — the lowest in the WAC.

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Yeah, he’s that guy.

Brendan Westendorf knows the look. At first, it’s quizzical. Then a stranger approaches and asks if he plays for the Seattle University men’s basketball team.

Usually this happens somewhere on campus.

Keys to success

Squeeze the senior class

The Redhawks have a senior-laden squad that includes Brendan Westendorf, three-year starter William Powell at forward, guard Manroop Clair and forward Emmanuel Chibuogwu. It’s the most experienced squad since the 2014-15 team that posted an 18-16 record — the most victories during coach Cameron Dollar’s eight-year tenure.

Play big, big fella

SU lost center Jack Crook, a three-year starter and the team’s second-leading scorer and rebounder last season, to graduation. Aaron Menzies, a 7-foot-3, 295-pound sophomore, takes over at center following an inconsistent first year in which he averaged 4.4 points and 5 rebounds.

Protect the rock

The Redhawks averaged 15.8 turnovers last season, the most in the Western Athletic Conference. They can’t give away possessions because their zone defense doesn’t force a slew of turnovers. SU has been last in the conference in turnover ratio the past two seasons.

NIT is not a consolation prize

Only the conference tournament champion secures a trip the NCAA tournament and no WAC team starts the season dreaming of playing in the National Invitation Tournament — but Seattle U should. Playing in the NIT would be a major achievement for the Redhawks after consecutive trips to the College Basketball Invitational. To guarantee a NIT berth, SU needs to win the WAC regular-season title. A 20-win season also would put them in contention.

Percy Allen

And considering Westendorf is almost always wearing some type of Redhawks athletics gear, it’s difficult for the lanky 6-foot-5 Interdisciplinary Liberal Studies major to blend in among the 7,500 students at the Jesuit Catholic school.

Since regaining Division I status in 2008, Seattle U has strained to expand its small fan base or make significant inroads with a dispassionate student body and Seattle’s sports community.

But Westendorf tells a different story.

To his dismay — and the delight of SU athletic administrators trying to fill seats at the cavernous KeyArena — his popularity is skyrocketing after last season.

Westendorf blew any chance at anonymity around campus when he sank two buzzer-beating game-winners last season, including a 41-footer that made ESPN’s “SportsCenter” highlights.

“I get asked about it all the time, especially from people who were at the game,” Westendorf said. “They’re like, “Didn’t you hit the game-winner?’ And I’m like, ‘Oh man, here we go.’

“I guess people associate me with that. I say that’s me, but I don’t like talking about it. To me, it’s just another play.”

But it’s not. And Westendorf knows it.

Push him a little and the Kent native who played in the shadow of Gary Bell Jr. at Kentridge High admits it’s taken him some time to hone the skills needed to make game-winning shots.

Schedule highlights

• After the opener Friday against NCAA Division III Pacific Lutheran, the Redhawks have a serious step up in competition. They play at Colorado (Monday) and Notre Dame (Nov. 16) in the regional rounds of the Legends Classic. The game against the Buffaloes is a rematch of the 2015 College Basketball Invitational quarterfinals — a 72-64 Seattle U victory at Connolly Center. It’s the first meeting between SU and Notre Dame.

• A trip to Central Florida on Nov. 26 and a crosstown showdown with Washington on Dec. 22 at KeyArena are the other two marquee nonconference games.

• With five of its first seven WAC games at home, it’s imperative Seattle U gets off to a fast start in the 14-game conference season. The Redhawks open WAC play Jan. 7 on the road against defending tournament champion Cal State Bakersfield. SU plays 10 games at KeyArena and six at the Connolly Complex.

And it’s taken him even longer to muster the confidence needed to take those shots.

“Some people are afraid of the moment, and in my younger days I honestly would have run from the ball in those situations,” he said. “But now I’m in the mindset of if somebody has got to do it, then let it be me, because I have no issue taking the blame if we don’t get the win.

“Most importantly, my teammates are cool with it. I know I have their support whether it goes in or not.”

During his first year with the Redhawks last season, Westendorf, a transfer from Big Bend Community College in Moses Lake, was a reluctant star.

Despite impressive credentials — he’s Big Bend’s career leading scorer with 1,625 points and averaged 29.5 points as a sophomore — Westendorf struggled with the transition to Division I basketball.

Sitting out the 2014-15 season made him rusty, and moving to point guard made him nervous because the soft-spoken 23-year-old was thrust into a vocal leadership position.

“I was trying to get adjusted and get used to playing with these guys after being out for a year,” said Westendorf, who led SU last year in scoring (12.8 points per game), assists (4.3), steals (1.8) and minutes played (32.2). “It was definitely a little bit of, I got to get my feet wet and then once I’m in the water I could swim.”

He was Seattle U’s top scorer in just four of the first 17 games and the Redhawks had a 7-10 record.

In the final 15 games, Westendorf was the points leader nine times and SU was 8-7. His scoring was imperative on a team that averaged just 64.8 points a game — the lowest in the Western Athletic Conference.

“He’s such a good dude and he wants everyone to have a good experience,” SU coach Cameron Dollar said. “It’s taking him a little longer to understand that the more he puts some of us on his back, the better experience some dudes will have. Sometimes that seems counterintuitive.

“But what you try to get him to see is that when you’re really aggressive and leading the way, you give guys more mojo. You give them life. That leads to winning and that leads to more guys having a greater experience. You get to certain moments in games when you need your best guys to be your best guys.”

Westendorf was at his best when Seattle U needed him the most.

Two weeks after his half-court game-winning heave beat Chicago State 59-56, he sank a 25-foot three-pointer at the buzzer to defeat Utah Valley 72-69 on Senior Night.

Two weeks later, Westendorf scored a season-high 23 points in the WAC tournament opener to lead SU to a 75-52 victory over Rio Grande Valley.

Following a WAC tournament semifinals defeat, the Redhawks played two games in the College Basketball Invitational. Westendorf was SU’s leading scorer in both contests — finally learning the lesson Dollar had taught all season.

“Just hard-headed, I guess,” Westendorf said, smiling. “That’s not a problem anymore. I know what my role is.”

Heading into the 2016-17 season, Westendorf is a preseason all-WAC first-team selection by the league coaches.

The Redhawks were picked fourth by the media and fifth by the coaches in preseason polls, which might be a little low for a veteran-laden team that returns four starters from a squad that finished 15-17 and 7-7 (fourth) in the WAC.

For Westendorf, this season is all about creating new memories.

“I don’t want my legacy to be those two game-winners,” he said. “I want to get us back to the NCAA tournament. That’s what I want to be remembered for.”


• Junior guard Jadon Cohee, who averaged 7.8 points and 2.0 assists while starting 18 of 31 games last season, transferred to Southern Utah.