A week's worth of news in one night
I'm sitting in front of a computer at maybe 4 p.m. Monday, making the mistake of telling a colleague it's been a slow news day. Wham. In the span of an hour, three big stories, with the men's basketball opener thrown in on top of everything else.
First, I have no inside answers on what Thed Watson and Jackie Chambers did to get booted off USF's football team, just five days before a huge game at Louisville. Both were in Leavitt's graces enough to play Saturday, and two days later, they're gone. My theory, just on speculation: both had endured enough problems that I could easily see Jim Leavitt giving them the caveat that their next mistake would be their last one. Whatever they did, it pushed them out the door.
I don't think it's any kind of criminal activity -- no record of any arrests in the state, or anything to report from UPD. Just to illustrate a history of previous problems, my story in Tuesday's paper includes a paragraph or two about an odd incident this summer. According to police reports, Thed Watson comes out of the athletic facility, sees his car is being towed and gets into an argument with the guy towing his car, even tries to drive his car off while it's chained to the truck. University police were ready to file a misdemeanor charge of culpable negligence, but the driver signed a waiver saying he wouldn't press charges. Turns out Watson had $900 in unpaid parking tickets. Nine hundred! That and academic problems that nearly had him redshirting this season are what I know. I talked to Watson on the field after the game -- he'd suffered a mild concussion, but said he'd be back for the Louisville game. Jackie Chambers, too, had an altercation on campus in early summer that sent another man to the hospital, but the state attorney's office declined to press charges. Chambers is a good kid who's had a truly hellish year, losing an aunt and a grandmother who practically raised him herself, then the suspension, then a broken hand, and now this. Amarri Jackson told me two weeks ago how Chambers sticking it out was one of the best stories on this team, how he'd been through so much. I remember one day as practice was about to end, Chambers came over to the chain-link fence surrounding the field, grabbed the fence with both hands, and just shook it, thrashing against it for maybe 15 seconds. I'm not saying what Chambers has done is right, but he's been through more in the past year than most people handle in a decade. I genuinely hope this is a low point for him and things don't get worse from here.
A few posts down, we told you about two huge signings for Jose Fernandez. Jazmine Sepulveda is a point guard from Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. She's from Brooklyn, and I noticed her when she made an official visit the weekend of USF's exhibition game. I talked to Dan Olson from girlsbasketballreport.com, a women's hoops recruiting service, and he ranks Sepulveda as the No. 1 junior college point guard in the nation. He has Lonnie Terrell, the guard/forward from Inkster, Michigan, as the No. 9 small forward in this year's senior class. Two of the most decorated recruits in USF's history -- think Jessica Dickson, or Stephanie Sarosi-good in terms of recruiting accolades -- to help replenish Fernandez' backcourt next season.
Not entirely surprised, but sad to see Logan Fleck out as women's soccer coach. Much like baseball coach Eddie Cardieri, Fleck is as well-liked as anyone in that athletic facility. Quick with a joke, adored by his players, and knows his soccer. When I was doing a story on Bruce Arena, Fleck kidded that he had a winning record against Arena, but he wasn't kidding. And the day Lelo Prado was hired, Fleck told me that Juergen Klinsmann, the German national soccer coach, would be replacing Arena. Athletic director Doug Woolard let him finish out his contract, and women's soccer fell well short of what I thought would be a much improved season, but those high expectations came from Fleck landing some big-time recruits. I talked to him after the basketball game and he had nothing but love for USF -- said he had 17 great seasons, said he doesn't like USF, he loves it. Asked if he'll coach again, he said he's too young (at 46) to retire.
And it's outright disrespectful to piggyback Fleck's news on the tail end of a news release detailing Watson and Chambers' dismissal. The guy's coached at USF for 17 years, and he doesn't get his own firing announcement. And here's the only quote from Woolard: “We decided our women’s soccer program needed new direction. We are confident the position will draw interest from a deep pool of talented coaches and we look forward to finding the very best candidate possible. Our national search will begin immediately.”
Just cold! Not a token "we appreciate his contributions" or "we thank him for establishing the women's soccer program here." Just the same cut-and-paste "this will draw a lot of talented candidates" forward spin. Again, I understand the reasoning for a change, but I think they can send Fleck out a little gentler than they did. I, for one, wish him well. His successor will be talented and successful, but I doubt he'll challenge the girls to academic success by letting them throw cream pies in his face on an annual basis.
Strong, strong debut for men's hoops. With Amu Saaka out with a concussion, they had six scholarship players, plus walk-on Eddie Lovett, and that was it. Add to that depth insanity that McHugh Mattis got a silly, silly third foul just 10 minutes into the game, and it looked like Buffalo would just tire them out. Robert McCullum has talked about Melvin Buckley establishing himself as a go-to guy, and he certainly did that Monday, with a career-best 29 points.
Buck hitting threes isn't shocking. But Solomon Bozeman scoring 23? He wouldn't have even started had Saaka been healthy, but I think he's got the job now. Huge second half, scoring nine points in the first six minutes. Was fun to see how quickly the crowd embraced him, from the moment he got fouled on a 3-point attempt and calmly hit all three shots. His alley oop to McHugh Mattis punctuated the win, and McCullum talked about the confidence the 6-footer carries with him on the court. He was humble, thanking Buckley and Chris Capko for all the reinforcement they gave him during the game.
Capko, now on scholarship, showed his toughness last year, playing with a broken nose, so seeing him continue after going down twice with bad leg cramps was just him picking up where he left off. Had five turnovers, but also had eight assists, matching the most he's had in nearly a year.
The best thing about having press row right behind the benches is hearing the talk courtside. Chris Howard is constantly talking to the guards, telling Bozeman during a free throw to tell the team what defense they'll be in. Howard calls him "Solo" -- as opposed to Solomon Jones, who was always Sol -- and it's impressive to see how much guidance Howard can give when he's never actually played in a college game. Another strong sight: McCullum getting right up in Melvyn Richardson's face, shouting at him to "Take that shot." I thought Richardson stepped up well when Mattis was in foul trouble -- he had eight rebounds as the team's only true center. And Buffalo's big man, who had 20 points in a win against Canisius last week, was a non-factor, in bad foul trouble from the start. What Richardson needs is confidence, and you can see McCullum trying to bring that out in him. That said, he might be the worst free-throw shooter in all of college basketball. Makes Shaq look like Rick Barry.
Even Lovett had his moments, getting a steal and laying it in to the crowd's delight during a pullaway run in the second half. It's just Buffalo, yes, but those Bulls won 19 games last year, and they have 11 letterwinners back from that team. (USF, by comparison, has four back). Of USF's seven wins last season, you know how many came against teams that won 19 or more games? One. Georgetown, on the last day of their season. So this year's Bulls have done something in their first game that last year's didn't do until their very last. I wouldn't think of Monday night as anything more than getting some runners on in the top of the first inning, maybe getting a run on the board, but it's encouraging for McCullum. It's a start.
One last get-well note: It's never too early to start being a selfless, caring mom. USF cheerleading coach Liisa Soncrant, pregnant with she and husband Eric's first child, broke a pinky finger Monday night protecting her unborn child from a flying basketball player who came hurtling toward her during the men's game. Don't think of it as a splint; think of it as halfway to flashing the Bulls sign round the clock.
So these blog entries are supposed to be quick-hitting and short, right?