Character is a quality that is high on head coach Josh Pastner's list. He speaks of it often, and wants it to be an attribute of the Memphis basketball program. Pastner set that tone for the Tigers when he hired Willis Wilson as an assistant coach.
Wilson, who had served as head coach at Rice from 1992-2008, is one of the most highly-respected coaches in the country. His reputation in the collegiate coaching circles -- and for that matter, across college basketball -- is impeccable. In addition, Wilson put together several winning seasons in his career.
Wilson brought that character and winning ways to Memphis. In his first season in the Bluff City, Wilson helped guide the Tigers to a 24-10 overall record and a National Invitation Tournament (NIT) berth. It was the 10th-straight season that the Tigers won 20 or more games and earned a postseason tournament bid, both school records. Memphis advanced to the NIT second round, winning a postseason tournament game for the seventh-consecutive year.
The Tigers also posted a 13-3 Conference USA record and finished second in the league's regular season standings. It was the fifth-straight year Memphis won 13 or more conference games.
After the season, sophomore guard Elliot Williams declared for the 2010 NBA Draft and was the 22nd pick of the first round by the Portland Trail Blazers. During Williams' one season with the Tigers, he earned C-USA Newcomer of the Year and All-C-USA first team honors.
Wilson is the winningest coach in Rice basketball history and had the most winning campaigns in school history. His 2003-04 squad recorded a 22-11 overall record, and the 22 victories were the second-most for a single season since World War II. Willis guided the Owls to 60 wins in a three-year span from 2002-05, marking the second-most victories in a three-year stretch in school history.
The Silver Spring, Md., native also led the Owl program to the most postseason appearances since 1950. Wilson guided the Owls to three National Invitation Tournaments (NIT) in 1993, 2004 and 2005. Rice's first round win at Wisconsin in the 1993 NIT was the program's first postseason victory since the 1954 NCAA Tournament.
Wilson was also an assistant on the Rice coaching staff when the Owls earned an NIT berth in 1991.
In his tenure at Rice, Wilson coached 17 all-conference performers, including 2007 Conference USA Player of the Year Morris Almond. Almond, a 2007 NBA Draft first round pick, and Michael Harris (2005) both earned All-America accolades. Wilson also had four players pick up CoSIDA Academic All-District honors, including Adam Peakes who was a two-time CoSIDA Academic All-America selection.
Prior to taking over the reins of the Rice program, Wilson spent the 1991-92 campaign as an assistant on Mike Montgomery's staff at Stanford. The Cardinal finished the season with an 18-11 overall record and a 10-8 Pac-10 mark for fourth place in the league. Stanford earned an NCAA Tournament bid and lost in the first round to Alabama. Willis coached All-America Adam Keefe, who finished his collegiate career as one of four players in NCAA history to have 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds while shooting 60 percent from the floor in a career.
Wilson began his collegiate coaching career as an assistant at his alma mater in 1985-86. After a one-year stint as a head coach at the prep level, Wilson returned to Rice as an assistant from 1987-91.