Dons Highlights

General Information

Founded: 1923

Conference: West Coast Conference (WCC)

Past Conferences: California Basketball Association (CBA), Independent

Arena: War Memorial Gymnasium, Chase Center

City: San Francisco, California

Championships and Titles

  • Conference Tournament Championship
  • 15 Conference Regular Season Championships

San Francisco Dons Team History

While the San Francisco Dons are typically a modest program these days, this was once the NCAA men’s basketball program of the black-and-white era. The Dons came into prominence in the 1950s with the creation of the California Basketball Association (CBA,) which is now the West Coast Conference (WCC.)

The Dons, under Phil Woolpert’s leadership, recruited some high-end basketball talent like K.C. Jones and Bill Russell. The future NBA legends led the Dons’ team stats (some of which still stand in 2022) and won the school a pair of national titles in 1955 and 1956.

Following their departure, San Francisco remained a powerhouse and frequently made deep runs in the NCAA Tournament. It progressed to the Elite Eight three times in the 1960s and routinely made the Sweet Sixteen in the late 1970s. The Dons also captured a total of 15 conference titles in a 27-season span from 1954-55 to 1981-82.

Another future NBA star in Bill Cartwright, who led the San Francisco Dons’ team stats, would be one of the last greats to don a Dons jersey. This would be due to the repeat scandals that rocked the school in the 1980s and ultimately led to San Francisco’s self-imposed Death Penalty in 1982.

The NCAA had already begun investigating the Dons in the 1970ss due to claims of booster/alumni interference as well as recruiting improprieties by the coaches. Several coaches were fired due to these investigations.

School president Rev. John Lo Schiavo issued an ultimatum stating that, if these improprieties continued, he would shut down the program. And true to his word, he put a stop to the basketball program in the summer of 1982 after more reports broke out of players receiving special treatment and bribes.

In 1985, Lo Schiavo reinstated the program under new coach Jim Brovelli, but with it being now a “clean” program, the Dons were a shell of its glory years. The school would have few winning seasons and did not qualify for the NCAA Tournament until the 1997-98 season.

This was the last time the school “danced” in March Madness until 2021-22, but San Francisco has been a better program beginning in the 2010s. Now, under new coach Chris Gerlufsen, there is some hope that San Francisco can become a prolific team again. It has a long way to go, since the team remains an also-ran on the NCAAB odds and standings.

All-Time San Francisco Dons Records

Points Scored

  • Bill Cartwright: 2,116
  • Quintin Dailey: 1,841
  • Darrell Tucker: 1,805


  • Bill Russell: 1,606
  • Ollie Johnson: 1,323
  • Bill Cartwright: 1,137


  • Orlando Smart: 902
  • Cody Doolin: 451
  • Jamaree Bouyea: 422

San Francisco Dons FAQs

What Happened to San Francisco Basketball?

The San Francisco Dons men’s basketball program was shut down in 1982 following repeat improprieties made by coaches. Following several violations amidst stern warnings, San Francisco went into a self-imposed “Death Penalty”. The program was reinstated in 1985.

Has San Francisco Ever Won the NCAA Tournament?

The Dons are two-time National Champions. Led by the great Bill Russell, San Francisco won back-to-back championships in 1955 and 1956. It also advanced to the Final Four in 1957.

What Famous Basketball Players Went to San Francisco?

As the most illustrious men’s basketball program of its time, several basketball greats enrolled in San Francisco. This includes NBA Hall of Famers like Bill Russell and K.C. Jones.

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