Huge win, not-huge crowd, expletive deleted
Jose Fernandez could have picked nearly any game to complain about the poor attendance at USF women's basketball games, about the lack of promotion to encourage better crowds, so I'm impressed that he's willing to consciously trump one of the biggest upsets in his program's history to lash out at the lack of support for his team. The headlines Wednesday aren't about the win, but about what Fernandez said about the crowd.
Near the end of his postgame press conference after a dominating 74-58 upset of No. 15 Louisville, Fernandez went out swinging. Here he is, verbatim:
"You know, it just fathoms me that we've got a basketball team that's gone to two NITs, NCAA Tournament, you're 14-4, 3-1 in the league, and you've got (expletive) 800 people in the stands. I don't understand it. It's absolutely ridiculous. On a Tuesday night. What else is going on on a Tuesday night? Was there a football game? Was there a hockey game? What is it? Oh, American Idol, that's why we didn't get that many people. Maybe we should do American Idol tryouts at halftime."
Wait, he isn't done.
"We've got multi-million-dollar scoreboards and they don't work. That's another thing I don't understand. Oh well. We've just got to continue to roll on through. Everybody will become a fan when we make the NCAA Tournament."
Wow. For the record, I started to handcount the fans, just before halftime. The whole side opposite the scoring table, along with both ends, had less than 300. And the student side above me was just as sparse. So the attendance figure of 845 was, in fact, nicely padded. I can sympathize with Fernandez' frustration -- he has his team playing its best basketball, with as marketable and well-known as women's basketball star as you can ask for, and it just isn't catching on with the public.
To be fair, USF's average home attendance entering the game was 760, good for 10th out of 16 Big East women's teams, and if you can bump it by 11 fans, it's up to eight. Compare that to the men's team, which is averaging 2,990 fans, and the next-lowest is Rutgers, at 4,477, with no other school is under 5,400. Everybody else is getting at least 50 percent more fans, so by comparison, Fernandez is drawing huge crowds. Of course he wants more. What I think he is realizing is that his team's fan base is only going to grow so much -- this is Year Four with Jessica Dickson, a surefire first-round WNBA star, and it's still not drawing people in. (And by the way, there was hockey in town last night, and the reason Jose mentioned American Idol was it was on the TV behind him in the interview room. I'm looking forward to his weekly radio hour with Lelo Prado, on 1010 AM at 5 p.m. Wednesday)
Lots of other things to get to: first, sitting in the front row behind the women's team were football cousins Amarri Jackson and Mike Ford, the latter of which enjoyed finishing his first day of classes at USF by cheering on former classmate Shantia Grace, who he's been in classes with since elementary school. The video screens at the Sun Dome -- the same ones that malfunctioned and delayed play four times -- zoomed in close on Amarri and Ford, and it took the crowd a sec to realize who it was. That anonymity will go away fast, Mike ...
Quick-hit notes, since the allergy medicine is kicking in with some good, old drowsiness:
-- Counting Ford, USF has commitments from four freshman running backs for next year. There's no way they're all staying at running back, unless some of the returning cast is changing positions. I'd gotten a tip before the bowl that Keeley Dorsey was interested in shifting to safety, but Jim Leavitt said he hadn't heard anything about that. How good is this running back class? Largo's Josh Bellamy, arguably the lowest-rated of the four, told me Tuesday that Florida -- that's national champion Florida -- has been hounding him, with assistant coach Chuck Heater trying to get him to take a visit to Gainesville. And Bellamy isn't biting. He's sticking with the Bulls. Very impressive.
That said, this message-board nonsense about Fort Myers uberback Noel Devine coming to USF is really a reach. Yes, he's good friends with promising cornerback Quenton Washington, a firm Bulls commitment. But his high school coach, James Iandoli, said this week that USF hasn't ever been seriously in his picture. Right now, it's likely prep school, but the top colleges he's still considering are LSU, West Virginia, Alabama, Ole Miss and Florida. Be happy with the four backs you have, Bulls fans.
-- More guys USF won't be getting: the younger brothers of Bucs quarterbacks Chris Simms and Bruce Gradkowski. Simms, a Louisville commitment who re-opened his recruitment when Bobby Petrino bolted for the NFL, doesn't have the Bulls on his list. Michigan State, N.C. State, Alabama and Miami are among his top suitors. And Gino Gradkowski said Tuesday he's still a West Virginia commitment, even though the Mountaineers' line coach is now in the same job at Florida State.
-- We'd told you former South Sumter star Jarrod Fleming didn't make it in for spring classes at USF. Two names to remember as potential walk-ons who did are former Tennessee Tech and Leto standout J.B. Bailey, who had a spot on the roster last summer but opted to go to Itawamba Community College in Mississippi, where he played backup quarterback. He's in school at USF, looking forward to walk-on tryouts on Feb. 8. The same is true for former Plant City quarterback Jason Brown, a tiny but speedy prospect who was at the Naval Academy Prep School last fall but is now enrolled at USF.
-- The longer Leavitt goes without naming two new assistants, the more I'm likely to think he trusts his two graduate assistants, Mike Simmonds and Larry Scott, enough to promote them to full-time assistants. Leavitt said he won't make any hires until he knows nobody else is leaving, but he confirmed that he's considering reshuffling his position coaches a bit, touting their flexibility and long backgrounds at other positions and even on the other side of the ball. I've heard from multiple sources that tight ends coach Greg Gregory is in position to take over Lawrence Dawsey's job with the receivers, but Leavitt said no such decision has been made yet. Scott could take the tight ends job, just as Simmonds, who worked under Bernard Clark with the defensive line, would be a logical promotion on the defensive side. Best name that's come up as applying for the job? Former Michigan State standout Anthony "Amp" Campbell, once one of the best high school defensive backs in the country before he suffered a severe neck injury with the Spartans. Campbell hasn't coached since 2004 at Ferris State, but he has good ties in the Sarasota area and knows USF's staff -- Carl Franks tried to recruit him to Florida, and Troy Douglas was an assistant at Michigan State when Campbell was there. Initially, he seems like more of a match for the defensive GA job than as a full-time assistant, but all he wants to do is get back into coaching and get back to Sarasota to be closer to his family. Talked to former co-defensive coordinator Rick Kravitz on Tuesday by the way, and while he has not found a position since Chuck Amato was fired, he said he spoke with Leavitt at last week's coaching convention in San Antonio but said he doesn't expect a return to USF.
-- These really aren't quick hits, are they? USF is just beginning to pare down applicants for its associate athletic director for external operations job, taking over for Tom Veit, who's now across the street at the Sun Dome working for Action Sports Media. Biggest name among the applicants? Former Iowa State athletic director Bruce van de Velde, who was the Cyclones' AD for five years before resigning in 2005. Van de Velde also was an associate AD at Oklahoma before he went to Iowa State. Two in-house candidates worth mentioning are longtime athletics staffers John Gerdes and Jim Louk, basically two of the three assistant ADs currently under Veit, overseeing sports information and sales/broadcasting, respectively.
-- For those of you who missed it the other day, junior defensive tackle Siaosi Uhatafe will graduate in May with a degree in communications and won't use his final year of eligibility. Uhatafe had only three tackles last season in occasional work on the d-line, so it opens up another scholarship for the Bulls to use toward a full class of 25 recruits next month. I can't get a concrete number, but usfnation.com's Josh Newberg reported that USF has two scholarships unaccounted for after the current commitments. As many recruits as the Bulls are bringing in for official visits this weekend, I have to believe that Leavitt will overstack his signing class and announce more than 25 signings, knowing that some will fall short of qualifying academically. In some instances, that's just a gesture from USF to build a relationship with kids for when they're deciding in two years out of junior college; in other ways, it's just recruits not making grades.
-- Funny how newspapers work. With expletives, my paper won't play Cussword Hangman, doing things like ---hole, choosing instead to just do (expletive) or replace the word parenthetically, like "Man, this blog kicks (butt)." Usually, the context gives you a good idea what was said. It's a common journalistic practice to clean up grammar and syntax in a quote -- if somebody says "we got to win this," we'll sometimes write "we have to win this." Because of the delicate nature of what Fernandez said tonight, I was extra-super-careful with his quote. So my copydesk calls, suggesting we help Fernandez out, since he opened the rant by saying "It fathoms me" when he probably mean "I can't fathom ..." It's a common misuse, and everybody understands what he means, but my paper opted to put the quote as "It (astounds) me" rather than confuse readers. Google "it fathoms me" and you'll see it used a lot, but if you check the definition, to fathom is to understand or comprehend, not to be unable to understand. Not to get all OED here, but the term's roots are from the noun fathom, a measurement of six feet typically used in calculating water depth. But you knew that, since you're reading Twain when you're not reading this here blog, no?
-- I'm calling it a night. Thoughts? Comments? Ancient maritime anecdotes? My highlight from covering the national championship game last week in Arizona, other than being part of the coverage itself, was climbing Camelback Mountain, which overlooked our hotel in Paradise Valley, another Phoenix suburb. At the top, we managed to run into ESPN's Chris Fowler, along with former Heisman winner Desmond Howard. Fun stuff. Send your e-mails to firstname.lastname@example.org, post your comments, and I'll get to them as soon as I can. ...