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  Willis Wilson
Willis Wilson

Position:
Head Coach


Willis Wilson served as the head coach at Rice University for 16 seasons (1992-2008) and was also a five-year assistant. Below is the final bio about Wilson, penned prior to the 2007-08 season.


When you think of Rice University basketball the first thing that comes to mind is Willis Wilson, the school's head coach. The man lives and breathes basketball and Rice. He has spent 22 of his 47 years on earth at 6100 Main Street. A four-year basketball letterman, Wilson was team captain and graduated from Rice in 1982; he was a five-year Rice assistant coach, and is now starting his 16th season as the Owls' leader and mentor. When his time permits, Wilson often can be found playing full-court basketball, directing the offense, and even knocking down the occasional sweet, left-handed jumper he still possesses. HE LOVES THE GAME.

"I think the spotaniety of college basketball is what makes it so great. Every season you get to play close to 30 games and it's never the same and it gets better with each passing year," says Wilson. "It's an indescribable satisfaction to play basketball and you have to play the game to know that feeling."

The span of 15 seasons that Wilson has coached at Rice is the longest tenure of any men's basketball coach in the 90-year history of the sport at the school. Suffice it to say, his 216 career victories are also the most in Rice history. In the past four years, the Owls have won 69 games, the fourth-highest total in school history.

Last season, Wilson coached the Conference USA Player of the Year, the nation's third-leading scorer, and first-round NBA draft pick Morris Almond. Almond was third in the country in leading all of C-USA in scoring for the second-staight season at 26.1 points per game after averaging 21.9 as junior in 2006.

During the 2005 season, the Owls won 19 contests and advanced to post-season action for the second consecutive season for only the second time in school history as Michael Harris and Jason McKrieth again were named all-conference.

The 2004 team was Wilson's most successful as it won 22 games including the BP Top of the World Classic championship. For his leadership in 2004, Wilson became the first Rice basketball coach to be selected as the National Association of Basketball Coaches District 9 coach of the year since the award began in 1970.

In 2004, the Owls were second in the Western Athletic Conference in field goal shooting at .474, third in assists (14.91), and first in steals (8.33).

Heading into the 2002-03 season, the Owls had some experienced starters graduate and some young ones coming back from injuries. The nine other head coaches in the Western Athletic Conference thought the season looked bleaked for Rice and picked the Owls to finish near the bottom in the annual preseason poll. With Wilson the glass isn't half-empty, it's half-full, and he again brought out the best in the team. By the end of the year his Rice squad was still in the hunt for the league's number-one seed for the conference tournament. On the last day of the regular-season, Rice thumped conference champion Fresno State by 21 points for its 19th win.

Wilson successfully guided the same Owl team that the WAC coaches picked for a low conference finish to the program's third-highest win total since 1946. Along the way his team handily beat a Colorado squad that went on to earn a bid to the NCAA tournament, claimed the first-ever Bayou Cup in a convincing win over cross-town rival Houston and lit up the scoreboard with 106 points in single game for the fourth-highest scoring barrage in school history. Rice won games by big margins (nine by 17 points or more) and narrow ones (six by six points or less), at home and on the road.

The 2002-03 Owls were 13-2 defending their home court, thanks in part to Wilson's high-octane offense that led the WAC in shooting percentage and three-point percentage. As a dedicated practitioner of fundamentals, he saw to it that the Owls also improved the little things, like free throw percentage, and sure enough Rice recorded its best percentage from the charity stripe (73.7) since the late 1960s. Two of his charges, Omar-Seli Mance and Harris, were named all-conference and another, Yamar Diene, was selected to the WAC's all-defensive team.

He orchestrated a nine-game turnaround from the year before. That 2002 season was marred by an injury situation where no less than six players missed a combined 20-plus games. Still, Wilson's Owls fought all the way. His team defeated Big 12 foe Baylor, WAC rival and postseason-bound foe Fresno State, as well as NCAA tournament participant Siena. Six losses were by five points or less, including four in conference. Wilson never gave up, and he didn't let the Owls do so either. At the end of the year Harris was named freshman all-America by CollegeInsider.com and the WAC's freshman of the year. Stockpiling honors and awards is nothing new to a Wilson-trained student-athlete. In 12 seasons he has guided 14 Owls to all-conference accolades. From all-SWC honoree and Rice career scoring leader Brent Scott to current NBA professional Mike Wilks, his Owls become polished players.

In 2000-01, the Owls posted a 14-16 mark despite missing two key starters with injuries for nearly half the season. When Rice was even semi-healthy, Wilson guided the Owls to impressive wins. The 59-56 victory over Tulsa at Autry Court was over the Golden Hurricane squad that went on to win the 2001 NIT championship in Madison Square Garden. Rice also registered a win over NCAA tournament-bound Hawaii and a blistering 20-point win over Houston that marked the Owls' largest margin of victory in the long-running, highly-emotional series.

Wilson has guided the Owls to winning records in seven of his 12 seasons, including 1998-99 when Rice finished 18-10 to equal the third-best turnaround in NCAA history. The Blue and Gray claimed sole possession of third place and went 13-1 at home, including a streak of nine straight victories. As the Mountain Division's third seed, Rice advanced to the WAC tournament where the team defeated San Jose State 64-61 before falling to 25th-ranked New Mexico in a two-point loss (51-49) in the second round. Wilson was the pick of the league media and coaches as the WAC Mountain Division coach of the year.

The 18 wins in 1998-99 equaled his previous best as a collegiate coach. In 1992-93, his first Rice team also went 18-10 with convincing regular-season sweeps over Southwest Conference rivals Texas, Houston and Texas Tech. The Owls finished the SWC race in second place and were the only conference team to win a postseason tournament game, reaching the second round of the NIT.

In 1994, he earned the distinction on the five-member list of "The Next Wave," America's hot young coaches by Inside Sports. He maintained that success in 1994-95 by guiding the Owls to the semifinals of the SWC Classic for the second straight year before dropping a controversial decision to Texas, the eventual tournament champion. The winning season was Rice's fifth consecutive, the longest SWC streak at the time.

Wilson's performance in shaping the team to a 14-14 record in 1995-96 was some of his finest coaching. Despite a rash of injuries that left the team with just seven healthy players, and only one player over 6-foot-5, Wilson coached the squad to upset wins at Texas and Vanderbilt and to the tournament title at the Michigan State Spartan Classic.

A five-year assistant coach at Rice under Tommy Suitts and Scott Thompson, Wilson spent one year away from Rice as an assistant coach at Stanford under Mike Montgomery. In that 1992 season Wilson and the Cardinal went "dancing" at the NCAA tournament against Alabama.

As a member of the Rice staff during the 1988-91 seasons, Wilson helped the Owls improve their SWC standing each year. During Wilson's final year as a Rice assistant (1991), the Owls finished fourth in the league and received a bid to the NIT. The winning record was Rice's first in 20 years and the postseason appearance marked its first in 21 seasons. He returned to the campus in 1992 as the school's 22nd head coach.

It was a move universally applauded for the hire of one of America's bright young coaches. The 46-year-old Wilson is now in his 22rd year at Rice overall. After arriving at the campus in August 1978, Wilson was a four-year letterman for the Owls under Mike Schuler (1979-81) and Suitts (1982). He co-captained the Owls to a 15-win season in 1982 and was a teammate of former NBA star and Rice athletic hall of fame member Ricky Pierce.

Wilson, a Will Rice College Fellow and member of the college court, graduated on time with a bachelor's of arts degree in political science in 1982. He also participated in the Rice NCAA Volunteers for Youth program.

His first collegiate coaching experience came at Rice as an assistant during the 1985-86 season. In 1986, he left Rice to become the head coach at Houston's Strake Jesuit College Preparatory before returning one year later. Wilson also was an assistant basketball and track coach at Strake (1982-84).

Wilson won all-metro Washington and all-county honors for Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Springs, Md. As a junior, he led Blair to the 1977 Maryland state championship. He was the most valuable player in Montgomery County as a senior and captained the McDonald's Coaches Scholarship all-star team in the Capital Centre Classic.

Wilson is currently a member of the NABC Board of Directors and is second-vice-president and also serves as chairman of the NABC All-America Committee. He formerly served four years on the NCAA Basketball Rules Committee and was chairman during his final year. He also served on the NABC Academic Committee and was a voter for the USA Today/ESPN top 25 poll. He is a member of the joint NABC/NCAA Special Committe on Recruiting and Access. He is a member of the College Basketball Partnership, which is chaired by NCAA President Myles Brand. Wilson has also participated in the NCAA Youth Education through Sports (YES) Clinic at the Final Four and previously was a member of the board of directors for the Houston-area Boys and Girls Club. He is on the board of directors for TIRR Foundation.

Willis and his wife, Vicki, have three children, daughter, Kristin, and twin sons, Zachary and Keenan.

Personal: Full Name: Willis Thomas Wilson, Jr. Born: March 22, 1960, at Indianapolis, Ind. Wife: Vicki. Daughter Kristin. Twin sons: Zachary and Keenan.

Education: High School: Montgomery Blair H.S., Silver Spring, Md., 1978. College: B.A., political science, Rice University, 1982.

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