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November 6, 2005

Cameron Dollar was born to coach basketball

It is hard to look at Washington assistant coach Cameron Dollar and not be amazed by what he has accomplished. No matter who you speak to, whether it's his former coach at UCLA Steve Lavin, UC Irvine head coach Pat Douglass, current Husky coach Lorenzo Romar or Cameron's father Donald, the consensus is unanimous: Cameron Dollar was born to coach basketball.

Dollar became the nation's youngest collegiate head basketball coach when, at age 22, he took over the program at Southern California College in Costa Mesa, Calif. in 1998. "That was by far one of the best experiences of my life," said Dollar now 29. "I got the opportunity to run my own program. It was everything I thought coaching was and would be, being able to help kids and help them grow. I just had fun with it. The creative juices were just flowing at a high level."

Dollar's youthful entry into coaching college basketball can be partially credited to his father, Donald. "My dad has coached high school and college basketball for the last 30 years so I've been involved in coaching ever since I was born."

A native of Atlanta, Ga, Dollar grew up watching his father coach basketball in many Atlanta-area high schools. He eventually played basketball for his father while attending Douglass High School during his freshman and sophomore years. A promising high school basketball player, Dollar spent his junior and senior years at Saint John's Literary Institution at Prospect Hall, a prep school in Fredrick, Md.

"We wanted Cameron to get more exposure," said Donald, who is currently an assistant coach at Morehouse College. "If he had continued to play for me, he would have been a reasonable prospect but at prep school he had the chance to become a national prospect."

Romar, who was working as an assistant coach at UCLA at the time, recruited Dollar out of high school and had little trouble getting Dollar to commit.

High school players are typically allowed to take five official visits before committing to a university, but Dollar took only one. "Cameron just fell in love with UCLA," said Donald who said he would like to one day work for Cameron as an assistant coach. "I think it was all those championship banners he saw when he walked in the gym."

Dollar wasted no time telling UCLA's staff that he wanted to be a college basketball coach and did everything he could while playing for the Bruins to prepare for the opportunity.

"I told everyone as soon as I got there that I wanted to coach," said Dollar. "I sat in on meetings and scouting reports. I'd always be talking and coaching with the assistant coaches and head coach."

The point guard enjoyed a very successful tenure at UCLA. Dollar was a member of the Bruins team that captured the national title in 1995. As a senior, Dollar broke the Bruins' single-season record with 82 steals and helped UCLA reach the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament in 1997.

It wasn't until Dollar finished his career at UCLA and chose not to pursue a professional basketball career that his coach Steve Lavin realized just how serious Dollar was about coaching.

"Coming off a championship and the exposure he received, Cameron finished his senior year with such momentum that playing in the NBA or overseas would not have been a stretch, " said Lavin. "Most guys wouldn't do what he did but Cameron knew that he wanted to coach, so why not get a head start on everyone his age."

Dollar's first coaching offer came from UC Irvine head coach Pat Douglass in 1997. "I got a call out of the blue one day from Douglass asking me if I was interested in being an assistant coach," said Dollar.

Douglass himself had just been hired by UC Irvine and was looking for a young assistant who could help him turn Irvine's program around. Douglass and Dollar inherited a team that finished 1-26 the previous season.

"The way he handled himself in talking to the media and young people and what they wanted to do with their lives, and his knowledge of the game was well beyond his years," said Douglass. "It also didn't hurt that in demonstrating (during practice), he could beat most of the players we had on our team at the time."

Dollar spent one season with the Anteaters before being named head coach at Southern California College. Dollar spent only one season with the Vanguards as they struggled through an 11-22 season. He then had a short stay as an assistant coach at the University of Georgia before reuniting with Romar at St. Louis University.

"We always stayed in contact," said Dollar. "We always talked and it seemed like we were always in each other's path."

When Romar was offered a head coaching position at the Washington in 2002, Dollar jumped at the opportunity to go with him.

"I knew how he felt about Washington even from my days at UCLA," said Dollar. "(Romar) loved (Washington) because it was his school and he thought it had great potential to be successful. I liked it because it was in the West and in the PAC-10. If he thought Washington was that good, I was like, come on let's go."

Romar played basketball for two seasons with the Huskies from 1978-1980. Since coming to Washington together, Dollar has helped Romar restore the vitality of Husky basketball with an up-tempo style that has attracted some of the most highly prized high school players in the nation, including Spencer Hawes, Quincy Pondexter, Jon Brockman, Artem Wallace, Harvey Perry and Phillip Nelson.

Last year Washington won its first Pac-10 Tournament championship, and reached the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament before a 93-79 loss to Louisville ended its run at a national title. "It's been great for both of us," said Romar. "Cameron is such a good recruiter and such a good coach. Cameron could be a head coach at any school in America. I remember when he was at UCLA and he told me he wanted to be a coach. I told him you better do what I tell you to do if you want a job."

While Dollar knows there are a number of schools that would love to have his services, he said the chances of him leaving Washington are very slim.

"Being a head coach is still definitely of interest, but we've done a good job of building (Washington) up," said Dollar. "We have the support of the president, athletic director and the community. You only want to leave a situation like this for a situation that has the same type of support. Those are hard to find. Unless one of those situations comes around, and it'd have to be really special, I'd be more than perfectly happy staying here."

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