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Bulls rookie Garrett Zech earns preseason honor

Bulls OF Garrett Zech, who makes his collegiate debut two weeks from tonight at home, has been chosen the American Athletic Conference Preseason Freshman of the Year by d1Baseball.com.

A 15th-round draft choice of the Dodgers who opted for college, Zech is joined by three teammates -- all of whom also were drafted -- on the website's AAC top-10 impact freshmen list. OF Chris Chatfield, a former Spoto High star, is third; while INF Coco Montes is fifth while INF/C Joe Genord is 10th.

A career .400 hitter at Naples High, Zech hit .543 with four home runs, 30 RBI, 10 triples, six doubles and 27 stolen bases as a senior. The team captain in 2015, he earned all-state and team MVP honors.

"We feel like he has really good potential," Bulls second-year coach Mark Kingston said in a school news release, "and can blossom into an impact player."

USF, picked to finish fifth in the AAC by d1Baseball.com, opens its season Feb. 19 at home against Liberty. First pitch is at 6:30 p.m.

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Did Scott Frost take signing day swipe at USF?

Maybe it's just us, reading too deeply into something. Chances are, we're transforming a benign observation into verbal kindling for a rivalry that's already flammable.

Or perhaps our observation is on the mark, and new UCF coach Scott Frost was taking a swipe -- subconsciously or not -- at his rivals down the interstate.

While Bulls coaches shamelessly reveled in their signing day success Wednesday, when a video snippet of them dancing in their war room surfaced on social media, Frost indicated in his signing day press conference such animation isn't his style.

Check out the 16:50 mark of this video from Frost's presser, where he addresses his more subdued signing day philosophy.

"Sorry guys, you're not gonna have a video camera in our office watching us celebrate if a kid commits or doesn't commit," he says, "because we're gonna go to battle with whatever kids want to be here, and want kids that want to be a part of this program."

In a follow-up question, Frost, who signed 20 recruits on Wednesday, was asked why he doesn't care for the whole spectacle of signing day.

"I think just too much is made of it," he says.

"If you probably went back and looked for five years, a lot of the people that coaches are on TV celebrating about probably never played one down of college football. There's a lot more that goes into it than that. We're certainly excited to add talented people to our organization, and we're gonna get as excited as anybody and have as much fun with it as anybody. But signing day isn't gonna win you games."

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Taggart's take: Bulls coach talks up his newcomers

USF coach Willie Taggart said he thinks new offensive lineman Logan MacDonald is "gonna be special for us."

Photo provided by Logan MacDonald

USF coach Willie Taggart said he thinks new offensive lineman Logan MacDonald is "gonna be special for us."

While Willie Taggart didn't elaborate on all 18 of his newest Bulls at Wednesday's signing day news conference, he came pretty close.

Here's what he had to say specifically on most of his newcomers:

S Josh Dunn (6-0, 195)
"A heck of a talent. He's one of those kids that he's smart and he's so nice, you wouldn't think he's that physical on the football field. But when you turn it on he's out there shortening guys' necks."

OT Christion Gainer (6-6, 310)
"He's a tackle, that's for sure. He's a big one and we expect big things from him."

DE LaDarrius Jackson (6-4, 243)
"Great kid. I mean, he's always around, always smiling. You can tell he's one of those kids who really appreciates being here, and he's willing to work. ... I talk with Coach O (strength coach Irele Oderinde) and talk to some of his teammates, and they all rave about him. I think that speaks volumes when a guy can just come in your program and the whole football team likes him already."

DE Frank Johnson (6-5, 235)
"Both of 'em (Jackson and Johnson) are really good football players. Frank Johnson, he's gonna have to sleep and spend the night in the weight room with Coach O, but both of 'em are very talented."

OL Logan MacDonald (6-4, 270)
"He's a tackle who's not as big as those other guys, but you talk about talented and physical, I think that kid's gonna be special for us, to be honest with you. He plays the game like you're supposed to. He's physical and he gets after it and he just loves doing it."

QB Chris Oladokun (6-2, 184)
"I think we always want to have at least four guys on scholarship at the quarterback position. ... You look at college football nowadays, you can't have enough of 'em. We wanted to sign a good quarterback that can come in here and compete and be able to continue the momentum that we've started, but also challenge the guys that we have here as well, to continue to get better."

LB Andre Polk (6-4, 215)
"I think the whole Bulls nation is gonna hear about him early. He's a kid that I think is under the radar. We kept him a secret for a while, but now I think everybody's gonna hear about him." (comment came during an interview with 620-AM)

WR Darnell Salomon (6-3, 210)
"He's big, he's strong and he's fast. When you have all those combinations, it can be scary out there at the receiver position. That's what we expect from him, some scary play out there on the football field."

S Craig Watts (6-0, 190)
"He's one of those kids from Day 1, you just sensed that he really wanted to be here. He was on campus a lot. When you saw him on campus, he was always smiling, he was always excited about being there, and we stayed with him the whole time. He committed elsewhere and we got him back and that was good to see. Now we have him for sure."

C Michael Wiggs (6-3, 290)
"There's never a dull moment around when Mike's around. He's a great kid, great academically, one heck of a football player. You look at him and you meet him and you're like, 'Man, he's so nice. He's too nice.' You wouldn't think that this kid plays the way he does. But when you turn on the film it's like, 'This don't match up a little bit. You meet him and he's nice, and then on the field he's trying to hurt you.' ... He's a leader. He's gonna be a great leader for us, I think."

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Afternoon update: Bulls up to 18 signees

Lake Wales safety Josh Dunn, arguably the best-dressed Bulls signee Wednesday, signs his paperwork with his mom, Carla Leath.

JOEY KNIGHT | Times

Lake Wales safety Josh Dunn, arguably the best-dressed Bulls signee Wednesday, signs his paperwork with his mom, Carla Leath.

USF formally had announced 18 signees as of 2:30 p.m. excluding reigning Guy Toph Award winner Markese Hargrove, who committed to the Bulls on Wednesday morning as a walk-on.

The class currently is ranked between third (247Sports) and fourth (Rivals, Scout.com) in the American Athletic Conference by national recruiting services, though Coach Willie Taggart told 620-AM early Wednesday morning the class will be "from a quality standpoint, probably the best since we've been here."

Among the Wednesday surprises: signatures from Wharton three-star WR DeVontres Dukes and Hillsborough three-star CB Michael Hampton, neither of whom had been listed as Bulls verbal commitments.

Taggart is expected to address the media in downtown Tampa at 2:30 p.m.

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Bulls' early signees include welcome surprise from Wharton

Wharton wide receiver DeVontres Dukes was the initial signing day surprise.

BRENDAN FITTERER | Times

Wharton wide receiver DeVontres Dukes was the initial signing day surprise.

Barely two hours into national signing day, USF's greatest concern might involve a jammed fax machine.

As of 9:15 a.m., the school already had confirmed 14 signees on its official site. The number included three early enrollees (OT Glen Bethel, DE LaDarrius Jackson, ATH Trevon Sands) as well as Wharton WR DeVontres Dukes, the initial signing day surprise.

It didn't include reigning Guy Toph Award winner Markese Hargrove from Plant City, expected to announce his commitment to the Bulls at his high school Wednesday morning. Hargrove, who will join USF as a walk-on, becomes the first Toph Award winner to join the Bulls.

Taggart told 620-AM on Wednesday morning that, in terms of quality, his 2016 signing class will "probably be the best since I've been here."

During that interview, he received the fax from 6-foot-4 Fort Myers LB Andre Polk.

"I tell you what, I think the whole Bulls Nation is gonna hear about him like, early," said Taggart, who awoke Wednesday at 4:30 a.m. "We kept him a secret for a while but now I think everbody's gonna hear about him." …

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Bulls fans can sleep well on signing day eve

USF coach Willie Taggart is expected receive letters of intent from no fewer than 14 recruits Wednesday.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

USF coach Willie Taggart is expected receive letters of intent from no fewer than 14 recruits Wednesday.

If you've already set your Rocky the Bull alarm clock for 7 a.m. Wednesday, find yourself scouring Twitter for any 11th-hour flips, and discover your appetite has been compromised by nervous energy, relax.

Then get therapy. But mainly, relax.

Hours before fax machines nationwide are kick-started in surreal synchronicity, the Bulls already appear in fine shape. Those panicking over USF's modest number of non-binding commitments (14) likely haven't been paying attention. 

As newcomers go, Coach Willie Taggart and Co. are in stellar shape for 2016.

Suppose the Bulls get no 11th-hour commitments from anyone remaining on their board and receive only 14 signing day signatures. First, that's not likely to occur. Second, the group still ranks as high as second in the American Athletic Conference (247Sports) and no lower than fifth (Rivals, Scout) in national recruiting rankings.

Third, that doesn't paint the entire picture.

Toss in three early enrollees -- OT Glen Bethel, DE LaDarrius Jackson and ATH Trevon Sands -- and the number of newcomers increases to 17. Then add in the heralded transfer players forced to sit out last season -- QB Asiantii Woulard, LB Cecil Cherry, S Austin Hudson, WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling -- and it grows to more than 20.

That's seven players -- all of whom figure to contend for starting jobs -- already enrolled, with 14 more who appear set on signing with the Bulls in the morning.

Anything beyond that is green-and-gold gravy.

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Bulls announce Jancek hiring

USF's hiring of former Tennessee defensive coordinator John Jancek, widely reported last week, was confirmed by the school Monday afternoon.

As expected, Jancek will coach safeties, a position overseen last season by former Bulls defensive coordinator Tom Allen.

"John brings a tremendous amount of experience and football knowledge to our program and our players are going to love working with him," Coach Willie Taggart said in a USF news release.

"We’re excited to add his background and input to the defensive foundation we have begun building and I look forward to his working with the very talented group of safeties we have returning."

Jancek, a Michigan native who played at Division II Grand Valley State, has been a coordinator at seven different colleges of varying size. In three seasons at Tennessee, the Vols gradually improved from 83rd to 36th nationally in total defense, and went from 78th to 16th in scoring defense. The 19 points UT surrendered to Alabama last fall were the fewest allowed by a Crimson Tide foe.

But the Vols squandered double-digit fourth-quarter leads to Florida and Oklahoma, and lost leads against 'Bama and Arkansas. They also took a moderate dip in pass defense, falling from 22nd nationally in passing yards allowed in 2014 (196.2) to 47th (210.4) this past season.

Nonetheless Jancek, reportedly the highest-paid UT assistant coach ($520,000 annual base salary), represents a coup of sorts for Taggart, who brings more SEC experience to his staff (QBs coach David Reaves was an assistant at South Carolina) and gives first-year coordinator Raymond Woodie a veteran sounding board.

"I am very excited for the opportunity to join the USF staff and be a part of the program Coach Taggart is building in Tampa," Jancek said in the USF release. "The future looks very bright for this program and I am looking forward to working with some very talented players in our secondary."

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Magnificent 7? Bulls likely to remain shorthanded

USF junior Chris Perry  is expected to remain suspended for a third consecutive game Sunday against Temple.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

USF junior Chris Perry is expected to remain suspended for a third consecutive game Sunday against Temple.

Barring an 11th-hour surprise, USF's men apparently will try to reinforce the ol' less-is-more adage for the third game in a row Sunday.

The Bulls (5-17, 2-7 American Athletic Conference), who have won their last two games with a seven-player rotation (only six of whom are on scholarship), again are expected to be without power forwards Chris Perry and Luis Santos for Sunday's 2 p.m. home game against Temple.

Perry (9.7 ppg, 6.7 rpg) remains suspended for an unspecified team-rules violation. The status of Santos (1.3 ppg, 2.3 rpg) is a bit murkier.

He fell ill shortly before last weekend's 71-62 victory at Houston and didn't play, but Coach Orlando Antigua indicated two days later he'd return for last Wednesday's game at Tulane. He was listed as "unavailable" for that contest -- a 73-60 Bulls triumph -- and is questionable for Sunday.

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USF plans signing day celebration

Evidently, the Bulls are anticipating a signing day worth celebrating.

A series of USF festivities, stretching from campus to Kennedy Avenue, are on tap for Wednesday, the first day high school seniors may sign national letters of intent. …

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Report: Taggart hires former Vols DC

USF coach Willie Taggart reportedly has filled the final vacancy on his coaching staff with the hiring of former Tennessee defensive coordinator John Jancek.

Sports Illustrated's Thayer Evans, citing an anonymous source, reported Thursday evening Jancek will coach safeties, a position overseen last year by former Bulls defensive coordinator Tom Allen.

If true, the hiring would complete Taggart's staff. Earlier this week, the school confirmed veteran assistant T.J. Weist has been hired to replace Ron Dugans (now at Miami) as receivers coach.

A native of Muskegeon, Mich., Jancek's vagabond coaching career has taken him to four Division I programs including UT. He served as Butch Jones' coordinator each of the last three seasons in Knoxville before exiting earlier this month in what was described as a mutual decision.

The Vols finished seventh in the SEC in total defense (362 ypg) in 2015, but blew double-digit fourth-quarter leads to Florida and Oklahoma and allowed opponents to convert 75 percent (18-for-24) of their fourth-down tries. …

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Bulls land another juco DE

For the early-to-bedders demographic, USF received another non-binding verbal commitment Wednesday, hours after a prominent 'de-commitment.'

Butler (Kansas) Community College DE Tramal Ivy announced via Twitter on Wednesday he intends to sign with the Bulls. Deemed a three-star prospect by 247Sports, Ivy (6-foot-5, 238 pounds) totaled 54 tackles last season, leading the Grizzlies in forced fumbles (five) and ranking second in sacks (5.5). 

He didn't immediately respond Thursday morning to a direct message from the Tampa Bay Times. Ivy is the third juco defensive end to commit to -- or enroll early at -- USF this recruiting season, joining Hinds (Miss.) C.C. transfers LaDarrius Jackson and Frank Johnson.

A native of Muskogee, Okla., Ivy was a second-team all-state pick as a senior at Muskogee High, and was listed as the No. 3 defensive lineman in the Tulsa World's All-World rankings in 2013. He committed to Oklahoma State last August.

His commitment came shortly after Hudson OL Grayson Stover announced via Twitter he was de-committing from USF -- a week after giving his word to the Bulls -- and pledging to Indiana instead.

The shake-up leaves USF with 15 non-binding commitments (and three early enrollees) with six days remaining until national signing day.

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Courtney Williams chasing Jessica Dickson on USF's all-time scoring list

USF senior Courtney Williams now stands second on the Bulls' career scoring list.

LOREN ELLIOTT | Times

USF senior Courtney Williams now stands second on the Bulls' career scoring list.

A day after Courtney Williams reached her latest scoring milestone, it's time to re-calibrate her odds of hitting the ultimate one.

With 16 points in Wednesday night's 73-49 romp of Houston, USF's senior All-America candidate increased her career total to 1,953, surpassing Shantia Grace (1,941) for second place on the Bulls' all-time list. Only USF Hall of Famer Jessica Dickson (2,402) has scored more in a Bulls uniform.

That's a difference of 449 points, meaning Williams would have to post Maravich-ian numbers (or for the milennial crowd, Steph Curry-like stats) from here on out for any shot at catching Dickson.

USF has a bare-minimum 11 games remaining (10 regular season contests, one American Athletic Conference tournament game). In 11 contests, Williams would have to average 40.9 points (not gonna happen) to reach Dickson.

If the Bulls make a nice postseason run -- three AAC tourney, two NCAA tourney contests -- and play 15 more, Williams would have to average 29.9 (conceivable, but c'mon). If they make a deep NCAA run and play 17 more, she'd have to average 26.4 (hmmm).

Williams has scored 26 or more seven times this season. Still, the odds of her surpassing Dickson appear long.

Unless the Bulls' season grows longer.

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Hoops notes: Bulls get to line, and win column

USF's Angel Nunez (22) goes up for an interior basket during the Bulls' 71-62 victory Saturday at Houston.

Gary Coronado | Houston Chronicle

USF's Angel Nunez (22) goes up for an interior basket during the Bulls' 71-62 victory Saturday at Houston.

Study the play-by-play from USF's game Saturday at Houston, and one notorious Bulls trend is glaring by its absence.

For one of the few times during this forlorn season, the Bulls suffered no scoring drought. Today, no winning drought exists either.

Three days after going 4-for-11 from the free-throw line in a home loss to UCF, the shorthanded Bulls (4-17, 1-7 AAC) went 26-for-32 in Saturday's 71-62 road upset of Houston. The 32 attempts, in fact, were a season-high.

The way Coach Orlando Antigua saw it, that blend of frequency and proficiency was every bit as critical as USF's rebounding dominance (43-27) and poise against Houston's full-court pressure.

"The Houston game we were able to make a couple of shots, and we rebounded the ball extremely well, which we have been doing as well," Antigua said.

"But we got to the free-throw line, and we avoided the four-, five-, six-minute period in the game where we couldn't get a basket by going to the free-throw line. That's something I hope we've got to continue to build off of."

Should they continue drawing whistles, either via dribble penetration or steadily getting the ball inside, a mini-surge seems conceivable.

USF hasn't trailed by 20 in any of its eight conference games. While it has led at halftime only once in AAC play -- on Saturday -- it has been tied or trailed by three or fewer points at the half in five others.

"We were close in every game," Antigua said. "We were one, two possessions away, and one of the differences in looking back and reflecting on the Houston game and those previous games was, we got to the free-throw line and we made free throws."

FRESHMEN HONORED: In case you missed the news from earlier Monday, here's the link to our story on PG Jahmal McMurray and SG Kitija Laksa, honored as the AAC's Rookie of the Week (men's) and Freshman of the Week (women's), respectively.

McMurray, who has played 79 of a possible 80 minutes in USF's last two games, is tied with Temple's Josh Brown for the league lead in average minutes (35.1).

PERRY STILL OUT: Antigua said Monday PF Chris Perry likely will remain suspended for Wednesday's game at Tulane. Perry's indefinite suspension stems from an unspecified violation of team rules.

PF Luis Santos, who fell ill shortly before Saturday's tip-off and returned to the team hotel, is expected to play at Tulane, Antigua added.

WOMEN DROP IN POLL: In the wake of Wednesday's 88-87 overtime loss at unranked Memphis, the Bulls women (13-5) fell five spots -- to 20th -- in the latest AP poll released Monday afternoon.

At worst, look for the Bulls to hold steady at that spot for at least a week. Their next three opponents -- Houston, SMU and Cincinnati -- have a combined record of 18-36

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Two Bulls freshmen earn AAC honors

USF freshman Jahmal McMurray, who scored 30 points in Saturday's victory at Houston, has been named American Athletic Conference Rookie of the Week.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

USF freshman Jahmal McMurray, who scored 30 points in Saturday's victory at Houston, has been named American Athletic Conference Rookie of the Week.

USF PG Jahmal McMurray and SG Kitija Laksa have been named the American Athletic Conference Rookie of the Week (men's) and Freshman of the Week (women's), respectively.

McMurray scored 30 points -- most by a conference freshman this season -- in 40 minutes in the Bulls' 71-62 upset of Houston on Saturday. The point total was the most by a Bulls freshman since Dominique Jones' 31 in a four-point loss to Seton Hall on Feb. 26, 2008.

In two games last week, McMurray totaled 79 minutes, finishing 6-for-11 from 3-point range.

"I mean, what can you say? "He's just continued to grow," Coach Orlando Antigua said Monday. …

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USF's Jenkins sidelined 2 more weeks

USF senior Alisia Jenkins initially hurt her left ankle in a Jan. 5 home victory against UCF.

JOEY KNIGHT | Times

USF senior Alisia Jenkins initially hurt her left ankle in a Jan. 5 home victory against UCF.

USF senior PF Alisia Jenkins has re-aggravated her sprained left ankle and is expected to be sidelined the next two weeks, the team announced earlier today.

The good news for the 15th-ranked Bulls: If the ankle mends as expected, Jenkins (10.2 ppg, 11.5 rpg) should return in time for USF's two biggest remaining regular season games, Feb. 15 at 17th-ranked Louisville and Feb. 29 at No. 1 Connecticut.

The Bulls play at UCF this afternoon.

"When you are missing a player like Alisia Jenkins it changes some things for us on both ends of the floor," Coach Jose Fernandez said in a USF news release. "She has established herself as one of the best rebounders in the country and players in our conference."

Jenkins initially injured the ankle during a tie-up under the basket in a Jan. 5 home victory against UCF. After being diagnosed with a severe sprain, she missed two games -- including a 16-point home loss to UConn -- before returning for a six-minute cameo in a 71-67 victory at Tulane on Jan. 13.

Four days later, she collected 11 rebounds in 21 minutes in a 75-54 victory against East Carolina, but re-injured the ankle two minutes into Wednesday's 88-87 overtime loss at Memphis.

"We will have to collectively do a great job on the glass, and expect some of our guys to expand their roles over the next couple of weeks," Fernandez said.

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