SEATTLE (AP) -It's not every day the mayor of a major pro sports city joins with a Hall of Fame playmaker and coach to lead a rally celebrating a Division II college basketball team's promotion to Division I.
Then again, it's rare for a big city to have its civic sporting pride as wounded as Seattle's is right now.
``We're beginning that process of getting back to exciting basketball at KeyArena,'' Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels said on Monday, when he joined Lenny Wilkens and past members - including the captain of the 1958 national finalist team - of Seattle University's basketball heyday in welcoming the Redhawks back to playing home games under the iconic Space Needle.
Seattle could use exciting. Nobody here has seen anything of the sort in the town's sports this year.
-Dates are available for Seattle University to fill at KeyArena because the NBA's SuperSonics moved to Oklahoma City in July after 41 mostly successful years in town.
-The Mariners just finished becoming the first team in the history of Major League Baseball to lose 100 games with a $100 million player payroll.
ashington is 0-7, one of two winless teams among the nation's 119 teams in the Football Championship Subdivision.
-Washington State University has a large alumni base in Seattle. It also has a football team that is 1-7 and hasn't beaten a major college team this season. The toothless Cougars just lost 69-0 to USC, the worst loss in their 104-year history.
-At least there's the NFL's Seahawks ... oh, wait, the four-time division champions are 1-5 and in last place. Their renowned coach on Monday likened them to a misfit high school team he coached in the 1970s in San Francisco.
Seattle U president Father Stephen Sundborg believes his 117-year-old Jesuit school, with 7,600 students on the backside of the Capitol Hill overlooking downtown Seattle, is filling a civic void by returning to Division I after a 29-year hiatus -the Redhawks will play a partial Division I schedule this year.
``The Sonics are a big aspect to this. We didn't pray the Sonics out of town, but this certainly opens up opportunities for us,'' he said, smiling. ``We're looking to make Seattle a real college basketball town.''
He was speaking under a large banner that included an oversized photo of Elgin Baylor in his college uniform of the 1950s posing as if he was about to pass. The Hall of Fame forward is Seattle University's most famous player, and the first of 10 stars from the school who went on to careers in the NBA.
aylor averaged 31 points per game in two seasons and still holds 11 school records. He led the 1957-58 Seattle squad into the NCAA championship game, where it lost to Kentucky.
Mayor Nickels helped settle with the Sonics for an initial $45 million, retiring the debt on KeyArena's remodeling a decade ago. Monday, he was wearing a dark red tie to match the Redhawks' team colors. He recalled how Seattle U sold out the old Seattle Center Coliseum, which KeyArena replaced with a remodeling a decade ago, in the 1960s with 14,000 people watching games against Texas Western and Houston.
That legacy is what Father Sundborg sees as the difference between what Seattle U is starting and what was started decades ago across the state at Gonzaga. The Jesuit school in Spokane is now a national darling, a perennial NCAA tournament team and ruler of the West Coast Conference. Seattle U hopes to be invited into the conference in three to five years.
``We've got a greater tradition than Gonzaga had,'' Sundborg said of the school to which his is most compared out here. ``That's what allows us to make this quick leap forward. Imagine if we didn't have that tradition. People would ask, 'Why are you doing this? Where are you going? How is it going to work?'
``We're different. This is a big city. The facility, KeyArena, is something else.''
ena has become a draw for recruits.
To create a more intimate and loud setting, the school is going to drape off about 10,000 seats in the upper seating bowl, as the WNBA's Storm do, for its first game at KeyArena Jan. 1 against Loyola Marymount - the same team against which it played its last game in Division I in 1980. By the 2009-10 season and beyond, when they play a full Division I schedule and expect to host Fresno State among others, the Redhawks hope to use the entire seating capacity of 17,000-plus.
The road schedule for next season includes Marquette, Utah and Oklahoma State. And the RedHawks are about to complete a five-year agreement with the University of Washington to play three games on the Huskies' homecourt across town and two at KeyArena to create a Division I intercity college rivalry. There are also plans to play in tournaments soon with Gonzaga and Washington State.
All because the Sonics wanted a new palace, then left when they didn't get one.
Seattle U coach Joe Callero is thrilled to pick up where the Sonics left.
``Now, we are the big time,'' he said.

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