Walk into Chris Victor’s office at Seattle University and the first thing you notice is a framed and autographed No. 22 Elgin Baylor jersey hanging next to his desk.
“Had to have it,” he said. “That’s one of the first things I put up.”
There are several neatly stacked books on shelves next to a handful of Coach of the Year awards Victor collected after his improbable — and somewhat storybook — first year with the Seattle U men’s basketball team.
In the corner is the 2022 WAC regular-season conference championship trophy adorned with the net from the Chicago State victory that secured the Redhawks’ first league title.
With the exception of a couple of celebratory pictures from memorable games, the walls are mostly bare and SU’s hoops headquarters look like someone has just moved in.
“There’s plenty of room to add more championship hardware,” Victor said, smiling before admitting that he’s still settling into his new digs.
Following last season’s 23-9 record, which included a 14-4 WAC mark, the Redhawks removed Victor’s interim tag and named him head coach March 1. Terms of his multiyear contract were not disclosed.
“Before he became coach, players always joked around and we always knew [Victor] was going to be a head coach somewhere just because of his personality and how he carries himself and how he communicates,” senior guard Riley Grigsby said. “When all of that stuff unfolded and they promoted him, we knew he was the right man for the job. We knew he would be able to bring success and push us to our abilities.”
When Grigsby says “all the stuff,” he’s referring to a messy split with former coach Jim Hayford, who was suspended by the school following a report he twice repeated a racial slur. Hayford resigned Nov. 11, the day after SU’s season opener.
In hindsight, the controversy surrounding the abrupt coaching change galvanized the Redhawks, who could have easily splintered and faltered.
“Anytime you go through any adversity whether it’s an individual or a group and you get through it together, that brings you closer and builds your relationship a little bit more,” Victor said. “These guys went through some hard times early in the season and they found out their teammates had their backs. When you go through adversity together, it takes that relationship to another level.”
Fast forward one year and Victor is putting his stamp on SU, which begins the 2022-23 season 7 p.m. Monday with a nonconference game at UC San Diego.
“After the season, we took our time and really reviewed the year,” he said. “Looked at what went well, what didn’t, what we’re going to continue and what we’re going to change. Watched a lot of film. Looked at the numbers. Pored over the personnel and the roster.
“You have an idea of some things you want to implement, but you really can’t do it until you see this year’s team. What your team makeup is, what your roster looks like and how these guys mesh. You want to reflect on the season. Do your best to review it and learn from it.”
For starters, the Redhawks will have to replace point guard Darrion Trammell, their leading scorer who averaged 18.7 points and 5.1 assists during his two-year SU tenure before transferring to San Diego State.
“DT was a huge part of this team not only offensively, but defensively,” Victor said. “He was kind of our silent leader. Wasn’t very vocal but a guy that people looked to on this team. We’re not going to replace him with one guy. But having seven of our top nine scorers return, we expect all of those seven to make a jump this year.”
None more than junior guard Cameron Tyson, who was named preseason WAC first team, while Grigsby, a fifth-year senior guard, garnered preseason all-conference second-team honors.
Tyson, who tied for 12th nationally with 105 three-pointers, shot 37.6% from the perimeter and averaged 14.7 points and 5.2 rebounds last season.
“He’s probably the best shooter I’ve ever played with,” said Grigsby, who averaged 12.8 points and 3.6 rebounds last season. “He don’t miss. When we’re in practice, he’s making every shot even when he’s tired. I think he’s the top shooter in the country.”
SU returns senior forward Emeka Udenyi and sophomore center Brandton Chatfield to the starting lineup along with reserves Kobe Williamson, Vasja Pandza and Viktor Rajkovic.
The biggest personnel concern facing the Redhawks is whether newcomers Alex Schumacher and Paris Dawson will be able to provide leadership and consistent production at point guard.
And there’s an overarching question as to how SU, which was picked sixth in the WAC preseason coaches’ poll, will respond after a magical season of unprecedented success.
“The next step is the NCAA tournament,” Tyson said. “It’s time to make some new history. Seattle U is a hidden gem as far as basketball history. A lot of people don’t know that Elgin Baylor went here. We haven’t been to the NCAA tournament since 1969, which was the last time Seattle U has been on the national map. … Yes, I think about it and it would be amazing. It motivates me, just like it motivates all of us.”
Victor added: “We’re not shying away from that. We’re not hiding from it. That’s our ultimate team goal. We felt last year what it takes and what goes into that. We want to represent this university and this city the right way.
“We got some good momentum from last year. We were selling out our giant arena [with a 999-seat capacity]. It’s a great atmosphere and it was fun. There was good energy in the building. We got great support in the community. … We want to keep rolling and keep building. It’s very important that last year was something we established, but now we have to build on it.”