Basketball Wiki

San Francisco Dons
San Francisco Dons
School Name: University of San Francisco
Location: San Francisco, California
Arena: War Memorial Gym
Capacity: 5,300
Conference: West Coast
Head coach: Rex Walters

The San Francisco Dons basketball team represents the University of San Francisco in NCAA Division I men's college basketball.[1] The Dons compete in the West Coast Conference, in which they have won sixteen regular season and one conference tournament championships. They play home games at the War Memorial Gymnasium. The men's basketball teams have won three national titles: the 1949 NIT under Pete Newell, and the 1955 and 1956 NCAA championships. The latter two were under Phil Woolpert, and led by player and National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Famer Bill Russell.

USF retained its status as a basketball powerhouse into the 70's and early 80's, holding the distinction of being a "major" program in a "mid-major" conference (the WCC having declined somewhat in stature since the 1960s). It held the number one spot in the polls on numerous occasions. In 1977, led by All-American center Bill Cartwright, the Dons went 29–0 and were regarded as the #1 team in the nation in both major polls before dropping their last two games. The Dons remain the only program in the West Coast Conference to have earned a #1 national ranking, having done so on multiple occasions.

The San Francisco Dons men's basketball program has been rated the 29th "Greatest College Basketball Program of All-Time" by Street & Smith's magazine, 49th by NBC Sports "Greatest Programs of All-Time"[2], and 75th by the ESPN/Sagarin All-Time College Basketball Rankings[2], higher in all three rankings than any other West Coast Conference school and many schools from BCS Conferences (Pac-12, Big 10, Big 12, Big East, SEC).


Basketball got its start at USF, then known as St. Ignatius College, in 1910. The original coach was Orno Taylor, whose subsequent achievements were lost to history. The scores had grown since 1895 but the writing was as florid as ever. The College Annual reported that "the entire team did nobly in the season just finished and the student body as a unit thanks them for their loyalty and devotion." The results weren't bad either. The St. Ignatius team won six of its seven games, losing only to Pacific (then located in San Jose) by a mere three points. Included in the victories was a sweep of Santa Clara, still a major rival, by scores of 38–31 and 22–13.[2]

Pete Newell era[]

After serving in the United States Navy from 1942 to 1946, Pete Newell was appointed head men's basketball coach at the University of San Francisco in 1946. During his four-year tenure at USF, Newell compiled a 70–37 record and coached the Dons to the 1949 National Invitation Tournament championship, beating his alma mater, Loyola. (At the time, the NIT was nearly as prestigious as the NCAA tournament.) This was the team of All-American Don Lofgran, Joe McNamee, captain John Benington, Ross Giudice, Frank Kuzara and a baby-faced guard named Rene Herrerias who often was thought to be the team's ball boy. New York's Madison Square Garden crowds were notoriously tough to please. Lofgran, Herrerias and company had them cheering in the aisles. In 1950, he accepted an appointment as head coach at Michigan State University, where he stayed until 1954. He later led the University of California to the 1959 NCAA men's basketball championship, and a year later coached the gold medal-winning U.S. team at the 1960 Summer Olympics. After his coaching career ended he ran a world-famous instructional basketball camp and served as a consultant and scout for several National Basketball Association (NBA) teams. He is often considered to be one of the most influential figures in the history of basketball.

Phil Woolpert and the 'Russell Era'[]

Upon Pete Newell's departure for Michigan State University, the University of San Francisco hired Phil Woolpert to succeed Newell. He assumed both the posts of men's basketball coach and athletic director.

During his tenure at USF, Woolpert posted a 153–78 record, including a 60-game win streak that at the time was the longest in college basketball (surpassed later by John Wooden's 88 straight wins at UCLA.). His teams, anchored by Bill Russell, K.C. Jones, Eugene Brown and Mike Farmer, were known for their defense and held opponents below 60 points on 47 different occasions. USF won the national championship in 1955 and 1956, and finished third in 1957. At the time the youngest college basketball coach to win a national championship, Woolpert also won Coach of the Year honors in 1955 and 1956.

Bill Russell was ignored by college scouts and did not receive a single letter of interest until Hal DeJulio from the local University of San Francisco (USF) watched him in a high school game. DeJulio was not impressed by Russell's meager scoring and "atrocious fundamentals",[3] but sensed that the young center had an extraordinary instinct for the game, especially in clutch situations. When DeJulio offered Russell a scholarship, the latter eagerly accepted. Sports journalist John Taylor described it as a watershed in Russell's life, because Russell realized that basketball was his one chance to escape poverty and racism; as a consequence, Russell swore to make the best of it.

At USF, Russell became the new starting center for coach Phil Woolpert. Woolpert emphasized defense and deliberate half-court play, concepts that favored defensive standout Russell.[4] Woolpert was unaffected by issues of skin color. In 1954, he became the first coach of a major college basketball squad to start three African American players: Russell, K.C. Jones and Hal Perry.[5] In his USF years, Russell used his relative lack of bulk to develop a unique style of defense: instead of purely guarding the opposing center, he used his quickness and speed to play help defense against opposing forwards and aggressively challenge their shots.[4] Combining the stature and shot-blocking skills of a center with the foot speed of a guard, Russell became the centerpiece of a USF team that soon became a force in college basketball. After USF kept Holy Cross star Tom Heinsohn scoreless in an entire half, Sports Illustrated wrote, "If [Russell] ever learns to hit the basket, they're going to have to rewrite the rules."

However, the games were often difficult for the USF squad. Russell and his African American teammates became targets of racist jeers, both at USF and on the road. In one notable incident, hotels in Oklahoma City refused to admit Russell and his black teammates while they were in town for the 1954 All-College Tournament. In protest, the whole team decided to camp out in a closed college dorm, which was later called an important bonding experience for the group.[5] Decades later, Russell explained that his experiences hardened him against abuse of all kinds. "I never permitted myself to be a victim," he said.[6][7]

On the hardwood, his experiences were far more pleasant. Russell led USF to NCAA championships in 1955 and 1956, including a string of 55 consecutive victories. He became known for his strong defense and shot-blocking skills, once denying 13 shots in a game. UCLA coach John Wooden called Russell "the greatest defensive man I've ever seen".[5] During his college career, Russell averaged 20.7 points per game and 20.3 rebounds per game.[8] Besides basketball, Russell represented USF in track and field events. He competed in the 440 yard (402 m) race, which he could complete in 49.6 seconds.[9] He also participated in the high jump; Track & Field News ranked him as the seventh-best high jumper in the world in 1956. That year, Russell won high jump titles at the Central California AAU meet, the Pacific AAU meet, and the West Coast Relays. One of his highest jumps occurred at the West Coast Relays, where he achieved a mark of 6 feet 9¼ inches (2.06 m).[10]

After his years at USF, the Harlem Globetrotters invited Russell to join their exhibition basketball squad. Russell, who was sensitive to any racial prejudice, was enraged by the fact that owner Abe Saperstein would only discuss the matter with Woolpert. While Saperstein spoke to Woolpert in a meeting, Globetrotters assistant coach Harry Hanna tried to entertain Russell with jokes. The USF center was livid after this snub and declined the offer: he reasoned that if Saperstein was too smart to speak with him, then he was too smart to play for Saperstein. Instead, Russell made himself eligible for the 1956 NBA Draft.[11]

The End of an Era of Dominance[]

USF retained its status as a basketball powerhouse into the 70's and early 80's, holding the distinction of being a "major" program in a "mid-major" conference (the WCC having declined somewhat in stature since the 1960s). It held the number one spot in the polls on numerous occasions. In 1977, led by All-American center Bill Cartwright, the Dons went 29-0 and were regarded as the #1 team in the nation in both major polls before dropping their last two games.

The Dons' prominence in the 1970s came at a price, however. The NCAA slapped the Dons with probation two times in the late 1970s. Galliard was forced out as coach due to the first investigation, and an in-house inquiry after the second resulted in Belluomini's ouster. It was also well-known that basketball players got special treatment; many of them were marginal students at best, and at least one instance where a player threatened another student was swept under the rug by school officials.[12] It was also common for "tutors" to take tests and write papers for players.[13]

The situation finally came to a head in December 1981, when All-American guard Quintin Dailey assaulted a female student. During the subsequent investigation, Dailey admitted taking a no-show job at a business owned by a prominent non-sports USF donor. The donor had also paid Dailey $5,000 since 1980. Combined with other revelations, school president Rev. John LoSchiavo announced on July 26 that he was shutting down the basketball program--the first time a school had shut down a major sport under such circumstances. The move was widely applauded by several members of the coaching fraternity [12], as the Dailey matter revealed a program that was, in the words of San Francisco Chronicle sportswriter Glenn Dickey, "totally out of control."[13]

A New Era of Dons Basketball[]

LoSchiavo resurrected the program in 1985 under former star Jim Brovelli, who quickly returned the program to respectability. He was not able to reach postseason play, however, and resigned in 1995. The program has only reached the postseason twice since its revival--an NCAA berth in 1998 under Phil Mathews and a 2005 NIT berth under former coach Jessie Evans.

The program regressed the next few years, and Jessie Evans was granted a request for a 'leave of absence' on December 27, 2007. Legendary basketball coach Eddie Sutton took over on an interim basis, needing 2 wins for a personal milestone of 800 career coaching victories. At the time, Bob Knight was the only other Division I men's coach to have accomplished the feat. After months of speculation, Evans was finally officially fired by USF on March 20, 2008. A national coaching search was launched which included a four-man committee of Chuck Smith, vice chair of the USF Board of Trustees and former president and CEO of AT&T West, former player and coach Jim Brovelli; Walt Gmelch, dean of the USF School of Education, and Mario Prietto, rector of the USF Jesuit Community and a member of the USF Board of Trustees.

On March 29, 2008, USF hired a executive search consultant company, DHR International to help spearhead their efforts in hiring the next Dons' head coach. Among the possible candidates named, former UCLA Bruins Head Coach Steve Lavin, former USF All-American and current New Jersey Nets Assistant Coach Bill Cartwright, former NBA player and current Golden State Warriors Shooting Coach Sidney Moncrief, current Cal Bears Assistant Head Coach Louis Reynaud, and former Golden State Warriors and Sacramento Kings Head Coach Eric Musselman, and former Kansas Jayhawks All-American and FAU Head Coach Rex Walters.

Rex Walters was named as the Dons' head coach on April 14, 2008.


Year Player
1928 Forest Ray Maloney
1930 Rene Barielles
1948 Don Lofgran
1948 Don Lofgran
1955 Bill Russell
1956 Bill Russell
1956 K.C. Jones
1958 Mike Farmer
1964 Ollie Johnson
1965 Ollie Johnson
1974 Phil Smith
1977 Bill Cartwright
1977 James Hardy
1977 Winford Boynes
1978 Bill Cartwright
1978 Winford Boynes
1979 Bill Cartwright
1982 Quintin Dailey

Dons in the NBA[]

The University of San Francisco has had 24 players go on to play in the NBA.
Winford Boynes 1978-80 •
Wallace Bryant 1983-85 •
Bill Cartwright 1979-94 •
John Cox 1982 •
Pete Cross 1970-72 •
Quintin Dailey 1982-91 •
Joe Ellis 1966-73 •
Mike Farmer 1958-65 •
Eric Fernsten 1975-83 •
James Hardy 1978-81
K.C. Jones 1958-66 •
Fred Lacour 1960-62 •
Dave Lee 1967-68 •
Don Lofgran 1950-53 •
Joe McNamee 1950-51 •
Erwin Mueller 1966-73
Paul Napolitano 1948 •
Marlon Redmond 1978-79 •
Billy Reid 1980 •
Kevin Restani 1974-81 •
Bill Russell 1956-68 •
Freddie Scolari 1946-54
Phil Smith 1974-82 •
Ime Udoka (Finished NCAA Career at Portland State) 2003-Present •
Guy Williams 1984-85 •

Notes and references[]

  1. This article is about the men's basketball team only; women's teams and athletes at the University of San Francisco are known as "Lady Dons."
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 [1] Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "history" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "history" defined multiple times with different content
  3. Template:Cite book
  4. 4.0 4.1 Template:Cite book
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Schneider, Bernie (2006). "1953–56 NCAA Championship Seasons: The Bill Russell Years". University of San Francisco. Archived from the original on 2006-11-28. Retrieved 2006-12-01. 
  6. "A conversation with Bill Russell". 1999-05-10. Retrieved 2007-02-09. 
  7. "A conversation with Bill Russell". 2001-06-06. Retrieved 2007-02-09.  Note: This source appears to have a typo it was corrected in this article: It reads "I did now want..." in the source, it was changed to the obviously intended form, "I did not want..."
  8. "Bill Russell". National Basketball Association. Turner Sports Interactive. Retrieved 2006-12-01. 
  9. "Along Came Bill". Time. 1956-01-02.,9171,808116-2,00.html. Retrieved 2007-02-23. 
  10. "NCAA Basketball Tourney History: Two by Four". CBS Retrieved 2007-02-23. 
  11. Template:Cite book
  12. 12.0 12.1 Boyle, Robert; and Roger Jackson.Bringing Down the Curtain. Sports Illustrated, 1982-08-09.
  13. 13.0 13.1 Dickey, Glenn. Winning the Right Way Delights USF Chancellor. San Francisco Chronicle, 1998-03-11.

External Links[]