Dollars reunited with basketball in Seattle

Cameron Dollar, with 16 wins this season, will look over on the bench at his father, Don Dollar, with 650 wins in a career, and say, “What do you got Pops?” As in: our team is in a little bit of a crisis; what’s your suggestion?

There are more times when Cameron Dollar, 33, the first-year head coach at Seattle University, does not have to lean on his father, who is his 70-year old assistant coach.

In a recent game, they were watching an opponent carve up the Redhawks' press and Don Dollar told his son, “We’re giving up too many easy baskets.”

“I got it Pops, I got it, everything will be all right,” Cameron Dollar said.

And the son did have it.

“He was watching this other team just wear themselves out with a few fast breaks up and down the floor,” Don Dollar said. “He did know what was going on. They got tired, we took control.”

Don Dollar should recognize the confidence and the poise in his son. It came from him. Cameron Dollar calls coaching his “birthright” because he started diagramming plays when he was 8 years old and learned from an Atlanta high school basketball legend, his dad.

“I have a pretty strong personality and the same confidence that I have seen in him, I have in me,” Cameron Dollar said. “I’m driving the car. If it is going to go off the road, it’s because I’m the one turning the wheel.”

The Dollars are trying to resurrect what was a proud Division I program of the 1950s, a school that produced NBA great Elgin Baylor. The Redhawks are 16-14, playing the likes of Washington and Oregon State, and Cameron Dollar has a firm grasp of the wheel.

“I grew up in the game on my dad’s knee, so the moves I may make during the course of the game I am not afraid to make,” he said. “I can go with the grain or I can go against the grain. You are not afraid. You aggressively go get it.”

Don Dollar was a high school head coach in Atlanta for 37 years, then an assistant coach at Morehouse and West Georgia for 10 more.

Dollar was at Douglass for 22 years, winning one state championship and finishing as runner-up six times.

Cameron Dollar attended Douglass until his 10th grade year, then ended up at private schools in Maryland for his junior and senior years.

Mark Gottfried, the former head coach at Alabama, was an assistant coach at UCLA, where he recruited Dollar for the Bruins. In 1995, UCLA won a national championship with Dollar as a do-everything guard.

Dollar was an assistant coach at Washington in 2009 when he was hired at Seattle. He hired his father and gave him his first orders.

“Pops, your recruiting territory is everything east of the Mississippi,” Don Dollar said with a laugh.

There is this discrepancy between the style Cameron Dollar pushes on the floor and what he expects out of his players. He wants fast and furious play, but he wants discipline.

“Controlled mayhem,” Dollar said with a chuckle. His team averages 80 points a game.

“He calls it failing with aggressiveness and that’s OK with him,” senior forward Mike Boxley said. “He’s not extremely strict with the ball, but he wants you playing smart. As a ball player, you just love his up-and-down style and then you get the discipline and coaching, too.”

Dollar refuses to be stigmatized by NCAA sanctions leveled against him in 2002 while he was an assistant at Washington. He was suspended without pay for a month, had his pay reduced for a year and was banned from off-campus recruiting for several months for improper contact with recruits.

Bill Hogan, Seattle's athletics director, said the violations were not so egregious that they should ruin a career. While he considered the violations serious, he also saw them as part of the learning curve of many young coaches.

“When you look at it, what was the competitive advantage he gained?” Hogan said. “And was he doing something that many other coaches had not done before?”

Dollar does not have time to swat his ghosts, not with what Hogan has put on his plate. The school dropped athletics in 1980 but has inched back to Division I and wants to grow into a program that can fill the 17,000-seat Key Arena, the former home of the NBA Seattle Supersonics.

Hogan has visions of Dollar turning the school into the Georgetown of the west. John Thompson grabbed hold of the Hoyas’ tiny program and lifted it onto a national stage in the 1980s.

It is a task Dollar insists he is ready for. Boxley said Dollar’s personality has made him recognizable all around the city.

“I like giving direction to the entire piece, but there can be a lot of lonely moments in that,” Cameron Dollar said. “I really believe that God put me here. There is no fear in failing and not coming through. I prepared for this.”