With starters all back, USF men's basketball team out to improve on last year’s progress 

click to enlarge Guard Michael Williams was USF’s leading scorer last season, averaging 14.7 points per game. He’s one of five returning starters for the Dons, who open their season Friday. (Getty Images file photo) - GUARD MICHAEL WILLIAMS WAS USF’S LEADING SCORER LAST SEASON, AVERAGING 14.7 POINTS PER GAME. HE’S ONE OF FIVE RETURNING STARTERS FOR THE DONS, WHO OPEN THEIR SEASON FRIDAY. (GETTY IMAGES FILE PHOTO)
  • Guard Michael Williams was USF’s leading scorer last season, averaging 14.7 points per game. He’s one of five returning starters for the Dons, who open their season Friday. (Getty Images file photo)
  • Guard Michael Williams was USF’s leading scorer last season, averaging 14.7 points per game. He’s one of five returning starters for the Dons, who open their season Friday. (Getty Images file photo)

At the West Coast Conference media day on Oct. 27, USF men’s basketball coach Rex Walters said all he wants to do is coach, recruit and schedule.

Although he didn’t have to recruit heavily this past season, he and his team are going into the 2011-12 season with a full head of steam.

The Dons collected 10 conference wins for the first time in nearly 20 years and finished third in the WCC, only one game behind conference powerhouses Gonzaga and St. Mary’s.

San Francisco was invited to the CollegeInsdier.com Tournament and made it to the quarterfinals before being eliminated by conference foe and eventual champion Santa Clara.

“Before I was always talking about ‘blind faith;’ you don’t see it’s there, but it’s there,” Walters said. “We know we have a chance to compete for a WCC championship. They know what can be achieved.”

But what has impressed Walters the most has been the effort in camp leading up to the season.

“I’ve been really happy with the effort,” Walters said. “I’ve been happy with the unselfishness, but we have to get better defensively.”

The Dons allowed 70.6 points per game last season and seven of their past nine games were decided by fewer than 10 points.

San Francisco returns its entire starting lineup, headlined by junior guard Michael Williams, which is crucial in creating much-needed continuity for the Dons.

“He does things you can’t coach,” Walters said of Williams.

Williams, who was named to the All-WCC Preseason Team, had a breakout season in 2010-11, averaging more than 14 points and four rebounds per game, while shooting 39 percent from 3-point range.

Also returning are guards Rashad Green and Cody Doolin.

Green, a senior, improved dramatically during his junior season, raising his averages to 12.5 points and 5.8 rebounds per game.

Green was also named to the All-WCC Preseason Team.

During his freshman season, Doolin averaged 7.7 points and grabbed 3.5 rebounds per game.

“We found our style of play,” Walters said.

One concern for Walters, who is in his fourth year at the helm for the Dons, is where he’ll turn when bringing players off the bench.

Center Moustapha Diarra graduated and guard Marko Petrovic left the school to pursue a professional career in his native Croatia. The duo combined to average almost 13 points and six rebounds per contest.

San Francisco plays in two early-season tournaments, with the first beginning Friday at War Memorial Gym for the three-game Hilltop Challenge. The Dons will travel to Anchorage, Alaska for the Great Alaska Shootout beginning Nov. 23.

They will not begin conference play until Dec. 29 at Pepperdine.

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Zack Farmer

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