CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Longtime Rice head coach and 25-year veteran of college basketball Willis Wilson has been named the third head coach in the history of Texas A&M – Corpus Christi men’s basketball, Director of Athletics Tim Fitzpatrick announced today. Wilson spent 16 years at the helm of the Owls program, and is the winningest coach in the program’s history.
“First and foremost, I would like to say how happy I am to be here and be the new coach at Texas A&M – Corpus Christi,” Wilson said. “It is a great honor, and one I will treat with a great deal of respect and responsibility. I am really looking forward to working with the players and staff to create a new beginning for our program.”
In 16 years leading the Owls, Wilson posted a career record of 219-246, leading the team to the postseason three times in his tenure. Wilson is one of the most highly-respected coaches in the country. His reputation in the collegiate coaching circles – and across college basketball – is impeccable.
Coach Wilson’s appointment is pending approval of The Texas A&M University System Board of Regents.
“I am very pleased and proud that Willis Wilson has accepted our offer to become the new Islanders men’s basketball coach,” Fitzpatrick said. “He is recognized nationally as an outstanding basketball coach, and as a peerless mentor and role model for the young men who are fortunate enough to play for him. While conducting our national search, it became apparent that Coach Wilson possessed all of the qualities and traits required to build a top-notch men’s basketball program at Texas A&M University – Corpus Christi – one that will be clearly recognized to be successful on the court, in the classroom and in the community.
“I look forward to the many, varied contributions that he will unquestionably make to the future success of our basketball program and our total athletic program,” he continued. “Islanders fans and the citizens of Corpus Christi and the Coastal Bend will quickly come to understand that our basketball program’s future is a very bright one, and that our journey to renewed excellence begins today under Coach Wilson’s strong, dedicated leadership. It is indeed our pleasure to welcome Coach Wilson, his wife Vicki and their children Kristin, Zachary and Keenan to the Islanders family.”
Most recently, Wilson served two seasons as an assistant to Josh Pastner at the University of Memphis. In two years, he saw the Tigers go 49-19 and advance to the postseason both years. During the 2010-11 season, the Tigers went 25-9, won their fifth Conference USA Championship and a berth in the 2011 NCAA Tournament. In his first season for the Tigers, Wilson helped guide the Tigers to a 24-10 overall record and a National Invitation Tournament (NIT) berth.
“I am thrilled to have a man of Coach Wilson’s caliber take over our men’s basketball program,” University President Dr. Flavius Killebrew said. “He brings a presence and professionalism both on and off the court that our fans and our community will be proud of. He will be an excellent ambassador for Texas A&M – Corpus Christi.”
Wilson had the most winning campaigns in Rice basketball history in his time as the head coach. 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. Wilson 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.
During the 2005 season, the Owls won 19 contests and advanced to postseason 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.
One of his best performances was in 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.
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-American 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 Houston’s Strake Jesuit Prep, Wilson returned to Rice as an assistant from 1987-91. As a member of the Rice staff, Wilson helped the Owls improve their Southwest Conference standing each year. During Wilson’s final year as a Rice assistant, 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.
After arriving on the Rice campus in August 1978, Wilson was a four-year letterman for the Owls. 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 Bachelors of Arts degree in political science in 1982. He also participated in the Rice NCAA Volunteers for Youth program.
Wilson and his wife, Vicki, have three children, daughter, Kristin, and twin sons, Zachary and Keenan.