“Seattle loves winners.”
New Seattle University men’s basketball coach Jim Hayford said as much in his introductory press conference on Thursday morning.
“And our teams are going to win,” he said.
A little more than two weeks after announcing that Cameron Dollar would not return for a ninth season at the helm after a 13-17 campaign — a decision that caught many local hoops fans off-guard — the school unveiled his replacement; one it found on the other side of the state.
In six seasons at Eastern Washington, Hayford went 106-91, with an NCAA Tournament appearance in 2015, and back-to-back College Basketball Invitational bids each of the last two years. Before that, he spent a decade at Whitworth University in Walla Walla, leading the Division III Pirates to eight 20-win seasons.
Athletic Director Shaney Fink said the school was looking for not only an experienced head coach, but a community builder and passionate educator who would embrace the school’s mission and values.
“We found what we were looking for,” she said.
Of course, the on-court success doesn’t hurt either, with Fink noting, “he’s proven he can win at any level.”
But to Hayford, winning is about more than his team’s place in the standings.
“We’re going to win every day,” he said. “We’re going to wake up, and we’re going to win that day. And we’re going to wake up, and we’re going to win the next day.
What does that look like?
Hayford said it’s about attending every class, being involved and engaged on campus, and making a difference in the community.
That creates a “winning mindset,” he said.
With his players on hand, Hayford directly addressed his new team, saying, “I’m her to care for you because I care about you.”
“We’re going to build this program with love, and with hard work, and with the mindset of growth,” he said. “Our focus is going to be on each one of you being the very best you can be, not just on the court but in the classroom and in the community, and we’re going to do great things together.”
The 49-year old Ohio native inherits a roster (barring transfers) that includes Western Athletic Conference Freshman of the Year Matej Kavas, starting guard Morgan Means, and 7-foot-3 British center Aaron Menzies.
Hayford also promised to bring a fun brand of basketball to the school.
“We’re going to be entertaining,” he said. “We’re going to be entertaining because we have great guys playing a great sport with great passion, great energy, and a great commitment.”
Hayford also addressed why he was willing to leave Eastern Washington. While he said he was happy with what he had built in Cheney, he felt there was upside and potential in Seattle.
“As I look forward to the next stage of my life — I turn 50 in May — I wanted a new challenge,” he said. “I love building programs, and I think a great foundation’s been laid here by Cameron.”
Along with Seattle U’s academic reputation, Hayford said the location will be draw for recruits.
“It’s a lot easier to draw people to this university than to tell them to fly into Spokane and then head through the wheat fields 15 miles to Cheney.”
KeyArena, in his view, is another selling point.
“Our home court is an NBA arena without an NBA team,” he told the Queen Anne & Magnolia News. “How does it get any better than that?”
Well, there is one way: Leading the program to its first NCAA Tournament bid since finishing the reclassification process to return to Division I several years ago. The school’s last DI Tournament appearance was in 1969.
The Redhawks came within one win of the tourney in 2015, falling in the WAC championship game to New Mexico State in a game that came with an automatic bid for the winner.
“My family and I come here because Seattle is just an awesome city,” he said. “It’s a great place to live. I love Seattle. And we want to make our program a program that you love.”
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