Before Dollar's arrival, the once-mighty Redhawks (Final Four participants as the Chieftains in 1958) were virtually irrelevant on the college basketball landscape.
Today, SU plays its home games in 17,000-seat KeyArena, competes in the Western Athletic Conference with a shot at an automatic NCAA tournament berth, and has scored signature victories over major-conference opponents like Oregon State, Utah and Virginia.
On the eve of Dollar's fifth season at the helm, he sat down for a wide-ranging interview with Redhawk Nation. In the second of a three-part series, Dollar breaks down SU's 2013-14 roster.**********
What are the strengths of this year's team?
CAMERON DOLLAR: We've got a good balance of inside and out. I think you'll like our athleticism. I think you'll like our guard play. We've got some guys who can shoot it with range and make plays for themselves and for others. We've got good size. Defensively and rebounding we did a good job last year, so that will continue on; but we've been able to supplement it and add some guys that can score the ball. I think we'll do a better job of handling the ball, which gives us more opportunities to score.
Turning the ball over was obviously a big problem last year. As a team, how do you improve that? Is it simply more ball-handling drills? Is it a chemistry thing?
I would say it's a combination of a couple different factors. Number one is definitely better decision-making with the ball. As you get older and get more repetition you become smarter in your selections with the basketball: "Am I gonna try a high-risk pass, a medium-risk pass, or a low-risk pass?" You're ability to handle the ball may be the same, but your judgment to make that play becomes even more crystallized. It's a matter of understanding things like, "I know he can make that play, but I don't need to try to make that play."
It's a group effort between player and coach, because the coach can do a better job of not putting a kid in that situation where he's gonna try to make that play. Clarence (Trent) was a victim of this a little bit last year. You let guys try to play their way through it, because sometimes you may start off not being able to do it, but then as the year goes on, you get better and you can actually do it. Other times, that's just not what you need to be doing, and you've got to pull back. As we got going, we did a better job of pulling back the reins on that.
The other part is just having more ball handlers. Now we have (D'Vonne) Pickett returning along with Emerson (Murray) and Isiah (Umipig) -- two guys that are going to handle the ball even more and do a good job of passing it and finding guys. We'll put the ball in their hands more, take it out of other people's hands, which in turn makes you a better ball-handling team.
You lost four seniors from last year. You've got two true freshmen, one JUCO transfer and three guys who redshirted last year that will play this year. Is familiarity and chemistry going to be an issue?
It's less of an issue than you'd think, because the three redshirts were here last year. Emerson, Isiah and Emmanuel (Chibuogwu) were all here with us, so they're not just Johnny Newcomer coming in. It's not like they have to get used to practices or get used to me. They've been playing together with the other guys.
Obviously it's not the same as playing in a game together, but they have more familiarity than if they were all freshmen. The really new guys that are coming in are Shore (Adenekan), Theo (Turner) and William (Powell). So I think it will be a better flow and better chemistry than people realize. Plus, we had a really good spring. We did a lot of playing together this spring along with the conditioning stuff.
Players want to improve their weaknesses in the offseason, but sometimes they focus on that so much they ignore what they're already good at. How do you approach that as a coach?
The spring and the summer are times to hone in on your weaknesses. Then when late-summer rolls around, you start back up with what the team needs you to do. What I'll do is try to show them, "Hey look, if you're going to play successfully here, and maybe even play on the next level after that, you really have to get this part of the game down."
This summer we spent way more time doing team stuff than I'd ever done in the past, because I found out that my guys will do the individual stuff on their own, but even the simple team stuff like floor spacing five-on-five kind of gets lost, because they hadn't given themselves enough reps. They couldn't really see the angles five-on-five, how to talk and how to flow. So we did a lot more of that this summer.
Who are the best rebounders on this team?
I'd say Trent, Shore, (Deshaun) Sunderhaus and (Jack) Crook. Those guys are all good rebounders.
Isiah, Emerson, (Jarell) Flora ... and Trent has been shooting really well. With his natural progression as a player, I think he's going to be a real good shooter this year.
Isiah, Pickett and Emerson, those will be the core guys handling the ball.
Shore and Sunderhaus, those two will really score down low for us. Turner is going to develop as a scorer down there too.
Flora, Isiah and Emerson. I think Flora is primed to have a breakout season. I think we have enough pieces to where it's gonna be like, "Who are you gonna key on?" and he'll be a surprise in that mix. He's waited his time and he's worked his butt off. I think he really gets how we want to play and what we want to so. So I think Flora really has a chance to be a big-time scorer.
On the post, Crook is our best defender. William is going to be really good in that area to be that 3-4 inside-outside guy. On the perimeter, Murray and Flora.
Shore, Sunderhaus for sure, and Turner.
Oh, we got a bunch of those (laughs). Clarence is obviously leading the way, but Flora is on his heels; Murray is on his heels; Sunderhaus and Shore are also really good athletes.
And who is the best basketball player?
Just as far as having a feel for what's going on out there, I'd say Isiah. He has a really good feel of how things need to be done: making the right pass, taking the right shot. Murray, Emmanuel and Powell have a good feel as well. For the bigs, Crook has a good feel. He's a screener, ball facilitator and passer who helps us run our offense well and play defense well. I'm excited for him because he's developing right before our eyes.
Who is the most promising project on the team? The one guy you look at and think, "Three more years with him and he'll be really special"?
Probably Theo. He's got a great attitude, great worker. Emmanuel and William, too. We have a good group of young guys that not only get it, but they're also packing a punch from a talent standpoint. Their max of what they can be is far away. I think they should progress very similar to the way Flora will progress these next two years. I think he's poised to really take off.
Do you have a starting lineup in your mind, or is everything wide open right now?
It's always wide open from the standpoint of you giving them a chance to compete. And there's also a factor of how people play together. You don't really know that until you put it all together and you try different lineups and different combinations and see how things fit. Sometimes even though it might look like that's how it should be, it just doesn't fit right. It doesn't flow right. Then you add one, you take one away, and it's like, "Ah, that's it. That's better." So nothing is set as far as the lineup. That doesn't get set until probably a week or two before the first game.
What are we going to see from this team this year?
I think it's gonna be fun. I think it's gonna be exciting. We were already good last year defensively. I want to say we were top two or three in the conference in field goal percentage defense, and top two or three in rebounding. We're not losing any of that, and we've added shooting. We'll be a pretty good team that gets up and down, plays an exciting style and has some fun. We always play with energy; our teams have always played hard, always played with life, but now we've added more skill. I think it should be a good combination.