Walters Returns to Kansas

One of the greatest players in Kansas basketball history was back in Allen Fieldhouse Wednesday night. And it was like Rex Walters had never left.

After the public address announcer introduced the Florida Atlantic starting lineup, he then welcomed back the Owls head coach. The Allen Fieldhouse faithful roared, they cheered, they thanked Rex Walters for all the magical memories.

Walters waved to the crowd, he blew a kiss, and sure, he felt the chills.

"It was very special,” Walters said after his Owls lost to Kansas, 87-49. “That introduction was very, very nice. It did touch my heart. I have said all along that the people are what make this state and Kansas basketball so special. It means an awful lot to me for them to show that much respect and love.

“Then, unfortunately, we had to play a basketball game."

While the Owls lost by nearly 40 points, they stayed with the Jayhawks for the first 12 minutes of the game. FAU was down just 20-13 at the 7:52 mark before Kansas went on a 12-0 run and never looked back. KU held Florida Atlantic to just 31.4 percent field goal shooting, while blistering the nets at a 56.9 percent clip.

KU (6-0) had four players in double figures, led by junior swingman Brandon Rush with 17 points. Senior forward Darnell Jackson added 13 points and four rebounds in his first start of the year.

The Owls (1-6) were led by guards Carderro Nwoji and Sanchez Hughley, who scored 14 points each. Florida Atlantic was without leading scorer Paul Graham (17.8 ppg), who was suspended.

Walters, who led KU to two straight Big Eight championships and the 1993 Final Four, was intense the entire game. He paced the sidelines, encouraged and cajoled his players, clapped his hands, pumped his fists during timeout huddles, and taught his players for 40 minutes on playing the game the right way.

"We got better,” Walters said. “I thought for 37 minutes, we competed. (Kansas) has at least seven future professional basketball players. Some are going to be lottery picks. Some will be first rounders. We won't face that again in our conference or non-conference. We may face one or two, at the most, the rest of the year.”

“I was really disappointed with the last three minutes and the way we played,” Walters added. “I thought we didn't give the same effort, and that's what really got me upset.”

Walters, though, knows it’s been difficult for his team playing the first seven games on the road. The Owls had faced UMKC two nights ago on Monday, and also played Boston College and Rhode Island earlier in November. FAU finally returns home for its next three games (Dec. 1-18).

“It’s been a monster schedule,” Walters said. “The toughest thing, especially with a young ballclub (four first-year players) is you try to build confidence. We haven’t had a chance to really build any confidence. You get (confidence) through success, and we haven’t had a whole lot because of our schedule, and that’s my fault.”

Nobody will work harder than Walters in turning this season around. In his first year as a college basketball head coach last season, Walters led the Owls to a 16-15 record, their second-straight winning campaign and the first time Florida Atlantic posted back-to-back winning seasons since 1989-92. The Owls also won 10 Sun Belt conference games in 2006-07, the third-most for a first-year Sun Belt team.

Nwoji said he loved playing for the tough-minded Walters, one of the four most competitive players that former KU coach and current North Carolina head man Roy Williams has ever coached.

"Coach Walters is a competitor,” Nwoji said. “He has played for the best coaches around (Williams and pro coaches Larry Brown, Chuck Daly, and Pat Riley). He knows my position, the point guard position, in and out. He is never going to quit and will keep on pushing."

Despite Walters’ frustration over the team’s losses, he was all about the Jayhawks after the game.

“Nobody is going to root harder than I am for Kansas,” Walters said. “I hope they can get healthy. They have the makings. I remember when we went to the Final Four (in 1993), Matt Doherty (assistant coach at KU at the time) asked Michael Jordan, ‘What does it take to get to a Final Four and win a championship?' It's amazing that the things that stood out to me is that he said you have to get a little lucky, too. I hope that Kansas gets a little lucky, because it takes all of that. It takes great ability, it takes great toughness, it takes great unselfishness, and sometimes you need to get a little lucky.

"There was not a better team in my mind in 1991-92 when we lost to UTEP (in the second round of the NCAA tournament). I thought we were the best team in the nation. We ran into a buzzsaw and we didn't play particularly well, and they caught us on a bad night. I hope Kansas doesn’t fall into that. Bill (Self) has done an unbelievable job in recruiting and bringing in good kids that try to play the right way."

Walters is indeed a huge fan of the Jayhawks. He even tried to recruit redshirt sophomore guard Brady Morningstar when Walters was an assistant at Valparaiso.

“They’re really, really deep,” Walters said. “I love Russell Robinson. I love his toughness. Mario Chalmers, I love the way he plays. Brandon (Rush) is probably playing at about 90 percent. I’ve had injuries and when you have an injury, even when you’re cleared a 100 percent, you’re still thinking about it, and I feel like he’s still thinking a little bit. He hasn’t showed that explosiveness, and it’s just that little percent of doubt, and that will come with time. That will disappear. And I think Tyrel (Reed, who missed the game with a sprained ankle) can help them because they need some guys that can shoot from the perimeter. Our goal was to limit their three-point shots, and I thought we did a decent job.” (KU shot 11-of-26 from three-point range.)

Walter may have left Allen Fieldhouse with a loss, but he was certainly the crowd favorite on this night.

And that’s something he will always remember. Heck, even Self got goosebumps when Walters was introduced before the game.

“It was not a highly contested game, so that was about as loud as our building got tonight,” Self said. “That was nice. I told him after the game that the people here really appreciate the way you played and the way you conducted yourself. I think he'll do fine. He is so competitive and he was coaching them until the end."


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