In the corridors of War Memorial gym, the headquarters for the men’s basketball team as well as many other sports at USF can be found. This is where coaches discuss strategies, watch game film and even get in their daily workout on the office treadmill.
Coach Rex Walters and the rest of the basketball staff have been spending a lot of time in that office the past few weeks, in anticipation for the upcoming season. Practice started in late October and it has been constant preparation for the team since then. Before the exhibition season opened last Saturday, which the Dons won 91-77 over CSU Monterey Bay, the Foghorn sat down with Coach Walters to discuss this year’s team.
San Francisco Foghorn: What are the team’s goals for this season?
Coach Rex Walters: Right now we are trying to become a better team day to day. I don’t really get into setting goals for the team for the year; I just want us to get better every day in practice. Last season we competed but we were hurt by our lack of size and depth. This season we want to be more competitive, especially on our home court. Protecting your home court in important and we need to do that this year.
SFF: Your team was ranked fourth in the WCC coaches poll. Do you believe that is a fair ranking for the Dons?
RW: Being ranked first or last would have caught my attention but I don’t put much into this ranking. It means that the coaches in the WCC perceive us as a little bit more improved this season over last year. I don’t put a lot of stock into the rankings. But I think the league will be more wide open this year because there are a lot of young teams this season.
SFF: What have you seen out of your team in practice so far?
RW: The experienced, returning players have a better feel for what we want to do as a team. They have also really helped the youngsters come along nicely. We added more shooting ability and size so our shooting and rebounding should be better this year. But we still have a lot of work to do; we are a young team. Our returning players have only one year of experience with this coaching staff and what we are trying to do. We have to get better every day especially on defense and ball movement. Practice has been more competitive and it makes people better. I’m happy with our recruiting and I’m more positive about the work I’ve seen in practice. The guys are doing a great job of challenging each other.
SFF: What does adding size do for your team, especially for Dior Lowhorn?
RW: First off it helps us a lot on defense, especially in Dior’s case. Last season Dior had to guard players four inches taller than him and this year we won’t be asking him to do that. On offense taller players also guarded him, which just makes it tougher to score. Even though Dior is really good, playing against taller players made it harder for him to do the things you want to do. Adding height allows us to be more of an inside-out team now. It is also going to help us become a better rebounding and shot blocking team.
SFF: What kind of style of play do you envision for your team this season?
RW: I want to be able to push the basketball more this year. Last year we couldn’t run as much as I would’ve liked because we had less dpeth, which made it harder for us to play up-tempo every game. On the defensive side I want more ball pressure. I want to be able to pressure the ball and get turnovers so that we can push the ball up their backs.
SFF: What kind of improvements have you seen from your players?
RW: Dior [Lowhorn] has been really good; he’s been our most consistent player since day one. Kwame [Vaughn] has started out really good but he has to take that next step to continue to improve. Perris [Blackwell] and Moustapha [Diarra] have done well in competing against each other in practice. Perris has a good feel for the game but he needs to improve on getting better position. Dontae [Bryant] has shown great leadership on and off the court especially with the new guys. Blake [Wallace] has been hurt but he has been helping the youngsters out so that they can become more comfortable. Rashad [Green] struggled a little early on but he has really picked it up since then. Tomas [Bruha] has struggled adjusting, he is an international student so he has a lot to adjust to but he is learning. Angelo [Caloiaro] is shooting the ball well; he has been a lot more aggressive with his shot, which is great because he has a nice shot. Nikola [Stojiljkovic] is also making a difficult transition being an international student but he has done a nice job in that transition so far. Each guy on the team has brought something to the table and they all have shown flashes but we need that on a more consistent basis.
SFF: What should we expect from the team this year?
RW: Last year we were a competitive team but we struggled to win games. This year we are more talented and we will be more up-tempo. We will be entertaining because of our style of play. This year we want to play the game the right way, entertaining and fast-paced.