San Francisco Dons men's basketball

San Francisco Dons
2016–17 San Francisco Dons men's basketball team
University University of San Francisco
Conference WCC
Location San Francisco, CA
Head coach Kyle Smith (1st year)
Arena War Memorial Gymnasium
(Capacity: 5,300)
Nickname Dons
Student section Los Locos
Colors Green and Gold[1]
NCAA Tournament champions
1955, 1956
NCAA Tournament Final Four
1955, 1956, 1957
NCAA Tournament Elite Eight
1955, 1956, 1957, 1964, 1965, 1973, 1974
NCAA Tournament Sweet Sixteen
1955, 1956, 1957, 1963, 1964, 1965, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1978, 1979
NCAA Tournament appearances
1955, 1956, 1957, 1963, 1964, 1965, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1981, 1982, 1998
Conference tournament champions
Conference regular season champions
1955, 1956, 1957, 1958, 1963, 1964, 1965, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982

The San Francisco Dons men's basketball team represents the University of San Francisco in NCAA Division I men's college basketball.[2] The Dons compete in the West Coast Conference, in which they have the winningest program, and have won sixteen regular season championships and one conference tournament championship. The current head coach is Kyle Smith. They play home games at the War Memorial Gymnasium, which also serves as the venue for women's basketball, volleyball, athletic department offices, and athletic training rooms.[3]

The basketball team has 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 1970s and early 1980s, 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 290 and were regarded as the #1 team in the nation in both major polls before dropping their last two games.

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",[4] and 75th by the ESPN/Sagarin All-Time College Basketball Rankings,[5] higher in all three rankings than any other West Coast Conference school and many schools from BCS Conferences (Pac-12, Big Ten, Big 12, Big East, Southeastern Conference).


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 3831 and 2213.[4]

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 7037 record and coached the Dons to the 1949 National Invitation Tournament (NIT) 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

Newell left for Michigan State in 1950, and USF hired Phil Woolpert as his successor. He assumed both the posts of men's basketball coach and athletic director.

During his tenure at USF, Woolpert posted a 15378 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 major college scouts, largely because he didn't even start at McClymonds High School in Oakland. He did not receive a single letter of interest until Hal DeJulio from USF watched him in a high school game. DeJulio was not impressed by Russell's meager scoring and "atrocious fundamentals",[6] 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.

The 1956 team that won the NCAA championship. Bill Russell (centre) is holding the ball.

At USF, Russell became the new starting center. Woolpert emphasized defense and deliberate half-court play, concepts that favored defensive standout Russell.[7] 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.[8] 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.[7] 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, particularly 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.[8] Decades later, Russell explained that his experiences hardened him against abuse of all kinds. "I never permitted myself to be a victim," he said.[9][10]

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".[8] During his college career, Russell averaged 20.7 points per game and 20.3 rebounds per game.[11] Besides basketball, Russell represented USF in track and field events. He competed in the 440 yards (400 m) race, which he could complete in 49.6 seconds.[12] 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 9 14 inches (2.064 m).[13]

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.[14]

Woolpert stayed at USF for nine years. During his tenure, he was known for building national powers almost exclusively on Bay Area talent; the athletic department had virtually no recruiting budget and had little to offer out-of-state players.[15]

60s and 70s dominance

The Dons remained as a powerhouse for several years after their 1950s run. The team added four more Elite Eight appearances to its resume: 1964, 1965, 1973, and 1974.

USF retained its status as a basketball powerhouse into the 70's and early 80's under Bob Gaillard and Dan Belluomini, holding the distinction of being a "major" program in a "mid-major" conference (the WCC's stature declined somewhat in the 1960s). Although John Wooden and his UCLA Bruins had eclipsed San Francisco as the premier West Coast power, the Dons remained an elite program well into the early 1980s.[16] It held the number one spot in the polls on numerous occasions and six consecutive conference titles from 1977–82,[17] and all but two WCC regular-season titles from 1972 to 1982. 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. Sports Illustrated highlighted the 1977 team with a cover story titled "The Dandy Dons."

NCAA violations and Self Imposed Death Penalty

"All the legitimate purposes of an athletic program in an educational institution are being distorted by the athletic program as it developed.”

John Lo Schiavo[18]

The Dons remained an elite program well into the early 1980s, perennially ranked in the top 20,[19] and had captured six consecutive conference titles from 1977-82.[20] However, San Francisco's success on the court came at a price. The NCAA placed the Dons on probation two times in the late 1970s for booster/alumni interference with the program and recruiting improprieties by coaches.[21] Each NCAA investigation eventually led to the dismissal of a San Francisco head coach, leading San Francisco Chronicle sportswriter Glenn Dickey to call the program "totally out of control."[15] In light of these and other revelations, school president Rev. John Lo Schiavo, a lifelong basketball enthusiast and all-city power forward in his youth,[21] let it be known after the second NCAA case was resolved in 1980 that he would shut down the high profile program if there was any further incident.[22]

Despite Lo Schiavo's warning, the improprieties continued. An exclusive invite-only booster organization called the Dons Century Club committed hundreds of thousands of dollars to illegal recruitment of players, paying off family members, and covering travel expenses,[19] while other alumni were also giving or "lending" players large sums of money, paying them for no-show jobs, providing lavish gifts, as well as picking up pricy restaurant and entertainment tabs.[23] Basketball players continued to receive special academic treatment; many were marginal students at best, and at least one incident occurred in which a player threatened another student, and the incident was swept under the rug by school officials.[22] It was also commonplace for "tutors" to take tests and write papers for players.[15] The situation finally came to a head in December 1981, when All-American guard Quintin Dailey was found guilty of assaulting a female student. During the subsequent investigation, Dailey admitted taking a no-show job for $1,000 a month at a business owned by a prominent USF booster,[24] while another booster had also paid Dailey $5,000 since 1980.

True to his word, on July 29, 1982, Lo Schiavo announced that he was shutting down the basketball program—the first time a Division I university had voluntarily shut down a major sport under such circumstances. Lo Schiavo said that the Dons program "was once a source of inspiration, respect and pride for this university and city." However, the recent scandals had resulted in USF being perceived as "being hypocritical or naïve or inept or duplicitous, or perhaps some combination of all those." Under the circumstances, Lo Schiavo felt that the only responsible course was to shutter the program. In a prepared statement, Lo Schiavo later said, "We hope that it one day may be possible to restore a men's intercollegiate basketball team. That possibility will depend upon whether those responsible for this university are convinced that the factors that destroyed the program are not going to beset it again."[23]

His decision made international headlines, to the degree that while visiting San Francisco, Queen Elizabeth II pulled Lo Schiavo aside to ask when he would reinstate the basketball program.[25] Drastic as it was, the move was widely applauded by several members of the coaching fraternity.[22]

San Francisco reinstated men's basketball in 1985. Gone, too, was the overzealous booster club, the Dons Century Club. In its place was the Green and Gold Club, a group of boosters under the direct control of the athletic department.[19]

Reinstatement of Dons basketball

Lo Schiavo resurrected the program in 1985 with former star Jim Brovelli as coach, who quickly returned the program to respectability. He was not able to reach postseason play, however, and resigned in 1995. Three years later USF went to the 1998 NCAA tournament under Phil Mathews and they had 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 an 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, 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. In 2010, the USF Dons won over 20 games and went to the quarterfinals of the postseason CIT tournament. Walters was relieved of his duties on March 9, 2016, and replaced by Kyle Smith.[26]

The Dons have never approached the prominence they enjoyed from the 1940s to the 1980s, in part because Lo Schiavo significantly increased admissions standards for all student-athletes. In a 2011 interview, Lo Schiavo reiterated that he never questioned his decision, noting that all but one trustee voted in favor of shuttering the program in 1985 "because we had to make the point that we mean what we say and we intended to be good citizens."[27]

Postseason results

NCAA tournament results

The Dons have appeared in 15 NCAA Tournaments. Their combined record is 21–13. They are two time National Champions (1955, 1956).

Year Round Opponent Result/Score
1955 First Round
Sweet Sixteen
Elite Eight
Finals Four
National Championship
West Texas State
Oregon State
La Salle
W 89–66
W 78–59
W 57–56
W 62–50
W 77–63
1956 Sweet Sixteen
Elite Eight
Finals Four
National Championship
W 72–61
W 92–77
W 86–68
W 83–71
1957 Sweet Sixteen
Elite Eight
Finals Four
3rd Place Game
Idaho State
Michigan State
W 66–51
W 50–46
L 56–80
W 67–60
1963 Sweet Sixteen
Regional 3rd Place Game
Oregon State
L 61–65
W 76–75
1964 Sweet Sixteen
Elite Eight
Utah State
W 64–58
L 72–76
1965 Sweet Sixteen
Elite Eight
Oklahoma City
W 91–67
L 93–101
1972 Sweet Sixteen
Regional 3rd Place Game
Long Beach State
Weber State
L 55–75
W 74–64
1973 Sweet Sixteen
Elite Eight
Long Beach State
W 77–67
L 39–54
1974 Sweet Sixteen
Elite Eight
New Mexico
W 64–61
L 60–83
1977 First Round UNLV L 95–121
1978 First Round
Sweet Sixteen
North Carolina
Cal State Fullerton
W 68–64
L 72–75
1979 Second Round
Sweet Sixteen
W 86–63
L 81–99
1981 First Round Kansas State L 60-64
1982 First Round Boston College L 66–70
1998 First Round Utah L 68–85

NIT results

The Dons have appeared in six National Invitation Tournaments (NIT). Their combined record is 6–5. They were NIT champions in 1949.

Year Round Opponent Result/Score
1949 First Round
Bowling Green
W 68–43
W 64–53
W 49–39
W 48–47
1950 First Round CCNY L 46–65
1966 First Round
Penn State
W 89–77
L 63–80
1976 First Round Charlotte L 74–79
2005 Opening Round
First Round
Cal State Fullerton
W 69–67
L 69–85
2014 First Round LSU L 63–71

CBI results

The Dons have appeared in one College Basketball Invitational (CBI). Their record is 0–1.

Year Round Opponent Result/Score
2012 First Round Washington State L 75–89

CIT results

The Dons have appeared in one Postseason Tournament (CIT). Their record is 2–1.

Year Round Opponent Result/Score
2011 First Round
Second Round
Santa Clara
W 81–64
W 77–74
L 91–95

Retired numbers

The SF Dons have retired six numbers to date:[28]

USF Dons retired numbers
No. Player Pos. Tenure
4 K.C. Jones PG 1952–1956
6 Bill Russell C 1953–1956
17 Mike Farmer SF 1955–1958
20 Phil Smith SG 1971–1974
24 Bill Cartwright C 1975–1979
32 Ollie Johnson C 1962–1965


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:

Other notable players

Notes and references

  1. "University of San Francisco Graphic Standards Manual" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-04-05.
  2. 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."
  4. 1 2 "The greatest programs of all-time" at NBC Sports, 10 Oct 2012
  5. "The ESPN/Sagarin All-Time Rankings"
  6. Taylor, John (2005). The Rivalry: Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, and the Golden Age of Basketball. New York City: Random House. pp. 50–51. ISBN 1-4000-6114-8.
  7. 1 2 Taylor, John (2005). The Rivalry: Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, and the Golden Age of Basketball. New York City: Random House. pp. 57–67. ISBN 1-4000-6114-8.
  8. 1 2 3 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.
  9. "A conversation with Bill Russell". 1999-05-10. Retrieved 2007-02-09.
  10. "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..."
  11. "Bill Russell". National Basketball Association. Turner Sports Interactive. Retrieved 2006-12-01.
  12. "Along Came Bill". Time. 1956-01-02. Retrieved 2007-02-23.
  13. "NCAA Basketball Tourney History: Two by Four". CBS Retrieved 2007-02-23.
  14. Taylor, John (2005). The Rivalry: Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, and the Golden Age of Basketball. New York City: Random House. pp. 66–71. ISBN 1-4000-6114-8.
  15. 1 2 3 Dickey, Glenn. Winning the Right Way Delights USF Chancellor. San Francisco Chronicle, 1998-03-11.
  16. " - NIT historical facts". 2002-03-25. Retrieved 2015-08-17.
  17. Boyle, Robert H. (1982-08-09). "Bringing Down The Curtain". Retrieved 2015-08-17.
  19. 1 2 3
  21. 1 2
  22. 1 2 3 Boyle, Robert; and Roger Jackson.Bringing Down the Curtain. Sports Illustrated, 1982-08-09.
  23. 1 2
  27. Archived May 18, 2015, at the Wayback Machine.
  28. "USF TO RETIRE OLLIE JOHNSON'S #32" at USF official web, 22 Oct 2013
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