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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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Bulls men's tennis coach Matt Hill resigns

USF men's tennis coach Matt Hill has resigned after four highly successful seasons for the same job at Arizona State.

Photo provided by the American Athletic Conference

USF men's tennis coach Matt Hill has resigned after four highly successful seasons for the same job at Arizona State.

USF men's tennis coach Matt Hill, who led the Bulls to their third consecutive American Athletic Conference title this past spring, has resigned after four seasons to re-start the program at Arizona State.

"Matt did an incredible job with our tennis program, both on and off the court, during his four years at USF,” Bulls athletic director Mark Harlan said in a news release. "We thank him for his dedicated service and for leading tremendous student-athletes in this men's tennis program to unprecedented success."

One of the more inspirational coaching figures on campus, Hill, who conquered bone cancer as a teen to become a Division II player, led the Bulls to the NCAA Tournament each of the last three seasons, highlighted by a Sweet 16 berth in 2015.

On his watch, No. 1 player Roberto Cid twice reached the quarterfinals of the NCAA men's singles championships.

"Matt is truly one of the bright young standouts in collegiate coaching, and we wish he and his wife, Katie, nothing but the best going forward," Harlan said. "I spoke to the team this afternoon and pledged that we will find a great leader who will help them continue their push to be among the nation’s best.”

At Arizona State, Hill essentially will be building a program from scratch. The university reinstated men's tennis in May after an eight-year hiatus.

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Perfect retention rate: 17 signees on campus

USF safety Craig Watts is among 17 Bulls football signees already on campus.

LARA CERRI | Times

USF safety Craig Watts is among 17 Bulls football signees already on campus.

Conventional wisdom suggests any football news in June or July likely is grim: ineligible player, transfer, arrest or worse.

Considering that school of thought, here's your aberration for the day: Seventeen of the Bulls' 18 football signees already are on campus, team spokesman Brian Siegrist confirmed Wednesday. The 18th, Butler (Kan.) Community College DE Tramal Ivy, will arrive for fall camp, Siegrist added.

It marks the second consecutive year of near-spotless retention for a Willie Taggart signing class. Of the 21 players who signed in February 2015, only one -- WR Jarvis Baxter -- never joined the program.  

USF's Summer B session began Monday. Taggart and two or three select players will join him at the American Athletic Conference Football Media Days in Newport, R.I. on Aug. 1 and 2, with preseason camp set to commence later that week. 

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Men's golf team lands former Freedom star Jimmy Jones

After two sparkling seasons at Division II Florida Southern, former Freedom High golf standout Jimmy Jones is transferring to USF, the Bulls announced Monday.

Jones, who won a district title at Freedom as a sophomore in 2011 and was a three-time member of the Times' All-Hillsborough County team, will have two seasons of eligibility remaining.

He will be the first Bulls men's player to have competed for a Tampa high school since Richard Kittelstad (Blake, Sickles) in 2011.

"It’s nice to have somebody from Tampa playing golf for the hometown school at USF," men's golf coach Steve Bradley said in a USF news release. …

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Baseball: Bulls trio making solid pro transition

At this early stage, the three newest members of USF baseball's pro fraternity appear to be transitioning solidly to the short-season Class A level.

Former Bulls closer Tommy Eveld, the Diamondbacks' ninth-round draft pick, has posted a 2.45 ERA in three relief stints with the Hillsboro (Ore.) Hops. In 3.2 innings, Eveld has allowed a run on three hits with two strikeouts and a walk.

Meantime, Rays 12th-round draftee Brandon Lawson has allowed two earned runs in 4.2 relief innings for the Hudson Valley (N.Y.) Renegades. In his pro debut Wednesday, the right-handed Hernando High alumnus allowed one hit over the final two innings of a 12-inning, 3-2 loss to the Lowell Spinners.

Lawson took the loss when Lowell scored an unearned run in the top of the 12th on an error. In two appearances, Lawson has a 3.86 ERA with three strikeouts and no walks.

And OF Luke Maglich? The Phillies' 34th-round pick has struggled offensively so far (.176) in five games for the Williamsport (Pa.) Crosscutters, but hit a game-winning, two-out RBI-single in the 13th inning of Wednesday's 1-0 triumph against Mahoning Valley.

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Experts: 'Preeminence' could propel Bulls' Power 5 hopes

Behind president Dr. Judy Genshaft (center), USF recently earned "emerging preeminence" status by the Florida Board of Governors Strategic Planning Committee

BOYZELL HOSEY | Times

Behind president Dr. Judy Genshaft (center), USF recently earned "emerging preeminence" status by the Florida Board of Governors Strategic Planning Committee

For all the preseason adoration showering USF, and for all the pricey renovations being done to its home stadium, arguably nothing has bolstered the Bulls' Power Five aspirations lately like one highfalutin-sounding phrase.

Emerging preeminence.

That lofty academic status, awarded last week to USF by the Florida Board of Governors' Strategic Planning Committee, will bring $5 million to the school's Tampa campus and increase the luster of its scholastic cachet nationally.

It also might -- just might -- boost the Bulls' remote chances of getting into a Power Five league, experts say.

"An enhanced academic standing and recognition by not only the state of Florida but also the academic community, certainly enhances USF’s opportunities at becoming a member of a Power Five conference," said Dr. Andy Gillentine, associate dean and professor of the College of Hospitality, Retail and Sport Management at South Carolina.

"Conference expansion is about more than just athletic prowess. Conferences wish to improve their academic reputation as well."

So far, only Florida and FSU have achieved "preeminence" since the Florida Legislature created the Preeminent State Research Universities Program, which grants as much as $15 million in additional state funds that meet 11 of 12 performance benchmarks.

USF currently meets nine of those 12 benchmarks in areas such as national rankings, average GPA and SAT scores for incoming freshmen, and the number of doctoral degrees awarded each year. …

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Courtney Williams traded to Connecticut

USF No. 2 all-time scorer Courtney Williams, drafted eighth overall by the Phoenix Mercury in April, was traded to the Connecticut Sun over the weekend.

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

USF No. 2 all-time scorer Courtney Williams, drafted eighth overall by the Phoenix Mercury in April, was traded to the Connecticut Sun over the weekend.

After six brief cameos with the Phoenix Mercury, former USF women's offensive dynamo Courtney Williams has been traded to the Connecticut Sun.

Williams, who totaled 25 minutes in six appearances with the team that drafted her eighth overall in April, was dealt to the Sun -- along with the draft rights to 20th overall pick Jillian Alleyne and a 2017 second-round pick -- for veteran Kelsey Bone.

"We are excited about acquiring both Courtney and Jillian," said Sun coach Curt Miller, whose 3-11 club is last in the WNBA's Eastern Conference.

"This gives us two more young pieces as we build around our young nucleus. Courtney was a dynamic scorer at the collegiate level and brings an athleticism at the guard position that is needed on our roster." 

Williams, USF's No. 2 all-time scorer and No. 3 rebounder, simply couldn't crack a Mercury backcourt that already included two-time Naismith Player of the Year Diana Taurasi and three-time WNBA All-Star Penny Taylor. In 25 minutes, Williams totaled three points and seven rebounds for Phoenix.

By comparison, Indiana Fever G Tiffany Mitchell, taken one spot after Williams in the draft, is averaging 11.9 points and 1.5 assists in more than 25 minutes per game. The No. 7 pick, Washington Mystics swing player Kahleah Copper, is averaging 5.8 points and 3.5 boards in more than 17 minutes.

Alleyne, who arrives in Connecticut with Williams, tore an ACL in February while playing for Oregon and is out for the entire WNBA season. The co-Pac 12 Player of the Year, she finished her college career ranked second in NCAA history in double-doubles (92) and third in rebounds (1,712).

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