The biggest game of his life had barely started when Cameron Dollar discovered he would be playing a much bigger role than expected.
After spraining his right wrist in a 1995 NCAA semifinal victory over Oklahoma State, UCLA point guard Tyus Edney played less than three minutes in the championship game before realizing his season was finished. Dollar would have to come off the bench and try to lead the Bruins to the national title. He did just that by dishing out eight assists with only three turnovers in an 89-78 victory over Arkansas.
Dollar followed the lessons he had learned from a lifetime of watching his father coach basketball – the same advice he soon may be handing on to his own players. Dollar took over last month as the head coach at Seattle University.
"The biggest thing is that you don't have a fear of failure," Dollar said as he recalled his championship game performance. "You just compete, lay it on the line and know you've already done the work to put yourself in a position to be successful. From here on, you're executing what you already know."
As a reserve guard during UCLA's championship season, Dollar was an unlikely hero. His newest role seems inevitable by comparison. Dollar, 33, said he was 5 or 6 years old when he realized he wanted to coach for a living. He spent much of his childhood learning from his father, Donald Dollar, who spent 35 years as a high school coach in the Atlanta area before coaching 10 years at the college level.
When he was 3, Dollar already was sitting on the bench watching his father coach. After he was old enough to join his father's teams, he played for his dad all the way up to 10th grade. The Dollar family coaching tree also includes Cameron's brother, Arkansas State assistant Chad Dollar.
Dollar's desire to coach was so strong he gave up any dreams of playing professionally as soon as he was offered a job as a UC Irvine assistant after his senior season at UCLA.
His fast rise up the coaching ladder didn't surprise his dad.
"He always knew where everybody was supposed to go in terms of what plays or what scheme we were running, and he didn't mind telling [his teammates]," said Donald Dollar, who could be joining his son's staff at Seattle. "But he had a way of telling them that they wouldn't get angry at him. A lot of times, kids tend to get angry. Cameron had a way of making a guy play hard and pointing out his mistakes, and guys wouldn't get angry. I noticed that as far back as when he started playing eighth-grade ball."
Those communication skills helped Dollar earn a reputation as an outstanding recruiter on his path toward becoming one of the nation's youngest head coaches. He joined Lorenzo Romar's staff at Saint Louis in 1999-2000 and moved along with Romar to Washington in 2002. Dollar helped recruit Spencer Hawes, Isaiah Thomas and incoming five-star prospect Abdul Gaddy to Washington.
"He's the type of guy that all you have to do is tell him he can't, and it'll probably get done," Romar said.
That could make him the ideal coach at Seattle, a program that offers a unique set of challenges. Seattle, a school best known as Elgin Baylor's alma mater, left the Division I ranks in 1980 but is in the process of moving back to that level. Seattle won't become a full-fledged Division I member, meaning eligibility for the NCAA tournament, until the 2012-13 season. The Redhawks also have no conference affiliation at this point, which could make the transition to Division I particularly difficult.
But Dollar emphasizes the positive aspects of Seattle's situation. His familiarity with Seattle as a former Washington assistant should help him recruit. The Redhawks are coming off a 21-win season that included a 13-8 record against Division I programs, and Seattle's independent status has allowed the Redhawks to play teams from all around the country; their 2009-10 schedule includes games against Washington, Marquette, Oregon State, Oklahoma State, Utah and Harvard.
"We're not like anybody else," Dollar said. "You have a chance to go somewhere that's unique. There's going to be a certain amount of appeal that goes with being Seattle U. that you wouldn't get going to a regular conference, where you'd have the same tried-and-true opponents locked in place. You get a unique blend on your schedule. … It's unique because I'm here. Why is he here? Why did he take this job? And Seattle's a wonderful school from an academic standpoint, building upon a tradition established 30 years back.
"When you're a kid, you're looking for a fit and you're looking for ways you can stand out and get exposure while you continue to develop; off the court, you're looking to have a bucket full of career opportunities. There's nothing like what we offer. We're so different it kind of scares you at first – until you learn about it."
Dollar already proved in 1995 he knows how to adapt to scary situations. Of course, when he stepped on the floor against Arkansas that night, he wasn't necessarily focusing on all those lessons he had learned from watching his father. He was only thinking about getting the job done.
"What went through my mind is it's just time to play," Dollar recalled. "It was no different from being in the park at Atlanta."
Now his time has come again.
APR fallout shows risks of one-and-dones
Indiana, Georgia Tech and Ohio State lost two men's scholarships each as the result of the NCAA release of the Academic Progress Rates. It's not a coincidence that all three schools had players who went on to leave for the NBA after one season.
When it calculates each program's APR, the NCAA doesn't penalize schools for players who leave early for the pro ranks – as long as those student-athletes leave in good academic standing.
Therein lies the problem.
Ohio State perhaps was hurt most of all by the one-and-done phenomenon. In the past three years, B.J. Mullens, Greg Oden, Mike Conley, Daequan Cook and Kosta Koufos have left Ohio State to begin pro basketball careers after just one college season.
All five were in good academic standing while they played for the Buckeyes, said Dr. John Bruno, the Ohio State faculty athletics representative. But that doesn't necessarily mean they left in good academic standing – at least not the way the NCAA defines it.
Two of the players – reportedly Koufos and Oden – registered for classes in the spring quarter and stayed in school long enough (beyond 14 days) to become officially enrolled in the eyes of the university. Once they were officially enrolled, NCAA regulations require them to complete at least six credit hours to remain in good academic standing. They instead withdrew from classes to get ready for the draft, which meant their departures counted against Ohio State in the APR calculations.
"The nature of the NBA tryout system makes it virtually impossible for [a prospect] to do what he needs to do and stay in school at the same time," Bruno said. "That's just the way it is, and that's unfortunate."
Bruno noted that the Ohio State men's basketball team's collective GPA has improved from 2.4 to 2.84 under coach Thad Matta. Nine of the 12 players who have stayed in school four years during Matta's tenure went on to graduate.
The potential impact on a program's APR hasn't caused those teams to shy away from one-and-done candidates. Mullens played for Ohio State this season, and Georgia Tech's current recruiting class includes Derrick Favors, a potential 2010 lottery pick if he leaves school after one season.
One of the most historic sites in college basketball is about to get a makeover. UCLA announced plans this week for a $185 million renovation of Pauley Pavilion that includes new locker rooms, a high-definition video scoreboard and an increase in capacity by 1,000 seats. Construction is scheduled to begin in 2010 and finish in the fall of 2012, which likely means the Bruins would play elsewhere during the 2011-12 season. The Los Angeles Times mentioned the Forum, Staples Center and Honda Center as possible temporary homes for UCLA. The Honda Center is in Anaheim.
Mississippi State center Jarvis Varnado's decision to withdraw his name from the NBA draft gives him a legitimate chance to finish his career as the NCAA's leading shot-blocker. Varnado enters his senior season with 394 career blocks, 141 away from the NCAA record held by Wojciech Mydra, who swatted away 535 shots for Louisiana-Monroe from 1999-2002.
Varnado's return and Kentucky forward Patrick Patterson's decision to stay in school should assure that the SEC bounces back from its miserable 2008-09 season. The SEC had only three teams in the NCAA tournament – none of them seeded higher than eighth – and each was gone by the end of the second round. Next season, Tennessee, Kentucky and Mississippi State figure to open the season in the top 25. Florida also could crack the preseason rankings in the unlikely event that Nick Calathes withdraws from the draft. And don't forget about Vanderbilt, which had no seniors on its 2008-09 roster. The addition of five-star guard John Jenkins – who averaged 42.3 points his senior year at Gallatin (Tenn.) Station Camp – could allow the Commodores to return to the tournament after a one-season absence.
One of the most versatile athletes in ACC history is returning to his alma mater. Wake Forest officials announced Wednesday that Rusty LaRue, a member of the Chicago Bulls' 1998 NBA championship team, has joined Dino Gaudio's staff. LaRue played on Wake's ACC tournament championship teams in 1995 and 1996. He also threw for 5,016 career yards as the Demon Deacons' quarterback and earned a save in the lone game he pitched for Wake's baseball team.