Redhawks (13-17) lost in the first round Thursday of the WAC tourney, leading to speculation about whether coach Cameron Dollar’s five-year run will continue.
LAS VEGAS – Bill Hogan is an athletic director by trade, but no Las Vegas showgirl has ever flashed more impressive moves than Hogan when he danced around questions about the future of his basketball coach Thursday night.
Speculation is ripe that Cameron Dollar, hired by Hogan five years ago when Seattle University returned to the NCAA Division I ranks, may have coached his final game with the Redhawks.
Not that Hogan was showing his hand – fitting, perhaps, in this haven for gambling — during an interview with Sportspress NW prior to Seattle’s tough 70-68 loss to New Mexico State in the opening round of the Western Athletic Conference Tournament.
Bill, can you address rumors about Dollar’s job status?
Hogan: “We’re excited about tonight.”
Is Dollar’s contract up?
“I can’t respond to that.”
Will Dollar return as coach next season?
Hogan: “We’re still in the season.”
Well, not anymore. The Redhawks, who have finished last in both their seasons in the WAC after three years as an independent, suffered through losing seasons every year since going 17-14 in 2009-10, their first season back in D-One. Dollar’s record is 61-87 (8-25 WAC), including 13-17 (5-11) this season.
“We all knew it was going to be a long-term building (project),” Cameron said after Thursday’s heartbreaking defeat.
Cameron, who exchanged post-game hugs with Hogan, said he has “never heard the rumors” about his job possibly being in jeopardy. The former Washington Huskies assistant said his contract is “not even close” to being completed. Like Hogan, he declined to reveal terms of his contract.
Asked if he expects to be back next season, Dollar told Sportspress NW, “You’d have to ask somebody else. That’d be news to me (if he’s not back).”
A triumph over New Mexico State (24-9), the only WAC team with much national cachet, would have helped Cameron and his program. The Redhawks led most of the game, faded in the second half – worn down, perhaps, from battling 7-foot-5, 355-pound Sim Bhullar, who is only slightly smaller than Yakima — then rallied dramatically at the end.
“We’ve been scrapping like that all year,” Cameron said.
“I feel bad for Cameron,” Aggies coach Marvin Mendies said. “He’s a good friend of mine. I thought their team played really, really well, enough to win.”
The Redhawks lose just two seniors and return All-WAC second-team point guard Isiah Umipig, plus two quality players (Deshaun Sunderhaus and Emerson Murray) who were lost to injury during the season.
“We have a lot coming back,” Umipig said after scoring 25 points Thursday, albeit on 9-for-27 shooting. Win or lose, the Redhawks need to put more butts in the seats at KeyArena. Three years in a row of declining attendance has not increased the value of the Dollar, so to speak. Announced attendance at the Key fell short of 2,200 this season, and the number of paid customers on hand was even less. Hogan was not pleased.
“The men’s basketball program is the primary revenue generator in athletics (at Seattle U),” Hogan said. “That’s just the way it is.”
He added, “We understand that in Seattle, you have to produce a winner. That doesn’t happen overnight, but eventually, when we are really successful on the floor, we’ll have bigger crowds.”
Hogan seems similarly realistic about the challenges faced by a basketball coaching staff transitioning a program to Division I.
“We knew there were going to be hard days,” Hogan said. “Expectations for basketball at Seattle University will always be high.”
School administrators cited the years of success of basketball at Gonzaga as part of the inspiration for returning to Division I. Gonzaga officials say there has been a direct correlation between the school’s rising basketball fortunes and rising enrollment and donations.
“From the standpoint of what Division I has meant to the university (Seattle), the media visibility is high,” Hogan said. “The academic capabilities of our students across the board is higher. We’ve become more of a national school than a regional school.”
The Redhawks originally expressed interest in joining Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference, a league that consists largely of small Catholic institutions like Seattle and Gonzaga.
Hogan plays down rumblings that Gonzaga did not want to give up its state monopoly on WCC residency – “I don’t know about that” – and he speaks well of the WAC.
“It’s a huge national brand,” Hogan said. “Everyone knows the WAC.
“You had 50 years of richly successful teams and individuals, so the WAC brand is really strong. Obviously, the football component is no longer here (the last season of WAC football was 2012), but we love to build the basketball.”
Building fan fervor for the WAC is not easy when Boise State, San Diego State and UNLV have been replaced by current members such as Missouri-Kansas City, Chicago State and Texas-Pan American.
Hogan downplays the lack of natural rivalries.
“It just takes time,” he said. “I think there will be great rivalries over time. It’s wonderful to be in a league. It’s wonderful to have an automatic qualifier to the NCAA tournaments (championships) in all our team sports.”
Umipig labeled the WAC “a great conference,” and Dollar said, “I’m proud to be part of it. You can see it growing and developing.”
Hogan boasts about the success of several Redhawks programs, most notably men’s and women’s soccer and women’s basketball. It is men’s basketball, however, that is designed to be the centerpiece of SU’s master plan for athletics. Dollar can only hope he doesn’t need to come up with a master plan for moving anytime soon.