May 15, 2007
By Rebecca Rogers
SEATTLE -- Cameron Dollar remembers his road trips to Seattle as a collegiate basketball player for UCLA and remembers thinking how fast he wanted to get out of there.
"I didn't have a good first impression of Seattle," Dollar said. "It was always dreary here."
Compared to Los Angeles, Seattle didn't have much to offer Dollar at the time. Los Angeles had nicer weather and beaches, and after being treated like a celebrity for winning the National Championship in 1995, Dollar couldn't think of any place he'd rather be. But somehow, this fifth-year assistant coach ended up in the place he once thought so dreary, and he hasn't looked back since.
Dollar said he knew he wanted to be a coach at the age of six. Growing up in Atlanta, Ga., and having a father that was a basketball coach at the local high school, it just seemed like an obvious answer for a young Dollar.
"I knew it was something I wanted to do," Dollar said. "Being around my dad all the time, and the way he carried himself and how he was able to help people, made me know I wanted to be a coach."
Cameron played for his father in high school and was good enough to get recruited by UCLA, a historical national powerhouse in basketball, out of high school.
He admits that after his first recruit trip to Los Angeles, he fell in love with the city. UCLA ranked first in many categories on Cameron's list; it was first athletically, first academically and first socially. It was also the first time Cameron came in contact with Washington men's basketball coach Lorenzo Romar, who, at the time, was the assistant coach for the Bruins.
Once he was there, the college of Cameron's dreams turned out to be less the college environment he expected.
"[Basketball in L.A.] was more entertainment," Dollar said. "L.A.'s a different scene. It was like being on Broadway; if we did well, they cheered, but if we did bad, we got booed."
Yet the Bruins made sure they gave their fans quite a show and didn't leave them any room for booing when they won the National Championship. Dollar was only a sophomore at the time when the most memorable moment of his collegiate career took place.
"It was a blast," Dollar said. "From the inside, it made the whole season come together. It was nothing but great feelings, and it brought everything we had done all season under one umbrella."
From the outside, Dollar said they lived the life of rock stars. They appeared on the Jay Leno Show and made speeches around the country. While Cameron admits he is not the type of guy to get caught up in the glamour of things, the popularity that came with being a national champion was hard to ignore.
With everything going on in Cameron's life at this point, Seattle would have been the last thing to cross his mind. Even when he played the Huskies as a Bruin, he didn't take them seriously.
"When you win a lot, it's hard not to take certain teams for granted," Dollar said. "And I did that with Washington."
In the eight times Dollar played the Huskies between 1994-97, the Bruins beat them every time. But that doesn't mean it wasn't close. In 1996, Dollar launched a shot from the left sideline at half-court as the overtime buzzer sounded to lift the Bruins to a 91-88 victory over the Dawgs at Pauley Pavilion.
Dollar rounded out his career with the Bruins in 1997, where they lost in the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament. After graduation, he immediately traded in his sneakers for a whistle and took a job at UC Irvine as assistant coach under Pat Douglass.
"It was wonderful," Dollar said of his first coaching experience. "Pat really got me on the right foot and taught me a lot. He taught me about the odds and ends of coaching, what questions to ask and how to deal with people."
A year later, Dollar became the nation's youngest head coach when, at age 22, he took the lead at the Southern California College, now called Vanguard College, in Costa Mesa, Calif.
"I knew that was where I was supposed to be," Dollar said. "It felt so right."
Despite being young, he fell into the head coaching position quickly, and, although only six players returned from the previous season, Dollar led the Vanguards to an 11-22 season and wins over two NAIA Top 25 teams.
"I miss [being head coach] the most," Dollar said. "In hindsight, I never should have left there."
But Dollar did give up his coaching position to pursue another dream, which was to coach at the Division I level. He briefly served as a part-time assistant coach at the University of Georgia in 1999, only to move again to Saint Louis to be reunited with his former assistant coach at UCLA, Romar.
"I always knew I could trust Romar," Dollar said. "I knew he'd be good to work for and good to work with."
Dollar said that little has changed between the coach he used to play for, and the coach he works with now. In 2001, Dollar and Romar began a coaching duo that would last for the next six years. At Saint Louis, Dollar got to see the Huskies get defeated once again, except this time as a coach and not as a player. In his first season with the Billikens, Dollar helped coach a team that beat the Huskies 71-70 in St. Louis.
Whether it was because he felt bad for watching the Huskies get beat all the time, or he thought he would give the dreary weather another try, Cameron followed Romar to the UW, where he now admits he has grown fond of Seattle.
"It's not that bad here now," Dollar said. "It's a big city but still has that element of a town to it, and I like that."
While at Washington, Dollar has played a major role in the Husky basketball program. He has used his experiences as a basketball player to help teach the team but also to allow each player be his own person.
"He's young and was a recent player that we all can relate to," freshman Quincy Pondexter said. "He's really personal and good at recruiting as well."
In his time at Washington, he has helped guide the Huskies to last season's 19-13, back-to-back Sweet Sixteen appearances in 2005 and 2006 and a Pac-10 title and No.1 NCAA tournament seed in 2005.
"He is a great coach," Pondexter said. "He is demanding but really brings out the best in us and brings things out we didn't know we could do. I'm glad to have him on the staff."
As for whether he likes being in the game or behind the game more, Dollar says that's any easy question to answer.
"I definitely like being a coach better," Dollar said. "The whole part of getting the most out of a kid is something only a coach can do, and pushing them to be the best they can be. I like that part."
And as for whether this former UCLA National Champion has any favoritism for his former team over the Huskies?
"Definitely not," Dollar said. "I'm a Husky now; I don't work for the Bruins."