|Dons begin rebuilding under Rex Walters|
|Written by Admin|
|Wednesday, 05 November 2008 09:14|
That's when the team won conference titles and even consecutive NCAA championships in 1955 and '56. That's when the Dons pulled off a 60-game winning streak spanning two seasons.
This is a school desperate for a new start after a tumultuous season a year ago in which Eddie Sutton took over on an interim basis in December. USF said Jessie Evans was on a leave of absence, but ultimately dismissed him in March.
f what we're going to be about, and I think we're doing that. They've responded well.
``But I think part of understanding where we want to go, we also have to look back at where we were - the good times and the bad. There have been a lot of great times.''
There are pictures of former Dons star Bill Cartwright on the walls in Walters' office. He asks his players to look up at the banners in Memorial Gym if they ever need any reminders of where this team has been before, and where he thinks it will one day be again.
``It's a new vibe, definitely,'' said forward Dior Lowhorn, the leading scorer in the West Coast Conference last season. ``We know there's no complete turnaround this year, but there will be steady progress and that we can flip our record around.''
The team hasn't made the NCAA tournament since 1998, and there's a lot of work to do.
At a practice early in the season, Walters stood on the baseline under one basket with his arms crossed and whistle at the ready as he intently watched Lowhorn and Blake Wallace take shot after shot. Then there were sprints for each turnover committed, aside from the one freebie Walters gives every player each day.
``It's a lot of changes, and those kids have been through a lot in the past year,'' Walters said. ``I understand that. We've tried to build them up and make sure they know we're on their side but also, in order to do that, we have to change some things.''
Walters wants his players to sustain their enthusiasm and energy for the long haul, and he's noticed they're already bonding as a group off the court - another good sign.
``I'm not coaching effort. I'm coaching,'' said Walters, a 38-year-old father of five raised in nearby San Jose. ``That's been a really positive thing. We don't have a lot of depth. We're battling some injuries already. But we're getting there.''
Walters was 31-33 in two seasons at Florida Atlantic, where he was an assistant for one year before taking over the program when Matt Doherty left to coach SMU. The Owls went 16-15 in his first year, then 15-18 last season.
He began his college playing career at Northwestern, then transferred to Kansas and played his final two college seasons under Roy Williams, averaging 15.6 points and helping the Jayhawks reach the Final Four in 1993.
Walters is one of three new coaches in the eight-team WCC, joining Tom Asbury at Pepperdine and Loyola Marymount's Bill Bayno. There's a buzz surrounding the conference after it sent three teams to the NCAA tournament for the first time: Gonzaga, Saint Mary's and San Diego.
The timing seems good for Walters to provide this team with a fresh start.
en athletic director Debra Gore-Mann announced in late December that Evans would be away from the team at least until March, declining to offer further details about the fourth-year coach's status. The situation outraged donors, who didn't like the uncertainty during a key recruiting period. Evans has since filed a lawsuit against the school.
What followed was a third straight losing season.
``The people are passionate about the city, this basketball program and USF - and they want to see that tradition and that program again,'' Walters said.
He hopes to stick around and establish stability, and that will mean turning the Dons into a winner again.
Sutton retired as Oklahoma State's coach after the 2005-06 season and arrived on the Hilltop with 798 victories. He reached the coveted 800 mark as USF finished 10-21 last season, playing well down the stretch.
``I'm not going to criticize either one of them,'' Walters said, referring to Evans and Sutton. ``I'm thankful to both. They both did some good things, some positive things for the program.''
aches with 800 victories - Sutton (803) and Bob Knight (902).
Walters is thrilled to have a player of his experience.
``He's really intense,'' Lowhorn said. ``When he first got here, he tried to set the tone with a lot of stuff. We've adjusted to him a lot better now. One way he expressed himself is with the old jerseys. That's going to be really neat.''