New beginnings

Trio of graduate transfers bring experience to Seattle U. as Hayford era gets underway

Richaud Gittens wanted a fresh start.

Josh Hearlihy wanted to be closer to family.

Jordan Hill wanted more responsibility and a chance to flourish.

And Jim Hayford wanted some leaders.

That’s an abridged version of how three graduate transfers — all with NCAA Tournament experience — ended up at Seattle University. But in truth, there’s a bit more to it, beginning with Hayford’s arrival in March.  

Fresh off his second 20-plus-win season with Eastern Washington in the last three years, the 50-year-old made the move across the Cascades as Cameron Dollar’s successor, with the hope of building a program as he did in Cheney.

He quickly knew he’d have to do something to address the relative lack of experience of the team he inherited.

“When I took the job, and began to asses the talent level of the roster, knowing there were no seniors who would be on the team, I immediately said we need to go look at who’s available in this market,” Hayford said.

“This market,” was the graduate transfer one, which allows student-athletes who earn degrees before using all of their athletic eligibility to go to another school and play immediately (otherwise they must sit out a season).

In each of his final two years at Eastern, the coach brought in one fifth-year player. This past season, it was Jacob Wiley, who earned Big Sky Conference Player of the Year honors and is now on a two-way contract with the Brooklyn Nets. The year before, Austin McBroom led the conference in scoring in 2016 after transferring from St. Louis University.

“That gave me some confidence that I knew how to make them work,” he said.

Bringing in three at once, however, has proven to be an oddity. Of the nearly 350 Division I basketball programs, it’s believed that Seattle is one of only two (Iowa State the other) in the nation to have that many on the roster.

And while all three ultimately found the same answer to the question of where to transfer, they each had different reasons to do so.

For guard Jordan Hill, who averaged just under 10 minutes a game last season for Wisconsin, it was the chance for a larger role than the one he would have had with the Badgers. 

“I want that pressure,” said Hill, who is now working on a master’s in arts leadership at Seattle U.

While his new coach said he brings defensive toughness and floor leadership, the 6-foot-4 native of Pasadena, Calif. is quick to rattle off everything he believes he’ll have to do on the court.

“I have to be a leader,” Hill said. “I have to make sure we get into the offense, I have to rebound, I have to make shots, I have to get other people open, I have to be the best defender on the court, and just make sure everybody’s going in the right direction.”

Versatility is also something that Vermont transfer Josh Hearlihy takes pride in.

After appearing in 27 games as a reserve for the Catamounts last season, the 23-year-old from Los Angeles wanted to be closer to his family on the West Coast. As a self-professed “city boy,” who also enjoys the area’s natural beauty, Seattle fit the bill.

“I like that dual-sorted aspect to the city,” he said.

As a 6-foot-8 combo guard/forward, he’s expected to bring a different skillset to the roster than most bigs.

“Whether that’s playing outside or playing inside, guarding a big or guarding a wing, whatever the team needs I want to be able to provide, and ultimately win,” he said. “That’s the main goal for all of us.”

Richaud Gittens knows a thing or two about winning. In four seasons at Weber State, he saw the Wildcats twice win the Big Sky title and make the NCAA Tournament, appearing in every one of the team’s games both years.

Gittens was limited to just six games in his final season in Utah, after suffering a foot injury that cost him the rest of the year. He said his decision to leave had nothing to do with his old school, or the coaching staff, but was instead about the opportunity to play in another system for another great coach.

“I just felt like I needed to be in a new place, in a new area,” he said.

It was also about making way for the next wave of talent at the school.

“The team that I had at Weber State, I felt like we gave a lot to them, and we wanted the younger guys there to prosper and to get their chance to go win championships and do all the things that me and my other teammates got to do,” he said.

Instead, he’ll bring his scoring acumen (he averaged just under 10 points per game his sophomore season) and athleticism to Seattle, a place he found on his first visit in May that he liked as much as he thought he would.

“I felt like it was a new home to me,” said Gittens, who is now pursuing a master’s in nonprofit leadership.

While Hill, Hearlihy, and Gittens are the Redhawks’ lone seniors, the team also has just two active juniors, with transfers Myles Carter from Seton Hall and Delante Jones from American University both taking the requisite year to sit before being eligible. Two other transfers, sophomores Matt Owies and Dashawn McDowell, are also ineligible for the year after arriving from Hawaii and SMU, respectively.

It’s all part of the plan, Hayford said, to compete both this season and moving forward.

“The good thing about the seniors is by them being on scholarship this year, the guys who are sitting out could move right into that, and we would still be able to recruit a couple of a freshmen next year,” he said. “It was another part of the strategy of roster management and balancing scholarships, so it’s not like we have a lot of young guys here that need mentoring — we only have one freshman on scholarship — what we have is a lot of new. We have new coaches, new players, new learning, and it’s just everybody kind of learning one another.”

Seattle U. will open its season on Nov. 10 at Saint Louis, as part of the annual 2K Classic, before beginning its home slate two days later at the Connolly Complex against the University of Puget Sound. The team will start its nine-game KeyArena schedule on Nov. 27 against Idaho State.

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