WCC preview: San Francisco on the rise

SAN BRUNO, Calif. -- San Francisco coach Rex Walters understands that in the WCC, a hierarchy exists. Gonzaga has had its decade of dominance. Saint Mary’s has developed into a small-school power. BYU enters the league as a giant to be feared.

Walters refers to them “The Big Three,” realizing full well that San Francisco possesses something that those programs do not. The Dons have all five of their starters back, and for the first time in a long time, they have developed continuity as Walters enters his fourth season confident USF can compete with anybody.

“Before, we were always talking about blind faith and ‘You don’t see it’s there, but it’s there,’” Walters said. “Well, now we don’t have to have blind faith anymore. We know what the carrot is. We know we have a chance to compete for a WCC championship. We have aspirations of getting to the NCAA tournament.

“So in that way, they’re not playing for the unknown. They know what can be achieved if we do it the right way, if we bring it every day.”

The Dons, who are picked to finish fourth in the league, have developed into a hard-nosed team under Walters and shown signs they can play with the big boys. Gonzaga, for one, has lost at USF's Memorial Gym in each of the last two seasons. Last season, San Francisco won 19 games and advanced to the quarterfinal round of the CIT.

Six-foot Michael Williams developed into a top scorer. Rashad Green and Angelo Caloiaro provide senior leadership. Cody Doolin played with an aggressive style as a freshman, and Perris Blackwell is a reliable inside presence. USF also hopes to get contributions from point guard Dominique O’Connor, who has battled knee injuries.

“We really share the basketball,” Walters said. “Our guys understand what we’re trying to do defensively. The effort has always been there. We’ve not had a bad-effort day, and I could tell about a lot of days in the past three years I couldn’t say that.”