The State of the San Francisco Dons


Going into the 2014-2015 campaign, there was a lot to like about the San Francisco Dons.

And there still is.

The decisive win over the University of Portland on Saturday January 10, playing in front of the Portlandia crowd at the Chiles Center seemed like it could have been the turning point for the team.

Then the Dons lost at Santa Clara one week later as they were plagued by some of the same problems that looked like they were fixed in Portland – disappointing free throw shooting, watching their two of their top three scorers foul out towards the end of the game, and having one key scorer, Matt Glover, neutralized in the scoring department by the Broncos defense before he fouled out as well.

The resilience of this team is remarkable and a key trait when playing for Head Coach Rex Walters, who Associate Coach Luke Wicks, says is still “the ultimate competitor.” Walters was a standout players at Kansas before moving to a career in the NBA. Now that he’s a coach, Walters is going to “coach his butt off” expecting as much out of himself as he does out of his players. Wicks notes “that’s just who Rex is.”

Nov 12, 2014; New York, NY, USA; Recording artist Taylor Swift seen court side at the New York Knicks vs. Orlando Magic game at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Radio commentator and former USF Coach Jim Brovelli says that “the USF players play hard for Coach Walters.” He commands that respect and effort. Wicks says “the expectations for the players on this team are to give their best effort whether on the basketball court, in the classroom or in the community.” Brovelli notes that “teams are so fragile.” Sometimes the tweaks the head coach makes are successful (the Portland game) and sometimes they aren’t (Saint Mary’s). It seems like Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” is playing on this team’s collective Ipod.

The mental errors and lack of accuracy at the free throw line aren’t demonstrative of the best effort of the team but everyone has a bad game every now and then. “Things aren’t clicking and shots aren’t dropping” according to Coach Wicks. “Not only do the coaches understand that, it is gonna happen.”

Freshman Devin Watson “carried the team on his shoulders during the Portland game” and “matured quickly in his role as starting point guard” based on Brovelli’s keen observations. The Dons started the season unsettled as to who would be the point guard or if they would have a main point guard at all. Having Watson and fellow freshman Frankie Ferrari at the point would make any head coach nervous because freshman are new to college level basketball in the same way that they are new to college level studies. Coach Wicks points out that “once the freshman have that first semester of basketball under their belts, they seem to settle in better their second semester of basketball. They have seen every team once and they know what is expected and what to expect.” Some freshman jump in right away and just roll. Gonzaga’s Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell, Jr. come to mind as examples of that. They were already a highly touted backcourt when they took the floor at Gonzaga their first semester as freshmen.

Coach Walters insists his players move on from the losses, learn what they need to as a team after those painful games, put them in the rear view mirror and move forward. This was evident after the drubbing at Gonzaga on January 8th as the Dons recovered quickly traveling to Portland and capturing a solid win two days later on Saturday.

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The momentum was set for a win at Santa Clara – a short bus trip from home. But the Dons struggled in a loss. Losing was a setback, and the Dons are now in an uphill climb for the rest of the season towards the conference tournament at the beginning of March. USF peaked at the right time last season and could peak again at the right moment this year too. But first they have to take care of business through the rest of the conference schedule including a key stretch when they meet a red hot Pepperdine and Loyola Marymount this week.

Both Brovelli and Coach Wicks are upbeat and enthusiastic about the Dons ability to reverse course and notch more wins in the weeks ahead. Both are confident in Devin Watson’s ability to continue to apply his skillful leadership and strengths on the floor whether setting the tempo, making a key pass to the player with the best open shot or taking it to the rack himself. With solid scorers in Mark Tollefsen, Kruize Pinkins, and Tim Derksen together with solid play from Matt Glover, Matt Christiansen and Derrell Robertson, it is hard to see how the Dons won’t find a few more wins this season.

Brovelli predicts that “the team’s best basketball is coming up.” And Wicks is confident that the team has the toughness to handle any game that has the potential to be a “dogfight” and can grind with the best of them. Let’s hope the grind results in wins.