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Terriers ATH Duran Bell pledges to USF

Hillsborough High two-way star Duran Bell has committed to USF, according to online reports.

MONICA HERNDON | Times

Hillsborough High two-way star Duran Bell has committed to USF, according to online reports.

USF's barrage of non-binding verbal commitments continued Tuesday with Hillsborough ATH Duran Bell giving his pledge to the Bulls, according to various online reports.

Bell's commitment comes a day after Jefferson High OG Jean Marcellus gave his word to the Bulls. Bell (5-foot-11, 170 pounds), the Terriers' top rusher with nearly 600 yards last season, is No. 39 on the 2016 HomeTeam 100 list of the area's top prep players.

He's a three-star prospect according to 247Sports.

The Bulls have collected six non-binding commitments since Saturday, and now have eight overall. Earlier Tuesday, Tallahassee North Florida Christian OLB Michael Scott also committed to USF. 

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Ken Eriksen again strikes gold

USF softball coach Ken Eriksen (second from left) guided the U.S. National Team to a gold medal at last week's WBSC Women's Softball World Championship in Surrey, Canada.

Photo provided by Ken Eriksen

USF softball coach Ken Eriksen (second from left) guided the U.S. National Team to a gold medal at last week's WBSC Women's Softball World Championship in Surrey, Canada.

If all goes as Ken Eriksen hopes, USF's veteran softball coach ultimately could be competing for a gold medal even more priceless than the one he picked up last week in Canada.

Eriksen, who watched his U.S. National Team roll past Japan in Sunday's title game of the WBSC Women's Softball World Championship, seems optimistic his sport will be reinstated to the Olympic schedule in time for the 2020 Games in Tokyo.

The International Olympic Committee announced recently it will recommend baseball and softball be added in an Aug. 3 general-assembly vote in Rio De Janeiro, site of this year's Olympics. Softball previously was an Olympic sport from 1996-2008; Eriksen was an assistant on the '04 U.S. team that steamrolled its way to a gold medal.

"The buzz is that we're to be prepared for some positive news coming up," Eriksen said Tuesday.

"All indications right now...are to be very cautiously optimistic for the vote on Aug. 3. ... I've been through this twice right now where it's been rejected, so I'm not gonna believe anything until I hear it coming from Rio. When we hear it coming from Rio, that's when I'll believe it."

The recent tournament in Canada did nothing to harm the sport's momentum.

The 15th Women's Softball World Championship attracted 30 national teams, representing the largest global footprint in the event's history, according to the WBSC. The U.S. finished 9-0, capped by Sunday's 7-3 triumph against Japan. Collectively, the Eagles -- as the U.S. team is known -- outscored its competition 83-10.

"We didn't do much scouting reports in respect of worrying about the other teams. This is the first time that I've ever done that with our team," Eriksen said. "We really focused on what we were trying to do each day to (better) ourselves tomorrow. We wanted to be better than we were (the previous day). ... And that's what we really, really locked in on."

Among the key contributors was Bulls pitching coach Jess Moore, who picked up the win in the title game by allowing a run on four hits in 2.2 innings. Moore also threw a complete-game, five-inning shutout against Venezuela in the quarterfinals.

"Jess was a bulldog, threw some huge innings for us in some big games," said Eriksen, whose staff posted a 1.19 ERA in the tournament. "She was just a stalwart...and a big part of that gold medal, no question about it."

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Sun rises on Courtney Williams' pro career

Former USF star Courtney Williams (right), vying for a loose ball against Dallas' Erin Phillips, has found a new lease on her WNBA life with the Connecticut Sun.

AP photo

Former USF star Courtney Williams (right), vying for a loose ball against Dallas' Erin Phillips, has found a new lease on her WNBA life with the Connecticut Sun.

Technically, she made her professional debut on May 14 in Minneapolis. But the Courtney Williams familiar to Bulls fans didn't truly hit the WNBA scene until the evening of July 2.

Having been traded to the Connecticut Sun from Phoenix only a week before, Williams watched from a College Park Center bench as host Dallas built a 13-2 lead. Unable to stomach what was transpiring any longer, Sun coach Curt Miller opted for a wholesale substitution, supplanting the quintent on the floor with five off the bench.

Williams was among those who entered. What proceeded wasn't necessarily pretty, but it provided the spark Miller was seeking. Five minutes into the second quarter, Connecticut had rallied for a 26-25 lead, with Williams providing five points and six rebounds.

The Sun would hold on for an 86-83 triumph.

"We all got in and we did what coach wanted us to do: rebound, defend, score," Williams recalled, "and we put our team in a position to get back in the game." 

Finally, after a frustrating commencement to her WNBA career in Phoenix, Williams had made a contribution instead of a cameo.

Buried on a Phoenix depth chart that already featured WNBA legend Diana Taurasi and three-time WNBA All-Star Penny Taylor, Williams was traded to the Sun -- a club clearly building for the future -- on June 25.

Since the trade, Williams -- a two-time first-team All-American Athletic Conference pick and the No. 2 scorer in USF history -- has averaged 6.1 points, 2.3 rebounds and 13.1 minutes in nine contests.

The 24 minutes she logged in a four-point loss to Minnesota on July 7 equaled the minutes she totaled in six contests with Phoenix, which drafted her with the eighth overall pick in April.

"A way better fit as far as basketball-wise, getting the playing time and fitting into a system," Williams said of her new team in a recent phone interview. "I think this definitely works for me."

Her voice elicits the same exuberance it possessed on draft night, when Phoenix general manager Jim Pitman spoke of how Williams could provide a new dimension of "speed and quickness" to an all-star-caliber roster.

She ultimately provided only one field goal, in six games.

"I mean, it was definitely frustrating, but I think I was just being positive," Williams said. "My teammates needed a cheerleader, I was there. I just wanted to fit in where I could. I didn't want to be a Debbie Downer, so I was just doing whatever the team needed."

Now, she suddenly finds herself around peers with whom she can grow. Connecticut, among the WNBA's youngest teams, is 8-16 and in last place in the Eastern Division.

Williams, who will play professionally in Cyprus when the WNBA season ends, is among eight Sun players 25 or younger. She says she has been greeted warmly by the Connecticut fan base, already familiar with her hops, fleetness and dead-eye mid-range jump shot from her collegiate battles against UConn.

Among her new teammates: former Huskies low-post star Morgan Tuck.

"I definitely think we have a lot of potential," Williams said. "I think as far as when we learn the game a little bit more and we all get in sync a little bit better, I think we'll definitely be a tough team to beat."

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Jefferson's Jean Marcellus commits to USF

Jefferson lineman Jean Marcellus has committed to USF.

MONICA HERNDON | Times

Jefferson lineman Jean Marcellus has committed to USF.

Jefferson OL Jean Marcellus, ranked No. 19 on the Times' list of the top 100 local high school players for 2016, announced via Twitter on Monday that he has committed to USF.

Marcellus, a 6-foot-4, 301-pound Haiti native, is the fourth member of the Class of 2017 to give USF a non-binding pledge since Saturday night, when the Bulls wrapped up their one-day Saturday Night Lights camp. He projects as a guard in college.

"After Saturday Night Lights I felt something," Marcellus said in a text message Monday afternoon. "I love the atmosphere and the people around me. I really would like to play for my city."

Deemed a three-star prospect by 247Sports, Marcellus reportedly has 13 offers including Kentucky, Louisville and Miami.

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Full disclosure: My preseason AAC ballot

When the American Athletic Conference's preseason media poll is released the morning of Aug. 2, the Bulls could be forecast as the East Division champion.

At least they are on my ballot.

The one I turned in over the weekend (see below) is only slightly different from the post-spring AAC prediction I put together in May. The two most significant changes: I've moved Navy up one spot, to third in the West; and I bumped UCF from sixth to fifth in the East.

Navy's just too well coached to disappear from the radar, and I tend to believe UCF's offense and locker room have been reinvigorated. East Carolina, meantime, watched its onetime projected starting quarterback (Kurt Benkert) transfer.

East
1. USF
2. Temple
3. Connecticut
4. Cincinnati
5. UCF
6. East Carolina

West
1. Houston
2. Memphis
3. Navy
4. Tulsa
5. SMU
6. Tulane

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Five Bulls to join Taggart at AAC media kickoff

USF quarterback Quinton Flowers (9) and tailback Marlon Mack (5) will appear at the American Athletic Conference's Summer Kickoff and Media Days next week, the league confirmed.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

USF quarterback Quinton Flowers (9) and tailback Marlon Mack (5) will appear at the American Athletic Conference's Summer Kickoff and Media Days next week, the league confirmed.

A quintent of Bulls veterans will accompany Coach Willie Taggart to the American Athletic Conference's annual Summer Kickoff and Media Days in Newport, R.I., next week, the league announced Monday.

Joining Taggart will be QB Quinton Flowers, RB Marlon Mack, WR Rodney Adams, MLB Auggie Sanchez and CB Deatrick Nichols. No other team will send as many players to Newport, though four other teams are taking four. USF is one of six schools that will bring their projected starting quarterback.

Live coverage of the event can be seen on The American Digital Network on Aug. 2 starting at 9 a.m. Here's the full list of those slated to attend:

UCF: Coach Scott Frost, QB Justin Holman, DT Jamiyus Pittman
Cincinnati: Coach Tommy Tuberville, C Deyshawn Bond, LB Eric Wilson
Connecticut: Coach Bob Diaco, OT Andreas Knappe, S Obi Melifonwu, WR Noel Thomas, LB Matt Walsh
East Carolina: Coach Scottie Montgomery, CB DeShaun Amos, WR Zay Jones
Houston: Coach Tom Herman, DE Cameron Malveaux, TE Tyler McCloskey, QB Greg Ward Jr., CB Brandon Wilson
Memphis: Coach Mike Norvell, K Jake Elliott, WR Anthony Miller, S Chris Morley
Navy: Coach Ken Niumatalolo, LB Daniel Gonzales, RB Toneo Gulley
USF: Coach Willie Taggart, WR Rodney Adams, QB Quinton Flowers, RB Marlon Mack, CB Deatrick Nichols, MLB Auggie Sanchez
SMU: Coach Chad Morris, QB Matt Davis, DE Justin Lawler, LB Jackson Mitchell, WR Courtland Sutton
Temple: Coach Matt Rhule, OT Dion Dawkins, RB Jahad Thomas, QB Phillip Walker, LB Avery Williams
Tulane: Coach Willie Fritz, DT Tanzel Smart, OG Chris Taylor
Tulsa: Coach Philip Montgomery, QB Dane Evans, WR Keevan Lucas, LB Trent Martin

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Bulls land 3 weekend commitments

In the immediate wake of their last on-campus recruiting showcase of the summer, the Bulls have landed three non-binding verbal commitments from the Class of 2017.

On Sunday, Orange Park Oakleaf DB Nick Roberts and North Marion OT Jeremiah Stafford both announced via Twitter they have committed to USF. The night before, shortly after the Bulls wrapped up their Saturday Night Lights event on campus, Miami Dr. Krop WR Randall St. Felix tweeted his commitment to the Bulls.

The latest pledges give USF five non-binding commitments for the Class of '17.

Roberts (5-foot-10, 170 pounds), a three-star prospect according to 247Sports, reportedly has nearly two-dozen offers including Florida, Miami, South Carolina, UCLA and Penn State. Stafford (6-4, 285) and St. Felix (6-2, 190) are deemed two-star prospects by Scout.com.

Though in perpetual recruiting mode, Coach Willie Taggart and his staff now shift from summer camps to preseason camp.

Taggart and select Bulls players will attend the American Athletic Conference Media Days Aug. 1-2, with Taggart slated to join a handful of other coaches at the ESPN "Car Wash" at the network's Bristol, Conn., campus on Aug. 3. …

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UPDATED: Bulls assistant resigns in wake of probe

USF men's basketball coach Orlando Antigua (center, hands out) and his brother Oliver (left) during a game at the Sun Dome last November.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

USF men's basketball coach Orlando Antigua (center, hands out) and his brother Oliver (left) during a game at the Sun Dome last November.

USF men's basketball assistant Oliver Antigua, younger brother of Coach Orlando Antigua, has resigned in the wake of a report that the Bulls are under NCAA investigation for academic fraud.

ESPN, citing "multiple" unnamed sources, first reported the news of the probe early Wednesday afternoon. According to the report, Oliver Antigua hadn't been permitted to go on the road recruiting this month.

Wednesday marked the beginning of the summer's last five-day evaluation period.

Other departures could follow, the Tampa Bay Times has learned. The investigation is believed to involve players on the current roster.

"The University of South Florida and the NCAA enforcement staff are working together to investigate and resolve an inquiry into potential violations of NCAA bylaws and university standards by one of our intercollegiate athletic programs," the school said in a statement.

"Because the University of South Florida is committed to protecting the integrity of the investigation and ensuring those involved receive fair treatment, we cannot provide any details about the investigation at this time." …

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Fan Fest to feature all 19 Bulls teams

If nothing else, the 2016 USF Fan Fest promises a significantly larger turnout than recent years.

And that's just from those brandishing Sharpies.

The latest Fan Fest, set for Aug. 27 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Sun Dome, will feature all of the Bulls' nearly 500 student-athletes and coaches of all 19 teams, the school announced Wednesday. Admission is free.

Teams will be available to sign autographs and pose for pictures. Interactive and inflatable games also will be featured, and official USF team gear will be on sale.

Parking also is free. Fans are encouraged to enter through gates A and D of the Sun Dome.

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FSU-USF on pace for sellout

FSU tailback Dalvin Cook tries to break free from USF cornerback Johnny Ward during the Seminoles' victory in Tallahassee last September.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

FSU tailback Dalvin Cook tries to break free from USF cornerback Johnny Ward during the Seminoles' victory in Tallahassee last September.

The FSU-USF game is two-thirds of the way to a sellout.

USF reported Wednesday approximately 44,000 tickets already have been sold (or set aside) for the Sept. 24 contest -- a potential top-25 clash -- at Raymond James Stadium, which has an official seating capacity of 65,890.

The last Bulls-'Noles encounter in Tampa, in 2012, attracted USF's largest home crowd ever (69,383).

The 44,000 tickets accounted for include FSU's allotment (10,000) and 11,500 being held for USF students, the school indicated. Roughly 80 percent of the lower-level seats (about 15,000) -- available only by the purchase of a season ticket or a three-game flex plan -- have been sold.

Approximately 60 percent (7,000) of the seats in the 300 level, available as single-game tickets, also are gone.

Prices began at $85 and $95 for the game, depending on location, but USF indicated those figures may rise based on demand. Tickets available Wednesday on StubHub began at $103.

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Bulls in the minors: Eveld closing again

Former USF closer Tommy Eveld has converted both his save opportunities for the Hillsboro (Ore.) Hops.

Photo provided by Hillsboro Hops

Former USF closer Tommy Eveld has converted both his save opportunities for the Hillsboro (Ore.) Hops.

Even as the rest of his body was adjusting to the Pacific time zone earlier this summer, Tommy Eveld's right arm was making a different type of transition.

Suddenly, that heralded 22-year-old limb was no longer a collegian, but a commodity.

"There is no 'off day,'" said Eveld, the Diamondbacks' ninth-round pick in last month's draft.

"Every day you play catch and throw either a flat ground or a light bullpen. And then six hours later you could end up in the game in a situation where you can't afford not to have your best stuff out on the mound. It took almost a month for my arm to get used to throwing every day."

Based on the early returns, it has adapted splendidly. In 10 relief appearances for the Diamondbacks' short-season Class A affiliate in Hillsboro (Ore.), Eveld has posted a 1.50 ERA in 10 innings. Recently moved to closer (his role at USF this past season) following the promotion of a teammate, he has converted both his save opportunities.

"Strikeouts are a bit more tough to get at this level," said Eveld, who has fanned 10 and walked only two.

"But the defense behind me helps pick me up when the ball is put in play. On the mental side of things, I continue to remind myself of everything (Bulls pitching) Coach (Billy) Mohl taught me at USF and combine that with what my new pitching coach Mike Parrott tells me."

Elsewhere, fellow Bulls right-hander Brandon Lawson appears to be standing throw-to-throw with Eveld in the first-impressions department.

Drafted by Tampa Bay three rounds after Eveld, Lawson is 2-1 with a 1.93 ERA in 14 relief innings for the Rays' short-season A-affiliate in Hudson Valley (N.Y.). A Hernando High alumnus, Lawson hasn't allowed an earned run in his last three appearances (7.2 IP) and owns a sparkling 1.14 WHIP.

As for other Bulls currently in the minors:

* OF Luke Maglich is hitting .250 in 10 games with the Phillies' short-season A team in Williamsport (Pa.), but has struggled mightily (.138) in his last 10.

* RHP Tommy Peterson, a closer for the Nationals' advanced Class A team in Potomac (Md.), is 3-2 with a 2.40 ERA, and has converted five of six save chances. In 41.1 innings, Peterson has struck out 39 and walked 13.

* RHP Jimmy Herget, the Bulls' Friday night ace once upon a time, continues reinventing himself as a shut-down closer with the Reds' advanced-A affiliate in Daytona Beach. The Jefferson High alumnus has converted 15 of 16 save chances, posting a 1.60 ERA in 39.1 innings. He has allowed only seven earned runs, fanninng 53 and walking 13.

* RHP Casey Mulholland (Dodgers, 37th round, 2015) and LHP Lawrence Pardo (Diamondbacks, 38th round, 2014) both were released by their respective clubs in March.

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Sling & Shoot notebook: USF offers aplenty for Hawks

Armwood's players break huddle following a Sunday victory against East Lake at the USF Sling & Shoot 7-on-7 tournament. The Hawks reached the semifinals, losing to eventual champ Daytona Beach Mainland.

JOEY KNIGHT | Times

Armwood's players break huddle following a Sunday victory against East Lake at the USF Sling & Shoot 7-on-7 tournament. The Hawks reached the semifinals, losing to eventual champ Daytona Beach Mainland.

Another sweltering Sling & Shoot is in the books at USF, where offers were doled out almost as frequently as sideline warnings, or so it seemed. At any rate, here are some notes and observations from the two-day 7-on-7 showcase.

* This year's event -- held in concurrence with USF's Big Man Camp -- attracted 38 schools. That's a modest dip from previous years, but shouldn't be surprising.

In today's summer football climate, similar events are staged in every nook of the state, on every weekend. This year, USF was going head-to-head against a Polk County 7-on-7 tournament in Auburndale, and a tourney sanctioned by the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (featuring Pasco and Hillsborough schools) at Idlewild Baptist Church in Lutz.

* Daytona Beach Mainland topped Spoto in Sunday afternoon's final to capture the title. The Spartans, who upset Armwood earlier in the day, exited campus with no offers; Coach Dale Caparaso said his roster is loaded with solid players but no elite ones -- yet. Mainland, meantime, was sparked by DB Cyrus Fagan, a prominent FSU commit.

* Armwood entered the weekend already loaded with offers from USF. According to Hawks coaches, every offensive skill starter  -- and four defensive starters -- already have offers from the Bulls. Among them: rising sophomore LB Ricardo Watson.

* A handful of current Bulls were spotted milling around the Morsani Practice Complex including QB Quinton Flowers, who appears slightly thicker than the 209 pounds at which he was listed on USF's post-spring depth chart. (Our guess: He's a solid 215 these days).

* Sickles rising junior QB Jordan McCloud -- younger sibling of Hillsborough County all-time rushing leader (and Clemson receiver) Ray Ray McCloud -- landed a USF offer, according to his dad. So too did Gryphons rising junior Jontrey Hunter (6-2, 185), an Alonso transfer whom new Gryphons coach Patrick Murphy says is "one of the best athletes I've ever seen." …

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USF promotes Ashley Fisher to head up men's tennis program

USF didn’t have to look far in its search for a new men’s tennis coach.

The school announced Tuesday that assistant Ashley Fisher has been promoted to lead the program, replacing Matt Hill, who resigned last month to take the same position at Arizona State. Fisher joined the program earlier this year following a lengthy career as a touring professional, broadcaster and coach, helping Hill guide the Bulls to their third straight American Athletic Conference championship and NCAA Tournament berth.

“Ashley has world-class tennis experience and was a valuable part of one of our most successful men’s tennis seasons in program history last year,” USF athletic director Mark Harlan said in a statement. 

“After a national search, it was clear the best person to lead our program forward was right here. Ashley’s combination of high-level coaching and playing experience and rapport with our student-athletes will make him a tremendous leader for our program.” …

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USF hires Tiffany Prats as women's golf coach

USF has tabbed former Marshall coach Tiffany Prats to lead its women's golf program, the school announced Monday afternoon.

Prats, a native of Williston, Fla., and former University of Miami golfer, replaces Marci Kornegay, who was let go last month after nine seasons at the helm.

"I am excited to welcome Tiffany back to the state of Florida and to our Bulls family," USF athletic director Mark Harlan said in a statement. "Tiffany is driven for success, brings a terrific background in both collegiate and professional golf, and has a strong and engaging coaching philosophy.

"She will be an excellent leader and mentor for our student-athletes."

Prats comes to the Bulls after two years at Marshall, where she guided the Thundering Herd to several school records, including the best Conference USA Championship team and individual scoring totals in program history in 2015.

Prior to leading Marshall, Prats served as an assistant at Maryland, helping lead the Terrapins to the NCAA Regional Tournament in 2012 for the fourth time ever. She was also an assistant at San Diego State in 2010-11.

At Miami, Prats played in 37 tournaments with nine individual top-10 finishes. She also served as a team captain for two years before turning pro in 2007 and playing on the LPGA Futures Tour. …

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Matthew O'Neal set to compete for spot on Olympic team

Matthew O'Neal, a six-time All-American who graduated in the spring, qualified for the trials this past winter with an indoor program-record jump of 54 feet, 8 inches at the Joe Donahue Games in Boston.

Photos provided by Dani Antonucci

Matthew O'Neal, a six-time All-American who graduated in the spring, qualified for the trials this past winter with an indoor program-record jump of 54 feet, 8 inches at the Joe Donahue Games in Boston.

Matthew O'Neal is hoping to make a little more USF history.

The former Bulls track and field star will compete in the qualifying round at the U.S. Olympic Trials on Thursday in Eugene, Ore -- the same site where he placed third in the men's triple jump at the NCAA Championships last month.

O'Neal, a six-time All-American who graduated in the spring, qualified for the trials this past winter with an indoor program-record jump of 54 feet, 8 inches at the Joe Donahue Games in Boston.

If O'Neal qualifies for the Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro, it would be the first Olympic appearance for a former Bull since Damu Cherry placed fourth in the 100-meter hurdles at Beijing in 2008.

O'Neal is one of the 24 top triple-jumpers competing in the qualifying round. If he is among the top 12 to advance, he will participate in Saturday's finals at 7:15 p.m. on Ch. 8. The top three finishers, who also meet the Olympic standard of 16.85 meters, will move on to represent the U.S. on the world stage.

WATCH LISTS: For the second year in a row, Marlon Mack will have a chance to show he's the nation's best player. …

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