Former University of Kansas combo guard Rex Walters played seven years in the NBA.
He’s about to find out what it’s like to coach at the highest level.
The 47-year-old Walters, who directed the Grand Rapids (Mich.) Drive to a 26-24 record in 2016-17, after serving 10 years as head coach in the college ranks (eight at San Francisco, two at Florida Atlantic) on Thursday was promoted to full-time assistant coach on Stan Van Gundy’s Detroit Pistons staff.
The Drive is the D-League affiliate of the Pistons.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Kansas City Star
In Van Gundy’s first three seasons there, the Detroit Pistons have made the playoffs once.
“I’m excited about it,” Walters said in a phone interview Friday. “I really enjoyed the D-League, (but) obviously when Stan presented this as an option, I jumped at it. It was great to see guys get better, great to work with such coachable guys. We had a bunch of great guys.
“I will miss parts of it definitely. (But) the amount of respect I have for Stan and his staff … I’m learning a lot every day just trying to get better as a coach. That’s always been my approach to things — trying to get better whether as a coach or as a player. I’m extremely excited about this opportunity.”
Of the NBA level, Walters said: “The players are just so good. The challenge is so much greater because the other teams have really good players, too. I think the Pistons organization pays great attention to detail. I’m looking forward to learning about personnel, learning about all the different ways you have to cover things and relating that to the players.
“My role more so is going to be player development, helping some of our younger players get better in their workouts, get better in their preparation to become a better pro. I enjoy that part of it. Finding new ways to get better ... that’s what you are always trying to do.”
Walters graduated from Kansas in 1993.
Van Gundy cited Walters’ work with individual players as one reason for the promotion.
“Rex brings great basketball knowledge and experience and does a great job of developing young players,” Van Gundy said Thursday in revealing Walters would join him on the Pistons’ bench. “We were very happy with the way he worked with our young Pistons’ players last season when they were on assignment in Grand Rapids.”
Walters has had an incredibly hectic schedule since Thursday’s official announcement of his hiring. He flew from Pistons summer league training camp in Orlando, Fla., on Friday morning to San Francisco. He then rented a car and drove an hour to Saratoga, Calif., for the 5 p.m. wedding ceremony of one of his former University of San Francisco players — Angelo Caloiaro.
Shortly after toasting Angelo and bride Liana, Walters was to fly back to Orlando on Friday night in advance of Saturday’s 5 p.m. Orlando summer league opener against Oklahoma City.
“I’ve got a great boss,” Walters said of Van Gundy, who doubles as coach and president of basketball operations for the Pistons.
Van Gundy completely understood Walters’ loyalty to a former player. Van Gundy was an assistant to Pat Riley when Walters played for the Miami Heat from 1997 to 2000.
“Angelo was the first player I actually got a commitment from when I was at San Francisco,” Walters said. “He was great on the court, turned himself into a pro. He did so many things you look for in a young man. I got pretty close with his family. A guy like Angelo didn’t have a scholarship offer coming out of high school. I got the good fortune to coach him for four years and watch him go on and play high-level pro basketball and make a good living for himself,” Walters added.
Walters family update
Walters and wife Deanna have five children, who are all interested in sports.
Daughter Addi, a 5-foot-9 guard, averaged 6.1 points per game in basketball during her sophomore season at Cal State Bakersfield. She was second on the squad in threes made in 2016-17 (45). She is eighth in school history in career three-pointers (122) and ninth in three-pointers attempted (318).
Son Drew, a 6-3, 220-pound basketball guard and football tight end/tackle/long snapper, will play both sports at New Hampton (N.H.) Prep School in 2017-18.
Daughter Riley, a high school sophomore, is an accomplished age-group gymnast, while son Gunner, an eighth-grader, plays basketball. Ace, who is also in grade school, is just getting started in various sports.
Julian Wright back in U.S.A.
Former Kansas forward Julian Wright, who has played overseas the past six seasons after playing four seasons in the NBA, is back in the U.S., set to play summer-league basketball for the Utah Jazz.
The Jazz play in their own summer league, July 3-6, in Salt Lake City, then travel to the Las Vegas summer league, July 7-17.
The 6-foot-8, 225-pound Wright, 30, was the No. 13 overall pick in the 2007 NBA Draft (by New Orleans). He played three seasons for the Hornets (now the Pelicans) and one for the Toronto Raptors. His overseas career has included stops in Israel, Russia, Greece, Puerto Rico, Italy and Turkey. He finished last season competing for Pallacanestro Reggiana in Italy.
Andrew White with Cavs
Former Kansas, Nebraska and Syracuse guard Andrew White will play for Cleveland’s summer-league team in Las Vegas. The 6-7 White averaged 18.5 points per game last season at Syracuse. He hit a school-record 112 three-pointers. Cleveland did not have a pick in the 2017 NBA Draft.