More hoops: Cann at practice
I haven't even checked in with a postgame from the Nightmare at Nippert on Sunday, but first I want to get in some notes on USF basketball after catching some of Tuesday's practice.
First, on an encouraging note, I saw redshirt freshman Zaronn Cann practicing with his teammates for the first time since he tore the ACL in his left knee during a game in December. Cann wore a brace on the knee, and all I saw was largely individual work, with post men split at one end of the court and perimeter players working on 3s on the other end. Cann isn't the only one back -- all the dinged-up players we told you about last week were on the court, including guard Jesus Verdejo and forwards Aris Williams and Melvyn Richardson.
The Big East men's basketball preseason media gathering is at Madison Square Garden in New York on Wednesday, and I'll ask you first to guess, if you were coach Robert McCullum, which two players from this year's team you'd bring to New York to represent the Bulls.
I know which two you're probably guessing, but senior forward Melvin Buckley (most likely USF's leading scorer this season) won't be in New York -- he was there with Solomon Jones last season, boldly predicting that USF would make it back to the Garden for the Big East tournament. This time, McCullum is bringing senior forward McHugh Mattis and redshirt freshman point guard Chris Howard, who is likely out until at least late December recovering from his second knee surgery in the past year.
I haven't talked to McCullum about the decision to bring Howard, but to me, it's an impressive statement, essentially telling the Big East and the national media that Howard is going to be a relevant, significant part of this year's Bulls. Howard has yet to play a game for USF (just as Buckley hadn't last year) but McCullum wants him there to represent his team. I'd imagine he also wants to give Howard a taste of the league, an extra inspiration to help him through the rest of his rehab, a motivation to get him back healthy as the team leader McCullum had hoped he would be last season.
As a pre-emptive strike, I'll let you guys know that I won't be in New York tomorrow to attend the Big East event. I'm disappointed not to be there after going last season, but my editors have made a decision not to staff the three conference basketball gatherings for the schools we cover. It's arguably more compelling to be at the SEC event, given that Florida is the defending national champion, or at the ACC preview, given that the ACC Tournament will be at the St. Pete Times Forum next spring. I'll have something in Thursday's paper to address where USF is picked in the league's preseason poll -- I'd be surprised if they're not in 16th place, where they finished with a 1-15 mark last season. What I'm curious to see is how the Bulls respond to that, how much confidence they can build in a largely unchallenging nonconference schedule to prepare themselves for Big East play in January. They'd likely have to be the most improved team in the league to make the league tournament, but that's one of the goals they'll set forth for their season, just the same.
I'll have more football here on Wednesday, but I wanted to add a recruiting note -- South Sumter coach Inman Sherman, who has sent running back Clenton Crossley and linebackers Ben Moffitt and Sam Miller to USF in recent years, told me over the weekend that fullback Richard Kelly, 6 feet and 240 pounds, is "leaning heavily" toward accepting a scholarship offer from USF. Kelly would bring size that USF doesn't have in its current backfield, and Sherman says his blocking and pass-catching abilities are as good as his running skills. He's getting continued interest from Florida, Alabama, Misssissippi and Tennessee, but Florida hasn't offered and there's a strong desire to stay close to home, making him a high possibility to commit to USF. None of Sherman's kids will set up any official visits until they're done in the playoffs, and South Sumter is 8-1 and has already locked up a district title ...