Archive for Thursday, September 1, 2005

FAU full of familiar faces

Hoops coaches Doherty, Walters proud of KU ties

September 1, 2005

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Rex Walters, who played basketball at Kansas University but now works at Florida Atlantic, laughed out loud when asked who he would be rooting for Saturday.

"Who am I going for as a fan? That's a tricky question. You trying to trip me up?" Walters said good-naturedly, referring to the football opener between the Jayhawks and Owls, set for a 6 p.m. kickoff at Memorial Stadium. "Let's just say I'll definitely be watching the ticker on TV trying to get a score on that game."

Walters, first-year associate head coach on former KU assistant Matt Doherty's initial Florida Atlantic hoops staff, was a bit more diplomatic than Doherty.

Doherty coached at KU under Roy Williams from 1992 to '99 before serving as a head coach at Notre Dame one year and North Carolina two seasons.

Walters played at KU in 1991-92 and '92-93.

"I've got to pull for Florida Atlantic, man. They pay my bills. Go Owls," Doherty said, chuckling.

Walters and Doherty won't be able to make the trip from FAU's campus in Boca Raton, Fla., for the game.

"We're just too busy recruiting," said Walters, who undoubtedly will be happy to learn the KU-FAU game actually will be televised in South Florida, off Sunflower Broadband's feed.

"I thought seriously about going and would like to be there. I always like coming back to Lawrence," said Doherty last in town last winter working the KU-Iowa State game as a TV analyst. "The fans there are some of the best in all of sports. That community is a neat one, a good one to raise a family in. We just can't get back. We're too busy with recruits and the kids here."

Soaring Owls

Doherty, 43, and Walters, 35, are combining to build what they hope will be a powerhouse program at FAU.

The Owls turned to former North Carolina and Notre Dame head coach Doherty to replace Sidney Green (fired after three straight losing seasons) last offseason after first interviewing Walters, who worked as an aide at Valparaiso for two seasons.

"I actually called coach Doherty, coach Williams and Pat Riley to call on my behalf," said Walters, who played for Riley's Miami Heat team during Walters' seven-year NBA career. "I knew it'd be tough to get the job, but I wanted to get the experience of going through the process, and that happened. When I began to realize they would go with someone with head-coaching experience, I talked to coach Doherty.

"To show you the type of person he is, he said he would not pursue the job until I said it was OK. It shows the kind of man he is."

Doherty, who had spent the last two years working in TV as well as starting a small sports-marketing company specializing in NASCAR, was interested in the FAU job, especially after learning Walters would be willing to be his main assistant.

"Rex and I have stayed in close contact since we were together at KU," Doherty said. "We both are very passionate about the game of basketball. When Rex learned they wanted someone with head-coaching experience, he said, 'You should go for it.' I threw my hat in the ring, and shortly after that introduced Rex at the press conference."

'The weather is great'

Doherty thinks FAU, which is moving from the Atlantic Sun Conference to the Sun Belt after the 2005-06 season, can win. He and Walters already have attracted six recruits for this season.

"I think we have a lot of selling points. No. 1, the staff having the experience we have," Doherty said, noting Walters had been tutored under coaches like Williams, Riley, Larry Brown, Chuck Daly, Stan Van Gundy and Homer Drew. "My experience at North Carolina, Kansas and Notre Dame ... it's hard to find a staff anywhere with the experience we have.

"There's a good chance we're building a new arena (for basketball and football) -- a dome that seats 40,000. The weather is great. People come on our campus, and there are palm trees five minutes away. We can fly people in from anywhere in the country. It's a safe community, which is important to families."

He is not the only head coach at the mid-major school to have worked at other, bigger, universities. FAU's football coach is Howard Schnellenberger of University of Miami, Oklahoma and Louisville fame.

"I don't consider myself famous," said Doherty, who recruited almost all the players responsible for leading North Carolina to last year's national title. "I just took my Howard Schnellenberger bobblehead doll and put in on my shelf. To be attached to his hip in this athletic department, which is moving to greater heights, is exciting."

Doherty says he has a new passion for coaching. He's not down on the profession after his stepping down under pressure at Carolina two seasons ago.

"I'm happy and proud, but frustrated and disappointed we didn't get to finish the job," Doherty said. "It happens in life and sports. It was tough to deal with, but people deal with tougher things on a daily basis.

"I felt like maybe I was the general manager. I was not head coach at the time they won, but the general manager (since) our staff put the team together. We had some growing pains; coach Williams and his staff got to coach the team."

He said he and Williams remained friends, and he also is a fan of KU coach Bill Self.

"I think KU under Bill's guidance will always be good, barring injury," Doherty said. "Bill will always have them in the top three in the Big 12 and always in a position to make a run at the Final Four."

Walters, 35, also likes what's in store for his alma mater.

"Coach Self has been good to me," Walters said. "When he got there, we talked about the position (of assistant coach). I love that place. It's where I met my wife and got my diploma. That's what's really important. I've got KU all over my office walls. I love the place."

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