Had a chance to attend Seattle University practice and spend a few minutes with coach Cameron Dollar last week. The former Washington Husky assistant has a quiet confidence about the Redhawks, who finished last in the WAC last season at 8-22.
There’s optimism on the Capitol Hill campus – SU was picked second in a preseason WAC coaches poll – largely because transfers Isiah Umipig and Emerson Murray comprise a new backcourt.
You can tell Dollar, a former UCLA point guard, has a deep admiration for his new guards when he says: “You usually have to rehab – for lack of a better word – some guys that transfer in. They’re not your typical transfers. And they brought a lot of culture with them to help us in some of the areas that we were lacking. I’ve really been excited about how they’ve been thus far. I think they both have the ability to be game-changers.
Dollar also talks about fifth-year senior Clarence Trent, the former Washington Husky, who’ll be a three-year starter with the Redhawks.
On Trent, Dollar said: “Of all the guys, including my new guys Emerson and Zeke, his heart for being a teammate is the biggest. It aint even close. That’s something that I’ve always appreciated and admired about him.”
Here’s the transcript of the interview with Dollar.
(How will Umipig and Murray change the team) “From a culture standpoint they’ve already have a tremendous impact with their leadership and their attitude. Both have high-level winning back grounds. Both are team-first guys. They have really brought that in with them even starting last year during practices and how they would be on the side during the games. They’re two of the most unselfish guys from a team standpoint. That’s especially unique having guys like that come in as transfers.
“You usually have to rehab – for lack of a better word – some guys that transfer in. They’re not your typical transfers. And they brought a lot of culture with them to help us in some of the areas that we were lacking. I’ve really been excited about how they’ve been thus far. I think they both have the ability to be game-changers.
“What it does though, is it’s a great add to what we already have here. Guys have been here toiling kind of in the dirt sort of speak and been developing and getting better. Guys like (Jarell) Flora and Clarence and (D’Vonne) Pickett. It’s the most depth we’ve had – quality depth. I’m excited about that.
“Both can shoot it with range. Obviously adding two guys to your team that can shoot it with range provides better spacing and they’re confident shooters. They’re going to score. Both are double-figure shooters. Both can pass. Both can penetrate. Obviously, not having thrown the ball up once yet you want to see how it all comes together, but from the practices and the work that they’ve done it looks very promising.”
(I can only imagine those two on the scout team last season.) “Pretty good scout team.”
(Last season, you guys struggled to score points and averaged just 65.6 scoring per game. Can they help improve the offense?) “They’re not going to average 20, but they’re both capable of getting over 20 points in a game. That’s definitely going to help. And then what happens too is when you add guys that are capable of scoring and making plays for others, those other guys make more plays and they get more done. It just opens up everything that you try to do.”
(Did you feel a need to tinker with the offense in the offseason?) “Yes. Specifically turning the ball over and just shooting a higher percentage. We needed more shooters and we needed to handle the ball better. You get more shooters by the guys being here and getting better at shooting and adding guys that can shoot. Obviously, we added both of those guys and the shooting is going to be better. The second part of turnovers is probably more coaching and player personnel. Putting them in the right spots and tightening guys up that may not need to be making decisions with the ball and putting them in different areas. So given all that, we addressed both of those areas so I’m expecting much better results all across the board.”
“And then part of it too is growing out of that. Sometimes with the younger guys, Deshaun Sunderhaus for example, he’s going to be way better at making decisions and handling the ball than he was last year. His turnovers (23) are going to go down. But there again, adding two guys who can really play on the perimeter, all of a sudden he’s getting easier shots to where he doesn’t have to force it like he did.”
(How do you think they’ll play together?) “I think they’ll play well. I don’t think it’s one of those deals where we got to try to sneak or hide it or try to placate it. I think they’ll do good.”
(They also have a great on-court presence and by that I mean, there’s no ups or downs in their body language.) “Yeah. It’s legit. The exciting part for me is that they get that even though they are key cogs to what’s going to be going on, they are not just it.”
(On Clarence Trent) “He gets better every year. I’ve always been pleased with his growth and development. His physical presence and some of the flash that he shows you, you can make the mistake of always yearning for more while not appreciating how he’s developing and what he’s doing. I’ve always been fortunate enough to keep the right mindset on that and really look at what he’s been bringing, what he’s doing and how he’s gotten better. I’ve been extremely pleased with him leadership wise. He has taken a step of not trying to get guys to do stuff, but knowing exactly what I want and getting them to do that. Many times guys will say Clarence told us you’re going to want this, this and this. And I’m like, you’re right. So little stuff like that, which makes a huge difference on your team.
“As a player, people forget he had a tumor in his jaw last year. He played with that all year long. Honestly a part of him is his toughness and he played through it. He had a tumor in his jaw and he played with it to where we were finally able to take the mask off, but it was still there. He had surgery for that last spring where they had to go back in and freeze it and clean it and get it out. None of us know, including Clarence how much that affected his play, his stamina and his energy.
“So he’s healthy. He’s running all over the place. Guarding different types of positions. His defense has taken the next step to where he’s grooming himself to be a NBA wing defender. That’s something that we’ve talked about. I’ve been on him about and he bought into. Now you go watch him and I’m laughing. After years of yelling at him I’m thinking damn he’s getting through every screen. He’s closing out. He’s breaking records here in the number of deflections that he’s getting. It’s a joke. It’s to where I have to sometimes say you have to get off the court so we can run the play. We can’t run they play because you keep deflecting the ball. You look up and he has 15 deflections in two sessions of practice. You’re like hey man, that’s the type of stuff that real dudes do. And that’s what he’s become. Man, I’m excited. I’m excited for him because I can see it churning it churning in his mind.
“It’s that motor. The one thing we’ve always looked at him and said man if he had that motor to go with that athleticism. Well, I think that sucker is coming. He’s about to have a great year. And he’s paid his dues. Of all the guys, including my new guys Emerson and Zeke, his heart for being a teammate is the biggest. It aint even close. That’s something that I’ve always appreciated and admired about him.
“I’m just excited for him to have the type of year that’s going to set him up to keep playing basketball after he leaves here. He needs to be a tremendous defender. A tremendous rebounder. A tremendous leader. And then he’ll knock down his open shots. He’ll average whatever he averages. He’s always been a solid double-figure scorer. He’ll get 6-7 rebounds. That stuff has always taken care of itself. But his heart and his energy level, people will see that.
“I had a scout come in here the other day and say ‘He’s moving like that? I didn’t know he was that big?’ I’m like yeah.”
(Trent has always reminded me of Terrence Williams.) “Yeah. That’s what he has shaped himself into. So I’m really excited.”
(What impact did his decision to transfer to SU have on the program?) “It solidified that guys can transfer from high-major places and come here and still achieve everything they want to achieve. We’re a good spot to do that. He’s been instrumental in pretty much everybody we’ve ever gotten.
“Not only is it symbolic in that they know he’s here, but when they get here, he’s working his butt off to try to get them. It’s definitely been very instrumental in people seeing us in a different light.
“And frankly as he continues to develop, it’s going to help even more. And he’s a great symbol to what we’re building and what we’re doing. It takes time. We all want it to happen yesterday. That aint how it is sometimes. But you look up and you see a kid and a program that keeps developing. Soon you hope everybody will be like wow those guys are good. But I’m like wait man. Those dudes been in there digging that hole in the dirt. He’s been working on his game. He’s been getting better. He’s been dealing with stuff. He had adversity. He had to get over it. It’s beautiful at the end of it to see him get what I think is coming for him. So I’m looking forward to it.”
(Seems like SU is safe haven for transfers, but I’m guessing that’s not what you want the program to be in five years.) “I’d say no you’re wrong there. Anybody that wants to be a part of our program and can contribute, we want them. Now this isn’t a rehab for wayward boys. By no means am I Father Flanigan. We’re not doing that. But if you’re talking about quality kids that are looking for a different situation or are looking to be a lot of times in their three cases looking to be used differently. Whether it be play a little freer or somebody just understands them a little bit better.
“One benefit that we do have sometimes that’s unique from a high-major (school), a high-major talent can come here and kind of get the kinks out of his game because I got more room. I got more roster spots. Now I may not always be able to do that depending on the talent, but at the stage we’re at now I can do that.
(Maybe so, but I’ve seen time and time again. As programs have success, they attract more talented players and divert from their old recruiting philosophies.) “I’m going to always keep a few spots to be able to keep doing it like we’ve been doing it because I think when you get them and they sit out a year, if they have any kinks they’re able to work them out. You’re able to spend more 1-on-1 time with them. I think also by the time you get them the second time, they just get it. They’ve already did the dance – the little high school and official visit dance. They did that and they realize some of it is good and some of it not so much. It makes your program a little more mature from how you’re working and what you’re doing. I got one sitting out right now.
(Who is that?) “Manroop Clair. He’s from the University of Hawaii. He played as a freshman. He and Emerson actually played on the same AAU team. He’s from Vancouver, Canada. He’ll be a sophomore and he’ll have three years of eligibility. And like I was saying, he’ll have this year to work on his game kind of off to the side and next year he’s going to be a lot better for it.”