Rex Walters had the smile, the green- and gold-striped tie and the words USF fans wanted to hear.
On the day the new men’s basketball coach was introduced at War Memorial Gymnasium, Walters evoked the names of such Dons legends as Bill Russell and Bill Cartwright while stating his intention to return the program to national prominence.
“USF set the standard, quite honestly, for college basketball,” said Walters, who was hired away from Florida Atlantic. “My goal is to make sure USF gets back to that. And I’ll work every day extremely hard to get there.”
Walters inherits some talent on the Hilltop, highlighted by forward Dior Lowhorn, a first-team
All-West Coast Conference performer who led the league in scoring as a sophomore.
Stability has been an issue, however, and Walters is the third coach in four months at the school. Jessie Evans was forced to take a leave of absence Dec. 26 and was fired at the end of the season and Eddie Sutton served as the interim coach for the remainder of the year.
The Dons finished 10-21, have had three straight losing seasons and have not reached the NCAA Tournament since 1998.
Not that the recent past dampened Walters’ optimism.
“We’re going to win championships and we’re going to raise banners,” Walters said. “And I want these young men and the young men that we recruit to come back 10 to 15 years from now and say ‘You know what son … I helped hang that banner.’”
Walters takes over the Dons after leading Florida Atlantic to a 31-33 record in two years as head coach, but has deep Bay Area roots. The 38-year-old starred in high school at Piedmont Hills before moving on to Northwestern and Kansas and spent seven seasons in the NBA. Chuck Smith, the head of USF’s search committee for the new coach, said Walters was a unanimous selection. Lowhorn said the players were looking forward to getting to know him.
“I’ve been uneasy about things for a while, but it feels good to have some stability,” said Lowhorn, who a former city prep star who transferred in from Texas Tech and sat out a season. “He’s a young, energetic guy with an NBA background and I think that’s going to be a real good fit for our team.”
The Walters file
» WHO: Rex Walters
» AGE: 38
» COLLEGE CAREER: Played at Northwestern, then transferred to Kansas, where he averaged 15.6 points per game in two seasons
» PRO CAREER: Drafted 16th overall in 1993 by New Jersey; played seven seasons in the NBA, averaging 4.6 ppg
» COACHING PATH: 31-33 in two seasons at Florida Atlantic (Sun Belt Conference); was an assistant at Florida Atlantic (2005-06), Valparaiso (2003-05) and Blue Valley Northwest (Kan.) High School (2002-03)
» BAY AREA TIES: Played at Piedmont Hills HS before transferring to graduate from Independence