Shawnee — Wearing a light-blue shirt with “Florida Atlantic” prominently displayed over his chest, Rex Walters stood alone in a corner of Okun Fieldhouse. The 37-year-old second-year FAU coach punched out text messages into his cell phone during breaks in the action at the Price Chopper AAU basketball tournament, appearing as intense as his days as a ballhawking combo guard at Kansas University.
“Oh, gosh, this is something I always wanted to do,” 1993 KU graduate Walters said enthusiastically. “The first time I met coach (Roy) Williams, he said, ‘What do you want to do?’ I said, ‘I want to coach.’ “I’m living the dream, you know?”
The dream has taken Walters to the Kansas City area Saturday through Tuesday for one of the last events of the July recruiting period. “We’d like to get into Kansas (as a recruiting base),” Walters said of a state that already has supplied him with point guard Carderro Nwoji of Wichita South.
“I think Florida is a good place for kids to be. If we can get them down there, they’ll like what they see. It is absolutely gorgeous. We are five minutes from the beach,” he added of FAU’s Boca Raton campus. “Palm trees and blue skies, very good conference (Sun Belt) ... and we have a chance to be pretty good, too.”
KU fans will learn a lot more about Walters’ Florida Atlantic team — which went 16-15 in his first season — on Nov. 28 when the Owls visit Allen Fieldhouse. “Why play Kansas? No. 1, I want our guys to know what it’s supposed to look like. We did that with North Carolina last year (105-52 loss in Chapel Hill), although two of our (injured) players missed the game,” he said. “We want to compete at the highest level and have a chance to win our conference. There’s not a better way to prepare than playing against some of the best. It gets no better than Kansas.”
Though he hails from California originally, Walters considers himself a Kansan as well. “Kansas is a special place. I met my wife there, was married there,” said Walters, who played seven years in the NBA and internationally for two years, heading to FAU after working two seasons as an assistant at Valparaiso. “I don’t want to play against KU ever, but because it’s such a special place it’s something I look forward to. The biggest thing is I’ll see a lot of people I know well, people who mean a lot to me.”
He figures to receive a loud ovation during introductions from KU fans who never forget their own. “I like being on the other bench a lot more,” he said of the home team’s bench. “But it will be a lot of fun. I have a lot of great memories. Coach Williams is one of the most important people in my life, all he’s done for me. “Coach Self has done a great job there. Obviously they are talented. They have lottery picks. We’ll try to make it competitive and see where it leads.”
Walters said his wife Deanna and children Addison (9), Drew (7), Riley (4) and Gunner (2) would make the trip to Lawrence for the game. “Addison wants to go to Carolina (where Williams now works); Drew wants to go to KU. We already have a house divided,” Walters cracked.