Before Dollar's arrival, the once-mighty Redhawks (Final Four participants as the Chieftains in 1958) had become virtually irrelevant on the college basketball landscape.
Today, SU plays its home games in 17,000-seat KeyArena, competes in the Western Athletic Conference with a shot at an automatic NCAA tournament berth, and has scored signature victories over major-conference opponents like Oregon State, Utah and Virginia.
On the eve of Dollar's fifth season at the helm, he sat down for a wide-ranging interview with Redhawk Nation. In the final part of a three-part series, Dollar talks about recruiting, criticism and how he views himself as a coach.
REDHAWK NATION: Not too long ago, it looked like the Sonics might be coming back to Seattle and playing in KeyArena this season. How would that have impacted SU as far as conflicting dates and just sharing the building in general?
CAMERON DOLLAR: It only impacts us positively. I've coached at schools where we've shared venues. When I was at Saint Louis, we shared an arena with the (NHL's) Blues, and it was a very minimal impact as far as dates and stuff like that. KeyArena has always been great to us, and with us.
I think having an NBA team here would be great. Most kids want to be able to play at that level, so having them around, that's great. It gives the kids something to be able to aspire to. I've always been a fan and a friend of having the NBA around.
Does it help in recruiting?
Definitely. KeyArena is huge for us in recruiting. It's kind of like dressing for success. "Man, I don't have that corner office. I'm not a CEO yet. But I'm gonna put this suit on because one day I know I'm gonna be." That's how KeyArena is for us. That's where we're going. We're going to be like Georgetown, we're gonna be like Xavier. So let's be in those venues where we ultimately hope to take the program to someday.
What's your recruiting pitch? What do you tell a player and his family that are considering Seattle U?
It depends on the kid and what they're interested in. The type of kids we're recruiting now, they want to have an opportunity to play after college. They're looking for exposure. From that standpoint, the NBA draft was beautiful this year. You look at the kid C.J. McCollum going 10th, then the year before that you had Damian Lillard going sixth. Both of those kids came from small schools where they were given the opportunity, and from that opportunity they created their name and their brand. And as they did that, they elevated their program as well. As our program goes through those phases, this is the phase where a kid like that can come in and have his dreams met.
Now the next phase is going to be attractive to another type of kid -- one that wants to play in a high-major setting and be on TV multiple times and be able to play in the NCAA tournament; not just in the first round, but in the Sweet Sixteen, Elite Eight. With that kid, I'm like, "You can be the catalyst taking us from Phase 2 to Phase 3."
The other kid I'm recruiting -- and constantly trying to get -- is the Charles Garcia type. If we add one or two of those guys, we can pass phases. All of a sudden now you'll be the reason we play for a national championship. And at this school, you'll become Elgin Baylor if you help us do that.
So those are the different types of pitches I'd give from a basketball side. And with all of those, it encompasses our staff, myself ... we're giving you the white-glove treatment as far as how we take care of our guys, and making sure that we’re leaving you with a host of options. If basketball doesn’t work out, or if you use it all up and you want to do something else, now you have two or three other things you’re able to do because you went to Seattle U and you got a great education that stretched you and pushed you in a great environment that's ideal for you to be able to grow and learn as a person. It’s really hard for you not to get anything you want to get out of this. It can be tailor-made for you. Regardless of what you want going in, there’s so much we can offer you.
How do you go about recruiting the player who thinks -- or the people around him think -- he's too good for Seattle U?
Well, usually your pitch is to the kid that, all things being even, you’re not supposed to get. You’re recruiting outside your sphere of what you’ve been able to get normally. So with that, it’s important for them to understand how big of a mark they will make by coming here, and what that does to prepare you in all different areas.
For example, let’s say you’re a really talented kid, and you’ll have a chance to get drafted in the top 10 picks. Well then, typically, when you’re one of those picks, you’re going to a team that hasn’t won a lot. You’re going to a team that has a lot of younger guys. What better breeding ground then to do that in college? Prepare yourself to do what you’re dreaming of doing on the next level. You’ll have more opportunities to develop your game, because you’ll have less players around you that are getting the same pitch. So if you came in and you were a catch-and-shoot guy, as your game progresses you can move to point guard because your talent level is still high enough that you can make that move and there’s nobody in the way to stop you from playing point. Access to a wide range of developmental options is available because you’re the big fish in the small pond. Whereas if you’re a big fish in a big pond, there’s not as much movement. If one of the keys to you being drafted is developing a skill that you may not be able to do your freshman year, when you go to the big pond, now you’re locked in and you can’t move over. If you’re the big fish in the small pond, you can move all over the place. From a basketball standpoint, from a developmental standpoint, that’s what we would be selling.
Then you obviously sell leaving a footprint where nobody has ever walked before. The thing that’s great about Seattle U is you’re creating history every year that you’re moving forward. And you’re pissing a lot of people off because you’re doing stuff like, "Hey man, you ain't supposed to be doing that. You’re not supposed to be breaking through to different levels and jumping phases. Stay where you’re at."
Can you use Seattle itself as a selling point?
Depends on the kid. If it’s a kid that’s local, that likes it, I think that helps. But typically when you get outside of Seattle, especially outside of the state, there’s this little thing called rain (laughs). And you talk about perception ... the perception is definitely worse than reality when it comes to that. International kids definitely like it; we have a few kids from England who really like it here. Seattle is becoming well-known as an international city, so there’s some appeal there. But for the typical, U.S.-born, basketball-playing kid who’s from outside the area, the draw of the city is not that high.
What do you think you need to work on as a coach?
I would say the biggest thing would be developing even better relationships with people around me. Coaches, my players obviously, people on campus, our athletic staff ... there are so many hands in the pot that are helping you be successful. But there’s only one of you, and you’re constantly having to push and strive and stretch to do stuff. You want to make sure you take time to enjoy those relationships and make them authentic and not be so stiff, so rushed. You've got so much going on, you kind of rush over things and don’t take your time to really get to know someone and have them know you. I’m big on the kind of relationship where we don’t agree all the time. We don’t see eye-to-eye, but that’s OK because we still respect each other.
Do you pay attention to criticism? If so, how much do you let it influence you as a coach?
I don’t think I would ever read something from someone on the outside and then say, "Oh, OK, let me take that to heart." It would have to be someone on the inside. And if it is someone from the outside, it probably wouldn’t be from me just reading it somewhere -- it would probably be from someone calling me, or another coach seeing something and giving constructive criticism. From a media standpoint, from a social standpoint of hearing stuff on the outside, I don’t think that really has any value to what we’re doing.
What about the other side; listening to the good things people say about you?
I think it’s the same way. When I was a freshman at UCLA, one of the first things John Wooden told me was, "Don’t buy into it when people are praising you. Don’t buy into it when they’re criticizing you." His advice was to never read the papers, don’t watch TV of yourself, avoid all of that stuff. I remember it like it was yesterday. We were fortunate enough to have a relationship and spend time with each other, and I'll never forgot that. And I would always try to test it: Somebody says something you like and you get kind of excited, then you see something negative and you get kind of down. And you’re like, "Why would I read that?" So over the years I learned to not really pay attention to it. And it’s no disrespect to what they’re writing, but for the job I’m doing, it doesn’t really help me either way.
Would you say you're a tough coach or a "player's coach"?
I would say I’m like half a player’s coach. I think I’m extremely demanding. I think, though, that I work hard enough to where you figure out pretty soon that I’m demanding for a reason. You'll have a period when I’m in you and you’re like, "Man, this is a bunch of crap." And I’m like, "I don't care what you think, this is what I'm gonna do." In the past I’d just be demanding and follow up later on. I go back quicker now to try to get them to understand why I’m being demanding.
Now it doesn’t mean I’m gonna turn it down. As a matter of fact, I’ll turn it up even more, because I’ll get more buy-in later on. I think they understand why I’m on them, and it's not just for basketball. It’s about growing up and progressing and being a man.
I’d definitely say I’m half a player’s coach. Now some of my guys wouldn’t even give me the half (laughs). They might give me a quarter. Good thing I can keep up a little bit with the latest gear, or what’s on TV or some things that are kind of relevant. But no, I'm more of an old-school demanding coach than a player’s coach.
Where does that come from?
My job is to make sure I’m giving my players everything I've got. I’ve got to push them. I think naturally as people we hold back a little bit. We say we’re giving everything we’ve got, but we’ve got more in us and I think part of this job is me stretching them because they’ve got more in them. In my opinion, it’s supposed to be an uncomfortable environment. I think that’s what ultimately prepares you to be a champion.
The worst thing that could happen to you is you leave me and think, "Coach could’ve given me more. He didn’t push me as hard." That would be very disappointing to me. I care more about that than whether we’re buddies or not. I want you to know when you’re around me, when you’re in this program, we’re settling for nothing less than your best.
PART 1: Rebuilding the Redhawks
PART 2: Breaking down the 2013-14 roster
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