He moves with long deliberate strides that tell you he knows where he is headed. A great smile and eyes that sparkle; he puts you at ease quickly. This guy loves basketball. His first words may have been the “Big O” and “Wilt.” In a crowd, he appears more comfortable than an old baseball cap. He is intelligent, gives credit to everyone but himself, and is a fine speaker. Some say he could draw a crowd at the North Pole. He’s a guy that doesn’t mind showing you the way to success; it remains up to us to follow. He knows we only get a short amount of time to be great at what we want to do, so he does not waste time. He understands that sometimes greatness is about struggle not victory. It’s about finding out what’s inside, the reason for being who you are. He also knows that regardless of the score, there is always time to coach. Shooting free throws with this guy for ten minutes will teach you more about him than 15 years of sitting at a desk across from him. He’s a fine man, good husband, great father, trusted friend and a basketball coach. A teacher in tennis shoes, Willis Wilson is the perfect fit for Islander basketball.
The first time I met Willis Wilson was at the 2011 NCAA Final Four. Where else would you meet one of the most respected basketball coaches in the land? Interestingly, Willis, the newly-named Head Coach of the Texas A&M--Corpus Christi Islanders, was introduced to me by the Islanders’ original coach, Ronnie Arrow. We shook hands, spoke for a minute, and made plans to connect later back in Corpus Christi. I grew up in ACC country and, like Willis, I also love college basketball. I can’t wait for basketball season. I attend the Islanders’ pre-season practices on occasion and Coach Wilson has always made me feel a part of his program. In this crazy world of social consciousness, you will see, hear and smell three things at an Islander round-ball practice: Character, Toughness and Talent. He calls it the bedrock of his program when; in fact, I believe it is a reflection of him and all that he stands for. I think the thing I like most about Coach Wilson is that he coaches the old-fashioned way, with respect, patience, honesty and understanding.
Willis Thomas Wilson, Jr., was born on March 22, 1960, in Indianapolis, Indiana, the land of college basketball. His family later moved to Silver Springs, Maryland, where Willis won All-Metro Washington and All-County honors for Montgomery Blair High School. As a junior, Willis led his basketball team to the 1977 Maryland State Championship. The following year, Wilson was selected the MVP in Montgomery County and captained the McDonald’s Coaches Scholarship All-Star Team in the Capital Centre Classic.
Willis later played basketball and graduated from Rice University in 1982. He would begin his coaching career at his alma mater in 1985, as an assistant. With stops at Strake Jesuit Prep, Stanford, Rice and then Memphis, Willis is the winingest coach in Rice history and has so far placed 25 of his kids in the professional ranks. He has been selected Coach of the Year several times and has won way too many awards to mention here. Willis Wilson accepted the Islanders Men’s Head Coaching position on March 25, 2011. He inherited a very young team in disarray. In his third season, the Islanders showed tremendous improvement. In the 2013-2014 season, the Islanders earned a 14-4 win-loss regular season record in the Southland Conference and received a spot in the College Insider Tournament. There they recorded the Islanders programs’ very first postseason win since the team’s inception in 1999. Last year, Willis also earned the prestigious Ben Jobe Award, as the top Minority Coach of the Year, in Division I basketball. And this year he has already celebrated the 250th win of his coaching career.
Willis Wilson has always been there when I have asked for his help. He has spoken to his fans at my business and he and his wife, Vicki, have attended my book-signing events. He has asked me to speak to his team on occasion, and I treasure his friendship. Wilson has spent nearly 30 years breathing through a whistle while teaching young boys how to become men, how to be productive in society and accountable to others and “oh yes,” how to play the great game of basketball. So, if you want to see the results of a great coach and be proud of the kids representing our city, grab a ticket and Go Islanders.