Saaka, Holmes get releases to transfer
Sophomore forward Amu Saaka said Friday night that he understands the suddenly high turnover in scholarships after Stan Heath's first season with the Bulls.
"With a coaching change, you're bound to get a couple," said Saaka, one of five scholarship players brought in under Robert McCullum to be granted a release from USF since Heath was hired in April.
Saaka and redshirt freshman Aaron Holmes, who saw their playing time diminish significantly in Big East play, are the latest to free up scholarships for Heath, who now has five available for the spring signing period. A week ago, that number was thought to be just one.
Tuesday brought news that sophomore guard Solomon Bozeman had gotten a release, and that junior college guard Lasha Parghalava, once a Bulls commitment, had been encouraged to look elsewhere in recent weeks.
Neither Saaka nor Holmes should come as a surprise. Both played well at the end of the nonconference schedule -- Saaka had 13 and 17 against St. Francis (N.Y.) and Winston-Salem State; Holmes went for 13 and 20 (in a combined 36 minutes) in the same two games. But those two-game totals were as much as their entire contributions in Big East play: Saaka and Holmes each had exactly 30 points in 18 conference games.
Saaka was never the same after breaking his nose in a January win against Rutgers; he went 1-for-10 in his next three games, and after a 9-point game against Seton Hall, he hit only seven shots in the final 13 games. After averaging 17.0 minutes per game as a freshman, he got 10.5 this past season.
"It wasn't the right fit. It didn't feel right," Saaka said. "I've been thinking about (transferring) for a while. There was just little stuff that kind of planted the seed."
Having said that, Saaka called Heath "a great guy," said they "still have a good relationship," that Heath told him he was welcome to continue working out with the current players the rest of the semester. He hasn't redshirted, so he can transfer, sit out a year and still have two years to play.
Holmes' role became non-existent in the second half of the conference season. Of the last nine games, he didn't play in five and played only one minute in three others. He shot 21 percent from the field in the Big East, and his minutes weren't going to improve next season with all three starting guards back and transfer Mike Mercer joining the mix.
Holmes, having already sat out a season after transferring from Florida State, is likely headed to a junior college, where he can play one season, re-establish himself and transfer again to a four-year program with two years of eligibility. It would mean four schools in four years, but the alternative is sitting out another season for the right to play two years at a four-year program.
With the departures, next year's team will have, at the most, three players who played under McCullum: guards Chris Howard and Jesus Verdejo, along with forward Aris Williams, whose future remains uncertain because of the lingering knee problems that limited him to 11 total points this season. At a position where the Bulls were perilously thin, Williams never logged more than 12 minutes in any game and was held out of 13 games.
Heath has five scholarships to use this spring, but two could be spoken for by the end of the weekend, with possible commitments from point guard Dwan McMillan of Brooklyn, N.Y., and 6-foot-8, 295-pound forward/center Gene Teague of Vineland, N.J., who were both on campus Friday making official visits. Junior college guard Jeremie Simmons is due in next weekend, and junior college forward Juan Pattillo is expected to line up a visit as well. The Bulls continue to pursue three high school big men in suburban D.C.'s Maurice Sutton, IMG Academy's Teeng Akol and Chicago's Steve Goins, as well as junior college standouts Gary Flowers and Keith Brumbaugh and other recruits who are still in play ...