BELLINGHAM, Wash. --- -
Carver Memories -- Aug. 17, 2012
Dominguez takes reins, guides WWU to final four
BELLINGHAM, Wash. --- A first-year collegiate head coach would rarely, if ever, get to start at a school coming off the first national championship in program history and scheduled to open the season with exhibitions against two prominent National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I opponents.
However, that is exactly the position Tony Dominguez found himself in at NCAA II Western Washington University prior to the 2012-13 men's basketball campaign. He had been the Vikings' associate head coach the previous two years and an assistant there 17 years overall. All were with head coach Brad Jackson, who had won 518 games over 27 seasons before surprisingly taking an assistant position at NCAA I University of Washington, the official announcement coming on Aug. 17, 2012.
That same day, then WWU director of athletics Lynda Goodrich named Dominguez as the interim head coach. He had never played collegiately, nor had he occupied the No.1 seat on the bench at any level.
Less than five months earlier, WWU had won the NCAA II national championship, becoming just the second collegiate team in the state of Washington to capture a national crown in men's basketball. The other came 36 years earlier when University of Puget Sound took the DII title in 1976.
Ten seniors, including three starters and eight letter winners, were returning for the Vikings from that 31-5 team, which had won the national championship on March 24 by defeating University of Montevallo (Ala.), 72-65, in a game televised nationally by CBS Sports at Northern Heights, Kentucky.
Dominguez got the news of Jackson's decision to leave while on a family vacation to New York City. Brad called him while he was standing in Times Square.
Less than an hour later, Dominguez received another call, this one from Goodrich. She asked if he would take the head coaching position on an interim basis.
"At first, I didn't think it was real," recalled Dominguez. "I had no idea that Brad had been pursuing the Washington position. He told me later that he didn't want me to get too excited in case it hadn't worked out."
"But I was extremely excited. Partly because I felt comfortable with our players, and, of course, the idea of being a head coach. It was a dream come true."
Despite circumstances that might have given others pause, Goodrich had complete faith in Dominguez.
"I'd always known that if Brad (Jackson) left, Tony would be there as the leading candidate," she said. "As an AD, you're always thinking, `If this coach leaves, who will be the person to step in.' Tony had been an integral part of the program, having had success as a recruiter and always being a hard worker."
And Goodrich should know, she was a national hall of fame basketball coach herself at WWU.
Jackson, who is the third all-time winningest collegiate coach in state of Washington history, agreed, saying, "I believe Tony is the right man for the job. I think he'll do an incredible job. He's extremely well liked by the players, and he has a great basketball mind."
Two weeks after its national title win, WWU got a call from Duke University, offering a modest guarantee for the Vikings to play the Blue Devils in a preseason exhibition at historic Cameron Indoor. The building, then 74 years old, is regarded as the crown jewel of college basketball's classic venues.
The tradition of playing a preseason exhibition against the defending NCAA II champion was one that Duke had begun six years earlier.
And coaching the Blue Devils, ranked No.8 that year in the Associated Press Preseason Poll, was Mike Krzyzewski, the winningest Division I coach in men's basketball history.
Just three days prior to the Duke contest, the Vikings were to play Washington, the defending regular-season PAC-12 Conference champion and NIT semifinalist. The Huskies had a four-year cycle of playing local DIIs in exhibitions and this was Western's turn. And, of course, Jackson would be on the bench for Washington.
The trip to Duke was one to remember. Dominguez had connections to the University of North Carolina, Duke's chief rival, located just 10 miles away. So, upon arrival, WWU worked out at North Carolina, toured the Tar Heels facility and basketball Hall of Fame room, and attended a UNC exhibition game.
Then it was practice at Cameron Indoor the next day, viewing Duke's basketball hall of fame and touring the campus.
With their first-year head coach, the Vikings accounted well for themselves in both exhibitions. They lost 88-78 at Washington (attendance 8,077) on Oct. 24 and fell 105-87 at Duke (attendance 9,314) on Oct. 27.
WWU trailed by just two points, 74-72, against Washington with 4:30 to play, and versus Duke was within 11, 69-58, with 13:58 to go and 14, 99-85, with 2:13 remaining. The 18-point final margin was the closest any DII team had gotten to Duke since it began playing those squads.
"It was a very enjoyable experience for us," said Dominguez. "As a coach, and as a fan of the ACC (Atlantic Coast Conference) and the Duke-North Carolina rivalry, it was exciting to be part of this for a few days. What an environment to experience."
"That was a really good basketball game," said Duke's Coach K. "I like that team so much, you can tell why they were Division II champions ... Their kids are fearless, strong, and they caused a lot of turnovers. I thought we responded well."
"D-II teams are some of the best coached teams in the country. They usually play because they love the game, they have great camaraderie and they play together. If you get a group like that that's older, and good, they can compete against a lot of D-I schools ... We could have lost to them today if our younger kids don't play well."
Despite having each of their games circled on the opponent's schedule as the defending national champions, the Dominguez-coached Vikings went on to enjoy one of the greatest seasons in school history.
That included a 24-game winning streak to begin the campaign, something no other program in DII history had accomplished, and extending a two-season win string to 30 (nearly an entire calendar year), breaking school records that had stood for 41 years.
On Jan. 10, Dominguez received a permanent appointment as WWU's head men's basketball coach.
"I am pleased to announce that Tony Dominguez will be our head coach at Western for the long-term future," said Goodrich in a statement. "The way that he has handled the team over the last four months has been outstanding as well as his interaction with the administration, coaching staff, student-athletes, donors and fans. All these factors contributed to the thinking that the time was appropriate for his title to officially change."
The Vikings went on to reach the Elite Eight for the second straight year with a 62-58 victory over No.2-ranked Seattle Pacific on March 19, 2013, in the championship game of the West Regional before a capacity crowd of 2,521 at Carver Gym where they were unbeaten in 17 games that season. Prior to that, WWU had defeated Chaminade (Hawaii), 102-87, in the opening round, and beat Cal State San Bernardino, 86-77, in a regional semifinal.
The day before the national tourney began was media day with each of the eight coaches giving statements and answering questions from a platform where all were seated. Dominguez was no stranger to the process. The previous year he had sat in for Coach Jackson, who was suffering from a stomach flu.
WWU defeated No.8 Florida Southern, 96-82, in the national quarterfinals at historic Freedom Hall in Louisville, Kentucky, before falling 107-97 to eventual national champion and No.7 Drury (Missouri), a team that the Vikings had beaten during the regular season, in the semifinals. That loss ended a 10-game national tournament-winning streak for the Vikings, who cut a 24-point deficit to six with just under five minutes remaining.
"Our team showed a ton of heart, but we had a huge target on our back and it felt like an us-against-the-world mentality every night," said Dominguez, a finalist for the Clarence "Big House" Gaines national Coach of the Year award and Great Northwest Athletic Conference co-Coach of the Year. "I believe it may have gotten to us in the end."
The Vikings posted a 31-3 record, the 91.2 winning percentage setting a school record and their 31 wins tying the mark set the year before. They ranked No.4 nationally in the final National Association of Basketball Coaches NCAA II Top 25 poll and won the GNAC regular-season title with a 17-1 record, the best in league history.
"If it had been any other year and we had gone 31-3 and gotten to the final four, everyone would have thought that we had an absolutely phenomenal season, breaking records that had stood for over 40 years, and certainly we had a great deal to be proud of. But it was a little frustrating for us, losing to a team (in the national semifinals) that we had already beaten and in a game in which we did not play like we normally do."
During his years as an assistant at Western, Dominguez had applied for and received offers to coach at other universities. He opted not to take any of them.
"Most of all, I really wanted a stable environment for my family and Western was providing that," he said.
And the career of his wife, Kristi, who works in the Bellingham School District, was advancing quickly. She is currently completing her 24th year and is the Director for Teaching and Learning -- Early Childhood Education and is recognized nationally for her expertise in that area.
At the heart of the matter
At the age of 14, Dominguez had a series of illnesses that put him in Seattle's Children's Hospital with life-threatening symptoms.
In love with basketball since five, he would often practice outdoors in the rain. That may have triggered his health problems. What began as a cold became pneumonia and more severe problems that were diagnosed as Kawsaki's, a rare illness that can be fatal.
A later diagnosis of rheumatic fever, which led to rheumatic heart disease was only slightly more encouraging. He ended up spending a month at Children's.
Dominguez was released from the hospital, but only after doctors discovered a hole in his heart that would require surgery in 2002. His basketball career, he was told, was over.
But at Cascade High School in Everett, despite the heart condition, he continued to have success in basketball, playing on the junior varsity as a sophomore and as the back-up point guard as a junior.
Dominguez's high school coaches were aware of his condition, but did not understand the severity of it until December of his senior year when Hank Gathers, a college star at Loyola-Marymount, collapsed and was later diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat. Three months later, Gathers would again collapse on the court, and this time it was fatal.
Dominguez says the Cascade coaches, understandably fearful of his heart condition, started limiting his minutes after the initial Gathers' scare. Whatever college interest that remained for him dried up. After graduation, he went to Western with the idea of being a walk-on.
During his sophomore year at WWU, a Viking player named Duke Wallenborn died in his sleep from a pre-existing condition known as Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome. That convinced Dominguez that his days of playing basketball were over.
He immediately started down a different basketball path, spending a year as a junior varsity coach at Nooksack Valley High School and coaching an AAU team before sending out numerous letters in search of a college job. He contacted his coaching hero, University of North Carolina's Dean Smith, regarding a position as a counselor at the Tar Heels basketball camp. He was accepted and paid his travel expenses to and from Chapel Hill, while working 10 summers there.
Dominguez received his bachelor's degree in communication from WWU in 1994 and master's degree from Concordia University (Wisc.) in 1996. That year, Dominguez joined the Vikings as a graduate assistant, working without pay for two years because he wanted to get into coaching so badly.
His duties increased to include recruiting, scouting, coordinating scheduling and budgeting.
In 2005, Dominguez was diagnosed with an enlarged heart. He is currently on beta blockers and other medications.
Dominguez understands the attention to his health history, but doesn't necessarily like making a big deal about it. He gets a checkup every year. He is careful about putting himself in risky situations, but added that he is not going to live life in fear.
"I don't really worry about any of it," he said. "I get checked out every year and there is really no reason to be concerned. Quite honestly, God's got a plan. I just try to live as responsibly as I can, and if there were an event that were to say `Hey, it's time to slow down,' then I would take that."
Now, following his fifth season as head coach at WWU, Dominguez has a 112-43 record for a 72.3 winning percentage, posting 20-win seasons four times. The victory total and percentage are the best by any WWU hoops coach in their first five years.
In 2016-17, WWU won both the GNAC regular-season and tournament titles, reached the first round at the West Regional, finished with a 25-6 record and ranked No.12 nationally.
More about 2012-13
Remarkably, WWU had the same starting lineup for all 34 games in 2012-13.
Senior guard John Allen was a first-team Division II Bulletin and a third-team Daktronics All-American as well as the Daktronics West Region and GNAC Player of the Year. Also a first-team NABC West All-District pick and a regional all-tourney choice, he averaged 17.1 points and 4.1 assists a game and had 27 double-figure scoring games.
Allen finished with 1,480 career points, seventh among WWU leaders. He accomplished that in three seasons, the total being the highest of any Viking not playing four years. He had seven 30 or more point games, two shy of the school record, with a high of 43, the most ever by a WWU player at Carver Gym, as a sophomore.
Allen also ranked 12th in career assists with 348, 14th in steals with 157, and his free-throw percentage of 89.4 (244-of-273) was a school record.
Senior forward Paul Jones was a Daktronics honorable mention All-American and a first-team Daktronics West Region and NABC West District all-star and all-GNAC pick. He averaged 14.4 points, shooting 58.4 percent (192-of-329) from the field, and 6.6 rebounds.
Jones had six double-doubles in points and rebounds and reached double-figure points a team-best 28 times. Junior guard Richard Woodworth, who reached double figures in scoring 20 times, averaged 11.1 points. A second-team all-league choice, he shot 43.8 percent, 42-of-96) from 3-point range. Woodworth, the West Regional Most Outstanding Player, averaged 15.4 points in the five national tournament games.
Rounding out the starting five were senior center Chris Mitchell, who averaged 8.4 points and 5.6 rebounds, and junior forward Austin Bragg, a transfer from Clark CC, who averaged 9.1 points and a team-high 7.3 rebounds. Both players received all-conference honorable mention.
Bragg had a GNAC and team-best eight double-doubles in points and rebounds, including a 20-point, 11-rebound effort against Seattle Pacific on Feb. 2 and a 17-point, 14-rebound performance versus Florida Southern.
Mitchell was a first-team College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA) Capital One Academic All-District honoree and a three-time GNAC academic all-star. He finished ninth among WWU career leaders in blocked shots with 91 and 11th in rebounds with 541.
Bragg had a team-high 43 blocked shots and Mitchell 42.
Outstanding contributions off the bench came from senior guard Rico Wilkins, who averaged 8.6 points on 42.2 percent 3-point shooting (49-of-116); senior guard Cameron Severson, who averaged 8.2 points and 4.5 rebounds, shooting 58.3 percent from the floor (105-180) and 87.8 percent (65-of-74) at the line; and sophomore forward Anye Turner, a transfer from South Puget Sound CC, who had 41 blocks and hit 59.3 percent (48-of-81) of his field goals.
Severson had 16 double-figure point games and Wilkins 12, with a high of 27 on 8-of-13 3-point accuracy against Drury at the Elite Eight.
The Vikings ranked among the top 10 nationally in four team statistical categories, being fifth in scoring margin (15.2), seventh in field-goal percentage (50.5), eighth in blocked shots (5.4) and ninth in scoring offense (84.5).
WWU appeared on national television two times, both on the CBS Sports Network, and twice was on regional telecasts (ROOT Sports Network).
The Vikings were ranked among the Top 10 in all 16 weekly polls, breaking the school record of 10 set during the 2005-06 campaign. Earlier in the season, they matched the school's highest ever rating of No.2 six times and were No.12 in the final ranking.
By Paul Madison who served 48 years as sports information director at WWU from 1966 to 2015
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