Heath excited about frontcourt signings
A week ago, USF coach Stan Heath had nothing but guards signed for next season, putting the Bulls at risk of being limited by the same lack of depth and size in the frontcourt. In the last two days, USF has signed center Jarrid Famous and power forward Toarlyn Fitzpatrick, addressing key concerns for 2009-10.
"I feel good about the way things closed out," said Heath, who has one more scholarship available this spring. "There wasn't a lot of depth in frontcourt players, and the list was always shrinking. We didn't get a guy or two in the early period, but at the end of the day, if you told me, 'You're going to get these guys,' I'm ecstatic about who we have."
Fitzpatrick, a 6-foot-8, 230-pound forward from Tampa King, looked to be one that got away from Heath when he was named Times Suncoast Player of the Year this spring after signing with Georgia Southern in November. Heath said his staff had watched him since they came to USF two years ago, but initially wasn't sold on him entering his senior year at King.
"We've watched him since Day 1, but I told him I had questions about his intensity level, about how bad he wanted it his junior year," Heath said.
Heath's son Jordan plays at Tampa Prep, so the coach is more familiar with the area high school talent, and after watching Fitzpatrick play as a senior in a tournament, he wondered if Georgia Southern had signed away a solid college player from his backyard.
"I was saying, 'I think we made a mistake,'" Heath said. "I was very impressed. He stepped his game up. I think the light switch came on for him."
So Heath was intrigued when Georgia Southern coach Jeff Price stepped down last month, and word got to USF that Fitzpatrick had not only asked for a release, but was interested in USF. One hitch for Heath was that GSU's new coach, Charlton Young, a former Georgia Tech assistant, was a good friend. Young had tried to convince Fitzpatrick to say at GSU, but had conceded he had lost him, so Heath had the green light to pursue him with a clear conscience.
"(Fitzpatrick) is probably more of a 4 (power forward), but he has perimeter skills," he said. "He already has a ready-made body, with good weight, and he's never really lifted a weight, so I'm excited about his upside."
Price, reached by phone Friday, said Fitzpatrick has "tremendous upside as a player, a great kid with great size." A Seminole graduate whose father lives in St. Petersburg, Price said he was sorry to see Fitzpatrick wasn't winding up at GSU, but expects big things from him.
The Bulls now have Famous and Alex Rivas Sanchez at center, with Fitzpatrick joining sophomores Gus Gilchrist and Eladio Espinosa at power forward. Gilchrist enters the season as the likely starter, but Heath wouldn't rule anything out.
"I don't think it's a slam dunk to say that Toarlyn couldn't work hard this summer and get into the starting lineup," Heath said.
USF now has a class of six newcomers that address what Heath called "two glaring needs" from last year's team: size/depth on the frontcourt and 3-point shooting.
"On paper, it's the most talent we've had," Heath said. "We've made a lot of progress, and I feel this is a very good recruiting class."