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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, January 10, 2002

Dung could be a shoo-in at HPU

By Catherine E. Toth
Advertiser Staff Writer

Size 10 1/2.

Those shoes may not be so big.

But imagine the metaphorical ones Tony Sellitto will leave behind.

And longtime assistant coach Russell Dung definitely knows that.

Dung, who's expected to take over at the helm of Hawai'i Pacific's basketball program next season, has, in some way, worked with his predecessor for more than 30 years.

From playing for Sellitto at Maryknoll School to coaching alongside him at HPU, Dung knows just how difficult it will be to fill Sellitto's proverbial shoes.

In the last 14 years, Sellitto has been synonymous with HPU basketball. His career record of 277-127 with the Sea Warriors ranks him as the winningest men's basketball coach in Hawai'i history.

And what further sets him apart from other coaches is the 1993 NAIA Division I championship title, the only national basketball title ever won by a Hawai'i school.

He won the Hawai'i Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Coach of the Year honor six times, the NAIA District 29 Coach of the Year title three times and the Honolulu Quarterback Club Sportsman of the Year honor in 1993.


"Every coach who comes into a program where the last coach has been so successful, there's lots of expectations," Dung said. "I don't think anything will change. I don't think I can make a big difference. Since he's brought (the program) to a high level, the expectations are high. I'll just have to take all the things we've done and just try to build from that. If I can add anything, that would be a plus for us."

Dung is the leading candidate for the position, said HPU vice president Rick Stepien, who oversees university relations.

"But as far as an official announcement, that has not been made by the university," he said. "We've got some time here."

Stepien estimates that the university will make a decision within the next month.

"He's the best candidate," Sellitto said. "He's my choice."

Dung hopes he can continue the tradition Sellitto began 14 years ago. From discipline to recruiting to just knowing how to deal with college players both on and off the court.

"There's a lot involved in coaching besides just coaching," Dung said. "You have about 15 lives you're responsible for. It's every waking moment."

In charge of budgets and travel, Dung comes armed with enough on-court and behind-the-scenes experience to make the transition smooth. But there's one key area he's not familiar with: recruiting.

"That's the big question mark," he said. "I haven't done that. It's something I have to learn. But I'm willing to do that. I can get the job done."

Recruiting is critical in keeping the program strong and competitive. And lucky for Dung, Sellitto isn't the kind of exiting coach who lets the things slide, who gives up, who quickly moves on.

"I'm overwhelmed right now, but he's been making the transition easier," Dung said. "He has helped me step-by-step."


• Jump start: Hawai'i Pacific (9-3) opens its conference season tomorrow against Chaminade (9-5), which has already played three conference games. Tipoff is 7:30 p.m. at Mid-Pacific gym.

"What worries us is that they've played three conference games, and they're 2-1," said HPU coach Tony Sellitto. "They're ahead of us.

"Conference is really important," he added. "The more experience you get playing conference games, the better you are."

The Sea Warriors face a Chaminade team that features 6-foot-7 center Igor Beljanski and 6-6 forward Mike Donegan, who led the Silverswords to two PacWest victories last week while averaging more than 18 points and six rebounds per game.

"The past weekend their inside game seemed to have really done well for them," Sellitto said.

But HPU has its own dynamic duo. Senior guards Nash Subotic and Nick Spajic lead the team in scoring, averaging 17.9 and 11.5 points per game, respectively.

"They're experienced, they're big and they're very good scorers," Sellitto said. "I don't think anybody could stop them from scoring. As it does with most players, it's always that how well you perform depends on how you wake up that day. You feel good, you play good."

He credits the pair's success to a strong work ethic and a desire to improve every aspect of their game.

"They come to practice before everyone else, and they leave after everyone else," he said. "Practice makes perfect, that's always been my philosophy about basketball. They do the little things. And guys like that will sooner or later perform very, very well. If we do, we are completely unbeatable."

• Vulcans streak to La'ie: Hawai'i-Hilo took over the top-ranked position in the conference after three conference wins at home last week, extending its winning streak to 11, the program's third longest in history.

The Vulcans (13-2) head to La'ie this weekend for two games against a Brigham Young-Hawai'i (9-4) team that hasn't had a chance to prove itself in conference play.

The Seasiders haven't played a game since losing to Tulsa in the Yahoo! Sports Invitational on Dec. 22. And though the players had time off to visit family or recuperate from injuries, the layoff may not work in their favor.

"I think it was good for them to go home and see their families and freshen up," said BYUH head coach Ken Wagner. "But it always hurts the momentum. I thought they were just starting to get consistent and playing well together (during the last tournament). But they're really excited to compete. They're ready to go."

Junior center Scott Salisbury had time to recover from the 23 stitches in his mouth and a dislocated finger he sustained in the tournament.

While Hilo has the advantage of playing — and winning — three conference games, Wagner said his team's tougher schedule may prove the difference.

"They're obviously playing with a lot of confidence and we have to be ready to play," he said. "But at the same time, our preseason schedule had us on two tough road trips. They played in Hilo the entire time. So even though they're streaking, we have to see if it's more worthwhile to have a lot of confidence or to have played some real tough games."


• Pack that rice cooker: Colorado Springs, Colo. Highs in the mid-40s, lows somewhere in the 20s, if you're lucky.

And Kea Wong is definitely that.

Having competed against at least 10 other defensive specialists in the USA Volleyball tryouts last month, the Hawai'i Pacific standout made the cut. She, along with teammate Nia Tuitele, head to the National Team Training Facility in Colorado Springs in two weeks to train until mid-April.

"They were really, really good, all Division I players, and I was really scared," said Wong, a member of two national championship HPU teams who committed just two ball-handling errors while amassing 596 career digs. "I never expected to go this far."

She hopes that by having two HPU players on the national team — a first for the school — the volleyball program will get the respect she feels it deserves.

"I think this will make everybody look more at HPU," she said. "We do have good players. Don't just disregard us because we're Division II. They've always had a good program from the start, even before I came. I think this will should boost the program."

This week's schedule



UHH at BYUH, 7:30 p.m., Cannon Activities Center

Chaminade at HPU, 7:30 p.m., Mid-Pacific gym


UHH at BYUH, 7:30 p.m., Cannon Activities Center

Chaminade at HPU, 7:30 p.m., Mid-Pacific gym

Men's tennis


No. 9 Southern Methodist at HPU (No. 1 Division II), 11 a.m., Kailua Racquet Club