Even on the opposite coast, the Miami Heat are finding themselves cashing in on a South Florida connection.
Because Rex Walters decided to relocate, the Heat didn’t have to settle for the short court in their team hotel or working out at the stuffy downtown athletic club that makes players ride the service elevators because they’re not wearing sports coats upon entry.
Instead, the Heat found themselves with the run of the gym at the University of San Francisco because that’s where Walters, the former Heat guard and Florida Atlantic University coach, now coaches.
“We’ve stayed in contact,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said in advance of Tuesday’s game against the Golden State Warriors, the third stop on this five-game trip. “I guess over the years, we’ve texted each other. I don’t see him that often. I saw him some at a clinic this summer, so we were able to spend a little bit of time together.”
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Walters played three seasons for the Heat, from 1997 through 2000, three of the team’s best years under Pat Riley, when Spoelstra was involved with the team’s scouting.
While the two couldn’t cross paths this week, with Walters’ Dons on the road Monday night at St. Mary’s before returning home later this week for a game against Portland, Spoelstra’s alma mater, Spoelstra vividly remembers the interaction between the two more than a decade ago.
“He ruined about every off day I ever had those years that he was there,” Spoelstra said of the Kansas product. “He always called and on off days it was my duty to take anybody, just to shag, not to take them through drills, but just to rebound for them, and Rex was relentless. He was one of the hardest workers that we ever had.”
Walters’ collegiate coaching career began at FAU in 2006. He spent two seasons there before moving on to San Francisco, producing a 19-15 record last season.
But it was not a case of Spoelstra immediately sensing the coaching spark in Walters. Instead, he saw a different type of spark.
“I saw a competitiveness,” Spoelstra said. “I saw an absolute love for the game, an internal drive that’s up there with anybody we had. But he’ll be the first to tell you, he was stubborn as heck as a player. He was just stubborn. He would fight you on some things. He was all in to the team, but he was stubborn.
“And so, initially, when he said he was getting into coaching, it surprised me. Then I realized, ‘You know what, he has a lot of the qualities that would make a good coach,’ because he was a student of the game, very intelligent, diligent and paid attention to details.”
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