Seattle (5-12) vs. UC Irvine (6-13, 3-4) at 7 p.m. in Irvine, CA

Head Coach Cameron Dollar and his upstart Redhawks return to the Bren Events Center tonight in a seemingly inconsequential non-conference home game for UC Irvine. A second look however, proves that there are some deeper story lines that are involved after all.

A little less than three years ago, UCI was finishing up a disappointing 12-19 season that had some Anteater fans calling for the dismissal of then coach Pat Douglass. One team that had a worse season that year however was Cal Poly, who finished dead last in the Big West, missing the Big West Tournament. While UCI ultimately decided to keep Douglass around for another season (some would say largely due to his contract still having a year left and UCI not wanting to eat his salary), Cal Poly fired Kevin Bromley and hired Joe Callero. Where was Callero from? The University of Seattle, who had beaten UCI 55-52 that year, despite being a non-DI transition school.

Three years later, and Callero has Cal Poly in the upper echelon of the Big West, which most of us are well aware of. His replacement in Seattle? Cameron Dollar. The connections continue. Dollar was an UCI assistant coach in 1997-98, Pat Douglass’ first season at the helm. Dollar had just finished his playing career at UCLA in 1997, so the instant promotion to D-I assistant coach as a 22-year old was a sign of his promise. After one year, Southern California College made the bold move to hire the 22-year old as their head coach. Southern California College is now known as Vanguard, a familiar foe for UCI (they also made a similar move with the hire of young UCI assistant Rhett Soliday as their current head coach). Dollar eventually went up to Washington as an assistant for Lorenzo Romar before landing the gig with Seattle.

Seattle coach Cameron Dollar returns to his old stomping grounds in Irvine.

The grand finale — if UCI had sped up their new coach search by a year, Dollar was one of the names that had been popular on the rumor mill. Instead of Russell Turner pacing the sideline at the Bren, we very well could have had his opponent tonight, Cameron Dollar, as the UCI coach!

Since coming to Seattle, Dollar has gone 33-46, which is uglier than his impressive 17-14 first season, which was also Seattle’s first season back as an official D-I program, suggests. Despite this somewhat poor record, the Redhawks have given UCI a hard time in recent years, winning two of three. Simply put, this should not be happening. Schools that are transitioning to Division I play should not be beating teams like UCI, which has a steady conference and consistent D-I membership.

Some reasons for the success of the independent Redhawks, whom are moving to the WAC next year…

  • They play in a large market that recently lost an NBA team, and thus has to turn elsewhere for their live basketball entertainment.
  • This circumstance allows Seattle to play in the ex-Sonic venue, KeyArena.
  • The school seems genuinely committed to returning their athletics to the prominence they once had with stars like Elgin Baylor.

Seattle is coming off of two big wins against Eastern Washington and Utah State, and may have turned the corner after ugly early season losses against the likes of San Jose State and Utah Valley. Their 5-12 record is against a tough schedule, with games against Washington, Virginia, and Harvard. Earlier this year they were beaten by 25 against Utah State, so it’s clear that they have improved.

Look out for senior forward Aaron Broussard, Washington transfer Clarence Trent, Depaul/Ohio State transfer Eric Wallace and Pacific transfer Sterling Carter. Seattle employs a full court press to try and create turnovers, which will be an interesting clash against UCI’s similar style.