REX WALTERS has been named head men’s basketball coach for the University of San Francisco. As head coach at Florida Atlantic University since 2006, the former Kansas University star and NBA veteran brings a wealth of experience and an outstanding résumé to the Hilltop.
Walters, named coach on April 14, was the unanimous choice of the search committee formed in March that was led by Chuck Smith, vice chair of the USF Board of Trustees and former president and CEO of AT&T West. The committee, comprised of Jim Brovelli, USF Hall of Fame player and former coach of USF men’s basketball, Walt Gmelch, dean of the USF School of Education, and Mario Prietto, S.J., rector of the USF Jesuit Community, worked with executive search firm DHR International, and USF Athletic Director Debra Gore-Mann.
“We have done our very best and hired a high-caliber individual who will lead us to prominence,” Smith said.
“His professional reputation, knowledge, and experience in the game of basketball, and his focus on student-athletes make him the perfect fit to lead the Dons,” Gore-Mann said of Walters.
Walters replaces Jessie Evans, who took a leave of absence in December and was later terminated by the university. The university brought in Eddie Sutton after Evans’ leave was announced to lead the Dons through the remainder of the season. During his stint at USF, Sutton became just the fifth Division I coach to win 800 games when USF defeated Pepperdine Feb. 2.
The USF basketball program has struggled to find its footing in recent years. The team finished in March with a 10-21 record, the third straight losing season for the Dons. But for Walters, the challenge of restoring the program to national prominence was a draw.
“USF set the standard for college basketball and my goal is to make sure that USF gets back to that,” Walters said.
In his first season at Florida Atlantic University, Walters guided the Owls to their second consecutive winning season. It was the first time the program posted back-to-back winning campaigns since the team had three straight years of winning basketball from 1989-90 to 1991-92.
In 2006-07, the Owls won 10 Sun Belt Conference games, the third-most for a first-year Sun Belt member. The team also set a program scoring record, averaging 74.9 points per game. Two of Walters’ student-athletes were named Second Team All-Sun Belt, the first student-athletes honored with a major postseason distinction under his direction. The Owls were 15-18 overall and 8-10 in Sun Belt Conference play in 2007-08.
“Today is an extremely exciting day for me and my family,” said Walters, who attended San Jose’s Piedmont Hills High School before going on to graduate from Independence High School in San Jose in 1988. He was recruited by Brovelli, then USF men’s head basketball coach, but ended up going to Northwestern then on to Kansas. “I feel so blessed to have the opportunity to return to the Bay Area and coach at a world class university in an outstanding conference.”
Walters said his biggest goal is to prepare USF players for life after basketball, but that he intends to “win championships and hang banners” at War Memorial Gymnasium. Dedicated to a team axiom of “harder, smarter, and more together,” Walters said opponents can expect a physical game from the Dons in the future, especially in the paint.
Walters rounded out his coaching staff with assistants Danny Yoshikawa, former assistant coach at UC Santa Barbara, Jeff Linder, former assistant coach at Weber State, and Calvin Byrd, former assistant coach at Loyola Marymount who spent two seasons as an assistant at USF under Phil Mathews.
Prior to Florida Atlantic, Walters’ first collegiate coaching job came at Valparaiso, a two-year stint as an assistant under Homer Drew. The 2003-04 Hornets were 18-13 and advanced to the NCAA Tournament after capturing the Mid-Continent Conference with a record of 11-5.
Walters’ pedigree for coaching began as a player, receiving tutelage from some of the game’s legendary coaches. Roy Williams at the University of Kansas and the NBA’s Chuck Daly, Larry Brown, and Pat Riley all mentored Walters during his years as a player.
He starred for two seasons as a player at Kansas. In 68 starts under Williams, he averaged 15.6 points per game, leading the Jayhawks in scoring during both his junior and senior campaigns.
After graduating from Kansas in 1993 with a bachelor of science in education, Walters was selected by New Jersey as the 16th overall pick in the 1993 NBA Draft. He went on to play seven seasons in the NBA.
Walters and his wife, Deanna, have four children, Addison (11), Drew (9), Riley (6), and Gunner (4), and are expecting their fifth child.
Photo: Brant Ward/San Francisco Chronicle/Polaris