Hoops season? It is for USA, er, USF basketball
Very strange to have a basketball practice on campus before football starts, but here was Stan Heath, in mid-July, talking about his team's first preparations for next month's trip to the Pan American University Championships in Brazil. The Bulls will practice twice this week, twice next week, then five times in the first week of August before leaving Aug. 7. Lots of notes from Heath's news conference this morning:
-- Bulls are wearing red-white-and-blue in practice, as they will in Brazil, and the novelty of representing an entire country isn't lost on Heath and his players. "We're representing our country -- it's bigger than just USF or just me. This is a big thing," Heath said.
-- Heath said junior college transfer Jawanza Poland, expected to compete for a starting job, can't practice or travel to Brazil because he didn't finish his final classes in time to start summer classes at USF. Heath said he'll join the team after Brazil, as will Victor Rudd, the transfer from Arizona State who will sit out this season.
-- With Dominique Jones and Mike Mercer gone, USF has two starting spots open at shooting guard and small forward, which are virtually interchangeable in Heath's system. I asked him if he had starters penciled in entering the start of practice, and the first name he mentioned was Hugh Robertson, the junior from Tallahassee Community College.
"I like Hugh Robertson. He's very athletic, can knock down some shots," Heath said. "There are still some things he's got to get adjusted to, but he looks like a guy who knows what he's doing out there and can help us."
Next name he mentioned in the 2/3 mix was sophomore Shaun Noriega, whose progress he's singled out a few times this summer. He also mentioned junior combo guard Shedrick Haynes, which leaves sophomore Mike Burwell, with Poland joining the competition when practice resumes in October.
-- One focus in practice is adjusting to international rules, like having a 24-second shot clock and the three-point line three inches closer to the rim. Heath wants an uptempo team, so he likes the way a 24-second clock forces quicker play -- with point guard Anthony Crater, this will be a quicker Bulls team, with athleticism in the big men as well.
-- We're working on a feature on Ron Anderson, the transfer from Kansas State who sat out last season and will be a key part of USF's frontcourt this year. Anderson clearly has taken on a major leadership role -- he called a team meeting the first day players reported, making sure everyone was on the same page in terms of setting ambitious goals for themselves and the team this season. He's made a remarkable physical transformation -- from 320 pounds at the start of his senior year of high school to just 245 now, leaner and stronger for Big East play.