Six for the Bulls: Heath reels in best-ever class
The late addition of Orlando forward Dre Clayton made Stan Heath's recruiting class for 2013 complete with six freshmen signed to play for the Bulls, combining for the largest class Heath's had as a head coach, and perhaps the best in USF basketball history.
What was the biggest factor helping the Bulls land such a class? Heath said it wasn't the state-of-the-art Muma Center practice facility, or even the newly renovated Sun Dome, but first and foremost, USF's successful run to the NCAA Tournament and the third round of the tournament with the Bulls' first two NCAA wins.
"Winning," Heath said. "Going to the NCAA Tournament and having success really changed the perception of who we were nationally," Heath said. "And second, it opened the door when we had a kid on campus, to see the facilities. It really blew a lot of kids away. The combination of those two things were the lightning rod that really got things going for us in this recruiting class."
-- How did the Bulls pull together such a coup? It started with the duo of 6-foot-10 center John Egbunu (a national top-100 recruit) and point guard Drew Davis -- USF identified Egbunu as a top recruit early, and assistant Steve Roccaforte led the recruiting efforts, landing their commitments in Dec. 2011 and keeping them in the fold for nearly a year, even as Egbunu's stock rose with a strong summer.
"John, from the minute he set foot on our campus, fell in love. I don't think he even looked at another school," Heath said. "You have to fend people away. Everybody's going to say 'Hey, are you sure?' They're going to test him, and to John's credit, he stayed true to his commitment. He didn't get sidetracked and stayed focused on the things that are important to him."
-- Three of the signees were AAU teammates together -- Heath's son Josh, a point guard who led Tampa Prep to a state title last year, and Bartow's Chris Perry (another top-100 recruit) and Clayton. With his son on the team, Heath was able to see them play and have far more access than a head coach would normally be allowed, and he said this only naturally helped build a relationship with the players.
"I think I had an advantage. ... Dre and my son Josh have been teammates since they were 11 years old. They won national championships in AAU when they were 13. I've known Dre forever. When Dre was about the ninth grade, he was the best player in the country. He just didn't grow at the same rate everybody else did. He's a great kid, one of those team guys, the enforcer, the guy that can score, rebound, do the dirty work, going to be in the locker room, in the huddles, on the court, really conveying the things necessary to win, a la Ron Anderson."
Josh has been playing for elite teams since he was 9, so Heath also saw the best of the teams his son was playing against, giving him a greater familiarity with the top players across the country.
-- Along the same lines, Heath had the rare honor of attending one of his recruit's signing day ceremonies, proudly going to Tampa Prep to be there for Josh's ceremonies.
"I got cleared. I double-checked just to make sure," Heath said of USF's compliance office. "It was kind of neat to go to his signing. It was fun to do, and we took a lot of pictures. I was a dad in that situation."
-- As a bonus, the class is complete during the early signing period, which allows Heath and his staff to focus their recruiting attention this spring on 2014 and even 2015 recruits. In past years, Heath has typically been scrambling to fill out his class in the spring, leaving the Bulls behind on future classes as a result.
"I think that shows where the program is going to now, where we're in more of a position where kids are excited and very attracted to our school right away," said Heath, who has two juniors on his current roster, giving him two scholarships to use in the class of 2014.