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Catching up with Stan Heath ...



It's been a busy summer for USF men's basketball coach Stan Heath, with an unusual amount of turnover on his roster, both coming and going. Tuesday's news that the Bulls had made a late addition in point guard Justin Leemow allowed us a chance to get caught up with Heath on the state of his team, the important issues remaining before the start of practice in two months, and more ...

-- First, he was frank. "They way recruiting went for us was not normal," Heath said. He went in thinking he was losing one senior, with a limited number of scholarships available. "Then as the year goes on, we realize we better keep eyes on things," he said. "Then, all the sudden, there was more change than I'd anticipated happening." Forward Zaronn Cann had left last summer, then guard Dante Curry in December. After the season, four more reserves -- guards Solomon Bozeman and Aaron Holmes and forwards Amu Saaka and Orane Chin -- were granted releases and transferred out.

After signing just one player in the early signing period -- power forward Eladio Espinosa -- and getting guard Mike Mercer to transfer from Georgia in December, Heath went from having one scholarship in spring to having five. Of the six players added this spring, three (guard Dwan McMillan, forward Teeng Akol and center Gene Teague) were lost to academics. "The plusses do outweigh the minuses, though I'm disappointed we had a couple" that didn't make it, Heath said.

-- Frontcourt depth is a key, and hinges on two things. First, hugely, is a hardship waiver being filed for power forward Gus Gilchrist, the transfer from Maryland. It hasn't gone out yet, but if granted, would allow Gilchrist to play this season. The second factor is the health of center Alex Rivas-Sanchez, who has yet to fully recover from surgery in May to correct a lingering lower-leg injury. Heath knows he has senior center B.J. Ajayi and freshman power forward Eladio Espinosa, with senior Aris Williams able to back up both, but the other two are big x-factors. "If we (get both), I'm very impressed with the depth," he said. If Gilchrist doesn't get his waiver, Heath said walk-on Mitch Emory has been a pleasant surprise and could be in line for playing time. Another possibility if the post depth isn't there is a four-guard lineup, much like Villanova used to great success two years ago.

-- Much of the talk this summer has been about newcomers, but Heath is pleased with the returning cast. "Our returning guys have had a great summer," especially in the weight room with new strength coach Ray Weisenbarger. That returning core did a lot with "togetherness and camaraderie" in June and July before breaking this month, with Chris Howard going home to the Washington, D.C., area, and Jesus Verdejo going home to Puerto Rico.

-- There are four established guards for three spots: Howard, Verdejo, Dominique Jones and Mercer. The two freshmen, Gaby Belardo and Leemow, should allow those guards to keep their minutes reasonable, not playing 40 minutes every game. There's the possibility one of the freshmen could be redshirted. Mercer won't be eligible to play until the Niagara game Dec. 14, so you'll see one look in the first six games, another look with Mercer for six games before Big East play begins in January.

-- After all the shuffling, Heath has five scholarships available for this coming year's recruiting class, with commitments already lined up from guards Shaun Noriega and Jordan Dumars. We'll try to make some recruiting calls in the next week or so before football gets going into the regular season ...

[Last modified: Thursday, May 27, 2010 12:43pm]


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