One of the more interesting developments in the Puget Sound sporting scene this year has been the rebirth of the storied Seattle U athletic program back to Division I status. The Redhawks formerly the Chieftains seem to be ahead of the curve so far in the transitional year of a five year process to move to full recognition in Division One.
On New Years day almost 5,000 people came to Key Arena to watch the Redhawks beat former WCC rival Loyola Marymount with what amounts to be mostly a Division II roster. Today the Redhawks traveled to Portland to take on the Pilots.
We all know the Pilots. They beat the heavily favored Washington Huskies in their season opener. The Redhawks took the Pilots to the buzzer this afternoon before losing 71-67. I think that was an impressive performance by a Division II roster against an upper division WCC squad. These same Pilots beat UW on their home floor and SU took them to the buzzer.
The Redhawks are currently 8-6 and have won four games so far against Division I teams. Up next is a far flung schedule that will take them across the country to play other independent teams that are going through the same transition to Division I play. The season concludes with a tournament in North Dakota against the other rag tag clubs that are out there scrambling for enough recognition to gain entrance in a NCAA conference once the probationary period begins.
This is year one in a five year journey for Seattle University but a Sagarin rating in the middle 200's bodes well for the program. SU currently is the top rated independent in the country in only their first year of play.
A lot of the credit has to go to coach Joe Callero. Joe is my kind of guy. He comes from a family of 16 kids from Enumclaw, Joe is in his eight season as coach of the Redhawks and it would have been pretty easy for SU to have jettisoned him for a big name to lead the resurgence but they didn't.
SU athletic director Bill Hogan knew he had the right guy on board when he took on the job of resurrecting the program. The play of his team this season is testament to the fact that Callero just might be one one of the better college basketball coaches on the West Coast.
Coming from a Pacific Northwest Catholic family Joe's dream job has always been leading Seattle U back into the national spot light and it is a good bet that he will be able to do that inside the four remaining years allotted to him by the NCAA.
Seattle is a basketball recruiting hot bed and playing in a 17,000 seat state of the art arena in the regions biggest city without NBA competition which means the Seattle U. program just may be something special again soon.
For those of you too young to remember the Harlem Globetrotters didn't play for fun in the 1950's they played to win. SU's Johnny O'Brien lit them up for 43 points in Hec Edmundson for a big time victory. Seattle U has a tremendous basketball legacy and it is great that the tradition has been re-lit before all the contributors of the past have gone to their final resting place.
Seattle U. was the number two basketball school on the West Coast between 1952 and 1969 to UCLA. The school turned out a long line of NBA players led by such talents as Elgin Baylor, Eddie Myles, John Tresvant, Tom Workman, Charlie Williams, Frank Oleynick and Clint Richardson.
Seattle U. used to be the big team in town once the weather turned cold. The Chieftains actually made it all the way to the NCAA finals in 1958 only losing to Kentucky in the finals because Baylor was playing with broken ribs.
So now the Redhawks start the tradition all over from scratch and they seem to be a little ahead of the curve so far. Goal number one is finding a conference that will take them. Seattle U. would love to play in the WCC and partner with NW rivals Gonzaga and Portland once again but that isn't a lock even though they would seem to be the perfect fit.
Gonzaga is the power in the WCC and while they have loyalty to their Jesuit brothers across the mountains they don't want a ten teams in the WCC. Gonzaga thrives on playing a national non conference schedule and four more games against WCC rivals would cut deeply into their non conference schedule. What is best for Gonzaga is usually what is best for the attention starved WCC.
Seattle U. is thinking outside the box as far as conference affiliations go. They have contacted the Mountain West Conference about becoming a basketball only member. The nine team league would enjoy the presence of having a team in Seattle and enjoying the advantages of a balanced schedule.
Meaningful conference affiliation talks are three-four years away. Seattle U. won't be eligible for the big dance till then. In the mean time the Redhawks will start building a nucleus of players that will keep the team climbing up the Sagarin Ratings to make them more attractive to potential conference partners.
Seattle U great Johnny O'Brien was asked what it would take to get Seattle U. back to where it used to be in the college basketball world and he had one word and that was recruiting. For Seattle U. to return to it's greatness they need to find the next O'Brien twins or Elgin Baylor.
One name did come up and that was a guy named Tony Wroten. Tony who is now playing at Garfield HS under court order is the traditional type of Seattle U. recruit. He comes from the right area of town and even with his parents UW background he just might take on the challenge of becoming the next Super Chief...errr Super Hawk.
Seattle U. is restarting their basketball program at the right time. There are enough quality players in the state of Washington for all of the state's for Division One teams to be more than competitive each season. College basketball unlike football doesn't take a generation of building to be successful. Recruit the right two or three guys and you are on your way.
The University of Washington will start playing Seattle U. on an annual basis again next season. I don't expect the Redhawks to be competitive with the Huskies right off the bat but if the start of this season is any indication expect Seattle U to be a competitive force in Northwest basketball from this day forward.
Currently there is a national Cinderella named Gonzaga but but forty years before there was a national Cinderella named Seattle U. It won't be long till the old Cinderella becomes the new Cinderella once again.