The buzzer sounds at Jenny Craig Pavilion during the 2008 WCC quarter-finals. Vince Polakovic walks off the court with Eddie Sutton after suffering a one point loss to rival Santa Clara. SCU celebrates with first year coach Kerry Keating as they now prepare to take on 20th ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs in the 2008 WCC semi-finals. USF’s season is over – enter Rex Walters.
There are two types of fans in the WCC. There are Rex Walters lovers, and then there are the Rex Walters haters. As readers, I’m certain you already know where you stand. Since his start in 2008, Walters is 107-114, including a 20+ win season in 2011-2012. That season was the first time the Dons had 20+ wins since the 1981-82 (25-6) season. The Dons head coach turned the Men’s Basketball program into a legitimate threat in the WCC. But to understand Walters, you have to recognize his Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde tendencies. When watching a Dons game, I personally have differentiated these two personalities as Rex and T-Rex.
“Rex” is the clean-cut Jayhawk alumni that played seven years in the NBA and had a minor role in the movie Blue Chips. Rex has expressed three important attributes for his team: work ethic in the classroom, work ethic on the court, and good standing in the community. At USF, Rex has made difficult decisions with some of his student-athletes that choose to clash with these values. For instance, USF fans have witnessed Walters sit a starter who is academically struggling. He emphasizes the student-athlete and will sit the player as long as it takes for his academics to improve.
Rex has no problem letting his players know when he is disappointed with performance on the court. After a brutal loss to Holy Cross University in December 2012, Walters sent a message to his team:
I don’t know if anybody’s come in here and worked on (his) game. … It’s amazing how guys can have time for Twitter and Facebook and hanging out. … But who’s in the gym? Who wants to get better? You know what I mean?
During a frustrating part of the season, “T-Rex” may have gotten the best of him here, but his concerns as a coach were made crystal clear. Lastly, Rex has also indicated that poor actions off the court will directly lead to dismissal from the squad. Hometown favorite De’ End Parker was dismissed this Spring for “conduct detrimental to the program“ and “violation of team rules“. Who wouldn’t want a head coach that keeps his players in check and disciplines when necessary?
However, let’s meet “T-Rex”. I believe the true birth of T-Rex at USF was November 20th, 2010 against the Colorado Buffaloes. There was an intense moment of the game where T-Rex got hold of the dead ball and was going to give the referee an earful. Instead, a CU player tried to strip T-Rex of the ball and a heated exchange erupted between the two. Referees had to split the CU player and the USF head coach before things got out of hand. This incident led to a double technical foul (hence the name T-Rex, get it?).
These types of eruptions are typical for T-Rex. Other T-Rex antics include: clip board tossing, sarcastic golf clapping from the bench, and playing a game of line jumps during the 2012 WCC Tournament. T-Rex’s actions led to a one game suspension to open the 2012 WCC conference schedule. The WCC, USF and commissioner Jamie Zaninovich declined to comment on the details of the suspension, but did specify that the suspension was due to “violation of the league’s sportsmanship guidelines”.
The West Coast Conference and its membership take its sportsmanship principles and standards very seriously, … It is of the utmost importance for our coaches, student-athletes and administrators to represent the values of our institutions and the conference in an appropriate manner.
Walters clearly crossed the thin line between being a passionate coach versus consistently losing it in the heat of the moment. T-Rex did make fewer appearances during the 2012-2013 season, but he still lurks at the bench and pops up every so often.
This is an important year for Walters. His contract expires at the end of 2016-2017 season and his teams have shown a consistent improvement since his arrival in 2008. If the Green & Gold do in fact continue to improve, they have to assert themselves at the top half of the WCC. This 2013-2014 season is the first year that Walters has built the entire Dons team. There are no unexpected transfers – these are his guys. Die hard Dons fans are expecting Rex to lead the Dons to a top three finish in the WCC with an appearance in the Championship game. Anything less and T-Rex may be chased thru town with pitchforks and torches all off-season.
One for the Road
If you have ever met Rex Walters you’re sure to know one thing – he went to Kansas