Would it surprise you to know that the last men’s basketball team from Seattle to make it to the NCAA Final Four wasn’t the University of Washington?
In 1958, the Seattle University Chieftains (now known as the Redhawks) made it to the national championship game led by Elgin Baylor who would go on to be an NBA legend with the Los Angeles Lakers. The Huskies last made it in 1953.
Did you know that the Huskies aren’t the only Division 1 men’s basketball squad in Seattle? SU shares that honor. It regained Division 1 status in 1980 after a long hiatus.
As we close in on March Madness, UW is 15-13 overall. SU is 18-10 and has lost two in a row. The Hawks play in the Western Athletic Conference and wrap up their season on March 3. On March 6, the team heads to the WAC Tournament in Las Vegas.
Cameron Tyson, an SU guard, is a local guy and was the all-time leading scorer at Bothell High. He is now one of the stars at SU.
“I feel like the last couple years, we’ve been giving the University of Washington, everything they can handle,” Tyson said. “We understand you guys have been the more talked about school, but we play good basketball over here, too.”
The Huskies have dominated the series 15-0, but the Hawks have given them a run the past couple of years.
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The WAC isn’t home to teams like UW, Washington State, and Oregon. Instead, the conference includes lesser-known names like Stephen F. Austin, Abilene Christian, and Utah Valley. You’d be forgiven if you didn’t know the Hawks lost to the Wolverines before a few hundred fans last Saturday 58-67.
Make no mistake, this SU squad is loaded with pride with stars like Tyson, and guard-forward Riley Grigsby. They are led by Coach Chris Victor.
Seattle University head coach Chris Victor. (Photo by Bill Kaczaraba)
“Not only is this the right level for us, but we’re competing at a higher level every year and getting better every year and improving,” said Victor. “And we’re excited about where this program is going.”
The Hawks won a WAC regular season championship last year and made it to the finals of the WAC Tournament. The winner gets an automatic bid to the NCAAs.
Although many observers feel the Hawks aren’t as strong this season, they still believe they can win.
“We got some big games coming up. So we will take care of business,” Grigsby said. “I think we have definitely a good chance of winning.”
SU plays most of its home games at Climate Pledge Area with a smattering of other home games on campus at the Redhawks Center. The upside to Climate Pledge is it’s a first-class facility that houses the Seattle Storm and hopes to be home to the reincarnated Sonics. The downside is that it is often empty.
“Playing Climate Pledge is really cool. You’re playing in an NBA arena,” Grigsby explained. “Obviously, we don’t get that many fans there. We don’t fill up the whole arena. But just being in like a bright light like that and being on the court. That environment is really cool.”
But, Grigsby said playing on campus has its advantages as well.
“It can get packed and it gets loud. And just being in that little, small environment, it definitely feels like home court advantage,” Grigsby said.
“We have the best of both worlds. We have a beautiful arena in downtown, one of the best if not the best in the country,” Victor explained. “And we also have a gym on campus, an arena that is a smaller venue, but a great home court advantage. It is a great experience with great energy in the building.”
Whichever “home” venue you show up to, coach promises an exciting brand of basketball.
“We play an aggressive style of defense, which comes first to us. You know, our defense for us kind of sets up the rest,” he said. “Offensively we play aggressive as well. We like to play fast. Play a pro-style offense with great space and great freedom. Our guys shoot a lot of threes. It’s a fun type of basketball.”
Tyson said, “It just feels like a culture here now. Like there’s something that we pride ourselves in. And that’s defense and toughness, and something to emphasize every day. I feel like with that culture you can’t really go wrong.”
It might be a while before we see Gonzaga-sized crowds at Climate Pledge, but you are seeing a team that is establishing itself for the long run.