Q&A with Isiah Umipig

Once upon a time, patience wasn't just a virtue in sports, it was standard procedure. Freshmen weren't eligible for varsity. Rookies spent their rookie year on the bench. Phenoms were brought along slowly. Coaches had time to build a foundation before having to worry about getting fired. And in the dark ages before the Internet and 537 cable channels, even sports fans had to be patient.

Today, waiting it antiquated. We have newly hired coaches feeling the hot seat as soon as they sit down. We have an overload of sports information and entertainment available at any moment. We have Thursday Night Football, because we don't want to wait for Sunday. We have Andrew Wiggins and Russell Wilson and Michael Wacha.

When a newcomer hits the scene with enough talent and potential to make an immediate impact, we expect them to, well, make an immediate impact.

That's why last season felt like such a long one for Seattle University basketball and for Isiah Umipig.

In April 2012, the Redhawks added Umipig to the roster after he'd transferred from Cal State Fullerton, where he averaged 13.5 points as a sophomore and was named Great West Conference Sixth Man of the Year as a freshman. The 6-foot point guard, a state champion at Federal Way (Wash.) High School, had been on SU's radar for years, and now that he'd finally arrived ... everyone had to wait.

Due to NCAA transfer rules, Umipig could practice with the Redhawks, but couldn't play in games or travel with the team until 2013-14, when he'd be a redshirt junior and have two years of eligibility remaining.

Every program that accepts transfers knows thd deal, but SU's situation was a little different because Umipig might have been the best player on the team last season. And alongside Emerson Murray, a transfer from Cal-Berkeley, made up half of a potential starting backcourt that SU coach Cameron Dollar could visualize, but not utilize.

Seattle U went 8-22 and finished in last place in the Western Athletic Conference while Umipig and Murray (and redshirt freshman Emmanuel Chibuogwu) sat out. Going into this season, everyone around the program and the conference expects the Redhawks to be better with the new additions that aren't really new.

Throughout the offseason, several Redhawks players named Umipig as a standout in spring and summer workouts. Dollar pegged Umipig as one of the team's top scorers, shooters and ball-handlers -- areas of need for a team that led the WAC in turnovers and struggled to find and make good shots last season.

A couple of weeks away from his long-awaited SU debut, Umipig talked about his journey back home and what he's been waiting to show Redhawk Nation:

REDHAWK NATON: All of the preview magazines and articles will call you a "newcomer," even though you've been with this team for a year? Do you feel like a newcomer, or like a freshman again?

ISIAH UMIPIG:

I don't feel new to the team. I've been around the team for a year -- they all know me, I know all of them. It's just really exciting after sitting out a year to be playing. It's all I've been thinking about. We have a few new guys, and we're working on becoming a team.

How long has the last year been?

Oh my gosh, it's been the longest year of my life. Only being able to practice and go to home games, it goes by real slow. But it was really beneficial, too. I think I'll be better this year.

What was it like watching the team but not being able to contribute, especially when the team was losing?

It was very hard, especially knowing that we're all practicing together and trying to get better, but at the end of the day there's nothing I can do to help. It was a big pill to swallow.

What could you have brought to the team last year?

I think I could have brought some scoring -- we struggled with scoring a little bit. I could have brought some experience, being that I played two years in college already. I talk a lot, so I could have helped the team with defense and some leadership. I think I could have brought a few things to the table that even if we already had, you can always use more of.

Why did you leave Cal State Fullerton?

I was playing mostly off-guard and wasn't playing point guard, and they had a player at that position who still had one year left, so I was kind of locked into playing off-guard. I always wanted to play for Coach Dollar and I wanted to be closer to my family, so when the opportunity came up, and Seattle U being eligible for the (NCAA) tournament, it was the best decision for me.

Did you have an idea where you wanted to go when you decided to leave Fullerton? Or were you wide open, almost like being recruited again?

I didn't really call around that much. I knew there were only a couple of schools I wanted to go to, since one of the main reasons I wanted to transfer was to be closer to my family. I talked to my high school coach about it, and with Coach Dollar being at SU, we realized that was definitely the place I should go.

When you were coming out of high school, which schools were recruiting you?

After my senior year, I had Portland recruiting me, Portland State, Montana State, Cal Poly, Cal State Fullerton. A couple of WCC (West Coast Conference) schools and some Big Sky schools were there. Seattle U offered me too, but they weren't eligible for the tournament yet, and that was a big deal for me.

What did you like about SU from the first time they were recruiting you, and were those things still applicable when you were making your transfer decision?

Like I said, I always wanted to play for Coach Dollar. When I was younger, playing AAU and going to UW games, I liked how he interacted with players; that had always been a dream of mine to play for him. So when the SU became eligible for the tournament and the chance did come, it worked out perfect.

How would you describe your game?

I'd describe it as scoring, leading the team, playing defense ... just doing whatever it takes to win every night. Even if we have a bad game offensively, I think I can help us get the job done, no matter what.

Are there any NBA players you'd compare your style to, or that you pattern your game after?

I watch YouTube and watch film of all the elite point guards to see what they do. If I had to pick one guy, I'd pick Stephen Curry, because one of my strengths is shooting and he's a really good shooter. But I watch all of the top point guards and try to implement something from their game into my game.

With your jumper being a big part of your game, how do you respond when you hit your first couple of shots and it feels like it's going to be a good game? And when you miss a couple and you're just not feeling it?

Well, I've had games where I've made my first couple and then couldn't make anything else, and games where I missed a couple and then got hot. I'm not really the guy who's gonna force shots, but if I have a shot I'm gonna take it. I don't think I always need to score, though. If I'm not shooting well, I know we have other scorers: Emerson can step up, Clarence (Trent), Juice (Jarell Flora) can score. I think I'm smart enough to play within the game and help us win even if I'm not scoring.

You and Emerson Murray are naturally linked together, being the two transfers as well as potential starters who had to sit out last season. Talk about what he brings on the court and off the court.

He's a strong, athletic guard. He can handle it, shoot it. He's going to be one of best defenders. He's got size at the two-guard, and he can also play point guard. He can shoot, play defense, he can pretty much do everything.

Being redshirts and being roommates last year, we went through a lot of the same things. If anybody knows anything about Coach Dollar, they know he's gonna make you work, so working together really bonded us. We talk all the time. Last year Emerson's family came over for Thanksgiving with my family, so that was cool.

How do you envision your role on this team?

Definitely being one of the top leaders on the team. Having to score when I need to, being able to facilitate the game, make reads on the court. If we can't hear Coach Dollar or something, I want to be able to get the team through adversity and tough situations on the court.

How is Seattle U going to play this year, in terms of style and pace?

We're definitely going to play up-tempo if we can get into transition, but we'll still be able to pull it back. We'll have a lot of mismatches and guys that can score on isos. As long as we play with each other and play smart, we'll be good.

Who are some teammates that have stood out in these first few weeks of practice?

Jarell has really stood out; he's getting better and better and had a really good summer shooting the ball. Deshaun Sunderhaus, he redshirted two years ago and got a year of experience last year, so I think he's ready to be really good. Shore (Adenekan), he's a big guy who likes to dunk and block shots. Jack Crook has been standing out. I think we all got better, really. It's been exciting seeing them for a whole year. I'm excited to get out there with everybody.

As a point guard you're expected to know the tendencies of your teammates and their strengths and weaknesses. Were you able to get a feel for that during your redshirt year?

To be honest, I didn't get to play with some of the guys that much. I was playing more against them. During practice you'd have the guys who are playing and then you'd have the backups, and me being a redshirt, most of the time I was on the scout team. This spring and summer I was really able to run our plays more often and work with some of the guys, though, so we'll see how that translates to the court. Our chemistry might be a little off at first, but as we put in time during practice I think we'll continue to get better.

How was Midnight Madness last Friday?

It was fun. It was cool seeing everybody come together and a lot of students coming out to support us. We did a thing called "Hot Shot," where we had a men's player and a women's player on the same team and you got points for scoring from different spots on the floor. Then me and Emerson drew fans names out of a hat and did "Hot Shot" with the fans. We had a dunk contest and some other fun stuff.

In a three-point shootout among the Redhawks, would you win?

(Laughs) I'd like to think so. I'm a confident player, so I'm gonna say yes.

What do you think it will be like in that first game of the season, being back in your home state, playing your first game in a while, and playing against Washington on their court?

I think it's gonna be really fun. I'm expecting to have a lot of people I know at the game, family and friends who haven't seen me play in college. It's gonna be a big game, too. Rivalry games are always fun. I'm excited for my first UW-Seattle U game.

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