Heath shows optimism at Bulls' team banquet
It seems a huge leap after a 10-win season, but USF coach Stan Heath had plenty of optimism at his team's postseason banquet -- the only goal he mentioned for 2011-12 was making the NCAA Tournament.
Heath is likely to lose only one starter in senior center Jarrid Famous, though junior forward Augustus Gilchrist is still deciding how seriously to test the NBA Draft waters in the next two weeks. With nine scholarship players returning and a four-member recruiting class to be wrapped up this week, Heath should have talent and experience with which to improve on a disappointing 2010-11 season.
So the excitement Monday night at the Embassy Suites on campus wasn't so much the season that just ended -- the Bulls can boast a win against one Final Four team (VCU) and an overtime loss to another in national champion Connecticut. Heath and athletic director Doug Woolard are eager to move the team into its new basketball practice facility, as well as dotting the i's on the major Sun Dome renovation. A few odd nuggets and notes from Monday's banquet ...
-- Didn't realize this, but USF led the Big East in free-throw percentage in conference games, hitting 74.3 percent of its attempts. Overall, the Bulls hit 71 percent from the line, up from 68.2 percent the year before and way up from a 59.8 percent mark in 2008-09. Bulls radio voice Jim Lighthall, emcee for the night, pointed out that it had been 20 years since a Bulls team hit 70 percent or better in a season. Heath split his Free Throw Award to two players -- guard Shaun Noriega, who hit a team-best 80.5 percent (though just 33 of 41), and center Jarrid Famous, who hit 75.6 percent and went to the line more with 99 attempts on the season.
-- Famous, who will graduate in May, was also honored with the team's Academic Achievement Award, which was presented by newly hired Jodie Heinicka, who joined USF's staff two months ago as assistant athletic director for academics and student-athlete development. Heinicka, a Seminole High graduate, competed in gymnastics at Missouri and was the 2006 Big 12 Female Sportsperson of the Year. She came to USF from Northwestern State, where she was head academic coordinator and senior women's administrator, the latter an impressive title for someone who is still just 27.
-- Most of USF's key players went home with some kind of award -- Ron And erson won the "Chairman of the Boards" as the team's top rebounder, while Anthony Crater took home the team's assist award. Toarlyn Fitzpatrick earned the Bull Pride Award -- Heath noted that in games in which Fitzpatrick played 16 minutes or more, he averaged 9.1 points and 6 rebounds. Hugh Robertson earned the team's defensive award (Lighthall said eight of the league's top 10 scorers were held to under their average against USF) and Noriega took home the Most Improved award. The team MVP award went to Augustus Gilchrist, who lead the team in scoring and was second in rebounding.
-- USF's two spring commitments will make it official with the Bulls on Wednesday, when the spring signing period begins. There's excitement about junior college guard Blake Nash, who will have three years with the Bulls. Two other juco guards USF was targeting have since committed elsewhere -- Sam Grooms to Oklahoma and Pierre Jackson to Baylor. Barring any surprises, Heath can now shift his recruiting focus to 2012, when he'll have four scholarships available and will have the new facilities to help his efforts.