South Florida finished 14th in the 16-team Big East last season, but head coach Stan Heath believes things will be much better this season.
The Bulls have secured an impressive recruiting class that includes 6-11 JUCO forward Jarrid Famous, forward Toarlyn Fitzpatrick and guards Mike Burwell Jr., Jordan Dumars and Shaun Noriega. Anthony Crater, who transferred from Ohio State last December, can suit up Dec. 12
Junior transfer Ron Anderson, a 6-8 forward from Kansas State, will have to sit out next year as per transfer regulations.
“I think we can improve a lot,” Heath said by phone. “We didn’t have much depth last season. We had significant injuries. With a full roster where we can play for 40 minutes, I think it really gives us a different situation out there on the court. We return some key players. We add some key players. Anthony Crater, a transfer from Ohio State, should help us.”
6-4 guard Dominique Jones, who averaged a team-best 18.1 points, and Gus Gilchrist, who averaged 10.2 points in just half a season, both return. The 6-10 Gilchrist will be able to play the whole season.
“Dominique Jones is one of the better players in our league,” Heath said. “Augustus Gilchrist will help us tremendously.”
Famous, who chose USF over Arizona, Missouri and Seton Hall, could also contribute. He averaged 25.2 points, 13.6 rebounds and 2.1 blocks at Westchester Community College.
“I think he’s a guy with a great motor,” Heath said. “He gives us a presence rebounding and running the floor and being able to score. I definitely think he’s a huge addition to our front line.
“He’s a junior college player, so I have high expectations. We need help there. We were really shorthanded. He’s an impact player. When you put Jarrid Famous in that lineup it helps us tremendously.”
Though there were reports that Famous was reconsidering USF after he committed, Heath said Famous never told him that.
“Jarrid has never said anything like that to me,” he said. “He never gave [WCC assistant] Mickey [Carey] approval to say some of those things. How much of their conversations are true and how much was blown out of proportion, only Jarrid can answer that.”
Heath also believes the additions of Burwell, Noriega and Dumars will help the perimeter attack.
“They are legitimate 3-point shooters who can create spacing on the floor for us,” he said.
A year ago the Bulls finished 9-22, 4-14 in the Big East, but were hampered by injuries.
Jesus Verdejo struggled with plantar fasciitis and missed several games, but averaged 12.2 points.
“He played four of the last 10 games,” Heath said. “We really didn’t have him a good portion of the Big East season at full strength.”
With everyone back healthy and the new guys coming in, Heath is highly optimistic. Plus, the league won’t be nearly as strong as last year, when five teams reached the Sweet 16.
“It was a challenging league,” he said. “We just had to brace for the situation, that’s all we could do.”
He added: “I feel very confident that we can climb the ladder in the Big East.”
(Photos courtesy USF and WCC)
Adam Zagoria is a New York Times contributor and Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.