As Kansas rolled through the Midwest Regional, guard Rex Walters took more shots during his press conferences than he did on the floor. His primary targets were the television touts who had predicted the Jayhawks would be stopped short of New Orleans. "I feel insulted when they pick against us," Walters says. "It makes me want to prove 'em wrong."
Even after his team's 83-77 upset of top-seeded Indiana in last Saturday's final in St. Louis, the 6'4" senior was still doing his rebel-with-a-cause routine for the media. "Maybe you don't like guys who give up part of themselves for the team, but that's what this team is all about," said Walters. "You guys love the big-name players who jump over people and talk trash."
Until recently that was an apt description of Walters. He is a big-name player—in Kansas's four tournament wins he averaged 21.8 points—and he has been known to talk his share of trash. This year, though, he has given up some of his offense for the team. Against Indiana he concentrated on working the ball inside to the Jayhawks' big men. The result: Walters scored only 12 points, but he had a game-high eight assists.
The media skeptics are only the latest in a long line of naysayers in Walters's basketball life. "When I was in junior high my coach told the high school coach I'd never play there," says Walters, who grew up in San Jose. "I thought that was funny. My high school coach thought I might be able to play in junior college. I thought that was really funny."
Walters went to Northwestern only because UCLA and California didn't recruit him. "I wasn't very strong," he says. "I didn't have good lateral quickness. I was very emotional on the court, and sometimes coaches perceive that as an attitude problem." Walters thought the attitude problem lay with the Wildcats. "Northwestern can be frustrating for a player who wants to win badly," he says. "If they have four wins in the Big Ten, they're happy."
After his sophomore season, 1989-90, in which he averaged 17.6 points, Walters decided to transfer. He figured if he couldn't move to a big-time program, he would play for Stanford or Santa Clara, where his parents, Monte and Yoko, could watch him. But then his AAU coach, Ruben Lunna, contacted Kansas coach Roy Williams, and Williams offered Walters a scholarship. "I jumped at it," Walters says. "I'm a history major, and I'm also interested in basketball history. Kansas is Wilt Chamberlain, JoJo White, Danny Manning."
As a transfer student Walters had to sit out 1990-91, his first season in Kansas. That season the Jayhawks lost to Duke in the national finals. Kansas awarded Walters a Final Four ring, but because he felt he hadn't earned it, he gave it to Yoko. "The one I get this year," he says, "I'm going to wear for a long time."