One post, 10 tasty morsels of USF news ...
Stopped by Congregation Beth Am on Fletcher Avenue on Tuesday night, where USF coach Jim Leavitt spoke to a group of about 50, talking about last season, next season and everything in between. Leavitt is good working an audience like that -- at ease, compared to a formal news conference, sharp answering questions from fans, with a few fun tangents to diverge from year-in-review thoughts.
1. As we've been mentioning since the start of spring drills, Leavitt confirmed that starting right tackle Jake Sims, just finishing his second year as a walk-on, will be on scholarship this fall. Leavitt has been consistent in directing praise toward Sims, but he's also been reliable to mention the chance to play right away at tackle this fall for two true freshmen, Mark Popek and Damien Edwards.
2. The player Leavitt talked most about Tuesday? Chris Robinson, who enters fall drills as the starting strongside linebacker. Leavitt at one point said he was "the key" to this season, impressive words for a player who barely contributed last season because of a lingering ankle injury. Robinson showed promise at the end of 2006, and Leavitt is counting on him, with just as much pressure on Tyrone McKenzie, who shifts inside to the middle. Leavitt said he's challenged McKenzie to be better than Ben Moffitt was last year: that means production on the field, understanding the defense, and being a senior leader.
3. Walk-on Quincy Okolie, the lanky tight end who caught a pass across the middle in the Sun Bowl loss to Oregon, has officially moved to defensive end, Leavitt said. He wants more depth at end, behind projected starters George Selvie and Jarriett Buie and juco transfers David Bedford and Craig Marshall. Leavitt said the Bulls could still have Okolie cameo at tight end, but he's happy with Cedric Hill, Ben Busbee and a bunch of players competing behind those two. Busbee, by the way, made the 11 o'clock news on Channel 28 the other night, in a man-on-the-street deal about the high price of gas and people trying to shake the last few drops of gas out of the pump. Came off well on camera, on his way home to Mobile for part of the summer.
4. Drifting from football, USF's basketball office made it official Wednesday that guard Gaby Belardo and center Alex Rivas Sanchez have signed on as the fifth and sixth members of Stan Heath's incoming recruiting class. It'll probably be at least Friday before Florida Atlantic announces its new basketball coach, with USF assistant Dan Hipsher still very much in the mix as a finalist. One interesting wrinkle: I talked to Ken Kelly, who was Orane Chin's coach at Miramar High, and he mentioned that FAU would be a possibility for Chin if Hipsher got the job. If that doesn't work out, Kelly said Chin might join former USF director of basketball operations Darren Sorenson at Oakland University in Michigan.
5. Ran into Aris Williams on Wednesday, and the senior power forward said his knee is feeling as well as it has since he's been at USF -- he put it at 98.9 percent, to be exact. Williams, who graduated this spring, could contribute at a key position for the Bulls, as power forward is arguably the area USF is thinnest at entering the season. Having him healthy would ease the load on freshman Eladio Espinosa, who is expected to start at the four for the Bulls.
6. USF coach Lelo Prado has only four seniors on roster, and only outfielder Joey Angelberger is a regular starter, but Prado said Wednesday he expects two juniors to be drafted this summer: starting pitcher Daniel Thomas and shortstop Addison Maruszak. Prado thinks Maruszak's arm is so strong that "a lot of teams are looking at him as a catcher." Prado called Maruszak's game Tuesday at Florida the best defensive game he's played in the last two seasons. "He's got a big-league arm," Prado said. "There's nobody in this league that's got a better arm than he does in the infield."
7. Sophomore Shawn Sanford has 11 saves this season as USF's closer, but his struggles of late -- he needed one out to finish out a key win for the Bulls on Saturday, and instead sent the game to extra innings -- have likely cost him his job as closer. "I think right now (freshman) Stephen Hunt would have to be it," Prado said Wednesday. "As a closer, you've got to let it go, but when you've blown some in a row, it plays on your head. I think right now, probably we use Stephen as our closer. ... Nobody feels worse about it than Shawn has. He's a man, and he's accepted that he hasn't done his job. That's why we keep throwing him out there. We know it's there. Sooner or later, it's coming back."
8. USF's baseball team had a welcome visitor in its dugout Tuesday night in Gainesville: third baseman Brandon Smith, who hasn't played in nearly a month, with good reason. He was released this week after three weeks in the hospital after being diagnosed by USF trainers with a subclavian acute thrombosis -- a dangerous blood clot that forms in the vein leading from the heart to the left arm. Smith was twice put in intensive care and at one point had to have two liters of blood drained from his lungs. As was the case with softball pitcher Cristi Ecks, Smith can be an inspiration to his teammates the rest of this season. We'll have more on his continued recovery next week ...
9. My new favorite mascot? It might Cairo (Georgia) High School, which calls its teams the Syrupmakers, because of the Roddenberry syrup plant in town. USF coach Mike Canales stopped at Cairo -- pronounced cay-row, as opposed to the Egyptian pronunciation -- to look at two recruits -- running back Reginald Bryant, who has topped 1,600 yards in each of the last two years and totaled 52 touchdowns, and defensive tackle Montavious Williams. Cairo is in the football-fertile corridor that runs east through Thomasville to Valdosta -- even when USF goes outside the state to recruit, sometimes it's only an interstate exit or two.
10. Women's basketball coach Jose Fernandez certainly upgraded his backcourt by signing three junior college guards this week. I can't wait for the USF-Rutgers game, when Bulls guard Allyson Speed could wind up guarding Knights freshman Nikki Speed, and the obligatory "My speed is faster than your speed" comments. In landing Gulf Coast Community College's Alexis Givands and Janae Stokes, Fernandez pilfered a talented pair that were headed to play at Kentucky, swayed late in the process by a campus visit to Tampa. Speaking of sweet-named Georgia towns, Stokes went to Vidalia High School, whose mascot ... is the Indians. I'll try to avoid describing her game as having many layers, or saying that the Vidalia product can bring tears to your eyes. ... I'll stop now.
11. A bonus: News from the WNBA, where former USF standout Jessica Dickson was cut Wednesday by the expansion Atlanta Dream. Dickson didn't play in either preseason game for Atlanta, and as of a week ago, she hadn't joined the team yet, still busy playing overseas in Croatia. Dickson's first year playing professionally was a success in Croatia, and we'll check in with her soon to see where she's headed next.
Thoughts? Comments? Questions? We may ... may blog live from USF-Notre Dame baseball on Thursday night. ...