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Ticket sales on rise for USF men's basketball

The 2012-13 season opener is still more than four months away for USF men's basketball, but the Bulls, riding the buzz of their NCAA Tournament run and a newly renovated Sun Dome, have already sold more season tickets than in any of the last three seasons.

The Bulls won't even make season tickets available to the public until Wednesday, but the early returns from existing ticketholders and boosters is promising, with 1,155 season tickets sold as of Friday, already 19 percent higher than the final count for last season (968), when the Bulls played their home games off-campus, primarily at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. They're also ahead of the 2010-11 final count in the Sun Dome, when there were 1,139 sold.

"It's impressive, the amount of people that want to buy tickets -- that lower bowl is almost completely gone, especially the middle section. We only have the end zone and the upper level," coach Stan Heath said Friday. "I'm ecstatic about the way the Sun Dome has turned out." …

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Ex-Buc Hovan promoted to assistant strength coach

Former Bucs defensive tackle Chris Hovan, who spent the past year working with USF football as an intern on the strength and conditioning staff, has been hired as a full-time assistant strength and conditioning coach.

Hovan, 34, spent 11 seasons in the NFL from 2000-10, including starting 79 of 80 games while with the Bucs from 2005-09. He spent the 2010 season on injured reserve with the Rams, then started working with the Bulls, first as a volunteer coach. He was a first-round pick of the Vikings in 2000 after earning All-America honors at Boston College and finished his NFL career with 22 sacks.

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Former ECU walk-on, 24, loses battle with cancer

USF coach Skip Holtz and many coaches on his staff are only two and a half years removed from their East Carolina days, so Friday's news that former Pirates walk-on Spencer Hampton had lost his battle with cancer at just 24 years old is something that hits home for USF football.

Holtz had been actively involved in efforts to help Hampton's fight, contributing to a fundraiser this spring that raised $54,000. You can read more about Hampton and his impact on his friends and teammates here, and you can listen to Holtz talk about Hampton in this radio interview. Holtz and his staff sent videos as part of the event this spring.

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Bulls get commitment from 2013 point guard

Lots more coming on this in the morning, but USF men's basketball coach Stan Heath picked up a big commitment for his 2013-14 class Thursday night when Major Canady, a 6-foot-3 guard from Kiski School in Saltsburg, Pa., announced he'll play for the Bulls.

I've talked to Canady and his high school coach, Daryn Freedman, and the Bulls beat out a solid group of suitors, including Virginia Tech, Tennessee, Duquesne and Stanford. Canady was born in Georgia and lived in Wilson, N.C., before his father, a pastor, took a new position in the Pittsburgh area. Smart kid, and respected enough he is a prefect at his boarding school, just missing being the lead prefect for the school.

USF didn't start recruiting him until March, just as their postseason run was starting, and Canady was really impressed with a campus visit and the way the entire coaching staff interacted with his family. His primary recruiter was assistant Steve Roccaforte, who actually coached with Freedman at Memphis under John Calipari. …

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USF extends Raymond James lease through 2016

USF football has extended its lease with the Tampa Sports Authority to use Raymond James Stadium for home games through the 2016 season.

The Bulls exercised a five-year option that was part of the lease agreement signed in 2007, which expired after the 2011 season. As part of the agreement, USF paid the Tampa Sports Authority $145,000 per game last fall -- more than $1 million in total for its seven home games -- along with a surcharge of up to $2.50 per ticket sold.

The per-game rate increased by $10,000 each year from a start of $105,000 in 2007; as part of the agreement, the rate during the five-year option is to be negotiated "based on the Authority's actual direct costs of operating the stadium." Additional fees must be paid by USF if the stadium's upper level is used -- as it now is with most home games -- or if the game "exceeds the normal time for a USF Game."

USF's average attendance has risen considerably since the agreement was signed five years ago -- the Bulls averaged 30,222 fans in the 2006 season, and have averaged 47,820 over the five seasons since, including 44,550 for the 2011 season. …

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Tough Big East draw for USF men's basketball

The Big East unveiled its "mirror" opponents that men's basketball teams will face both home and away during the 2012-13 season, and it's a doozy for USF, with Louisville, Connecticut, Villanova and Marquette all playing the Bulls twice.

That daunting challenge is what USF gets for tying for fourth in the Big East standings -- the Bulls could easily be a better team this upcoming season and have difficulty matching their 12-6 conference record from the 2011-12 season.

The tough mirror opponents give the Bulls an impressive home schedule for the Sun Dome in conference play: Connecticut, DePaul, Georgetown, Louisville, Marquette, Notre Dame, Providence, Syracuse and Villanova.

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Holtz says playoff format is 'exciting' for all

I'm catching up on things I should have posted yesterday -- and plugging today's live chat at noon -- but USF football coach Skip Holtz met with the media on Wednesday to talk about college football's newly approved four-team playoff. Here's some of what he had to say:

-- "I think it's going to open up an opportunity for a lot of different teams around the country. I think it's exciting. I think there's still a lot of details to be ironed out, but everybody's excited about having the opportunity to be one of the top four teams in the country as selected by a committee, the opportunity to play in this. It'll be exciting, emotional. There will be a lot of enthusiasm and passion around it. I think it will be great for college football." …

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Today at noon: Chat with Greg

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Robinson repeat: USF gets 9th commitment from OT

USF has picked up its second 2013 commitment from Tampa Robinson in as many days, as offensive tackle Connor Rafferty jumped at his first college offer, committing to the hometown Bulls on Tuesday, one day after future Bulls defensive tackle Bruce Hector did the same.

Here's the full story from the Times' Joey Knight. USF is now up to nine commitments, including six in the past week.

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USF names Miss. St. assistant as men's tennis coach

USF has found its new men's tennis coach in Matt Hill, who spent the last five years as a top assistant at Mississippi State, helping the Bulldogs to a final ranking of No. 12 nationally this spring.

Hill, a 2005 Ferris State graduate, takes over for Don Barr, who announced his retirement after 20 years as head coach earlier this month. Hill, originally from Holt, Mich., is a former SEC Assistant of the Year.

"This is a great day for the USF men's tennis program," athletic director Doug Woolard said in a statement. "We had the opportunity to meet with several of the top head and assistant coaches around the country, and Matt Hill continued to stand out. He's universally regarded as one of, if not the top national and international recruiters in the country by his peers, which is matched by his ability to teach and relate with today's top tennis players."

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Football notes: Two more walk-ons for USF o-line

The 105-player roster that USF coach Skip Holtz takes to Vero Beach in August is still being finalized, but we can confirm two more walk-ons that will be part of the 2012 Bulls team: center Hunter Clark of Miami Norland and guard Kyle Van Atta of Fort Walton Beach.

Both come with solid off-field credentials -- Clark, 6-foot-3 and 275 pounds, was named the Miami Herald's 2011-12 All-Dade Boys' Scholar-Athlete after earning a 5.0 weighted grade-point average while anchoring the offensive line of a state championship team. And Van Atta, 6-4 and 285 pounds, was a leader for Fort Walton Beach's offensive line, bouncing back after a health scare last summer involving a seizure. He was part of Northwest Florida's Dandy Dozen recruits entering his senior year. …

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Junior college LB to join brother at USF

With USF's Summer B semester starting Monday, we can confirm two new walk-ons joining the Bulls for the 2012 football season: Ronald Pierre, a junior college linebacker from Orlando, and Jackson Cannon, a tight end from Land O'Lakes.

Pierre is the older brother of USF running back Michael Pierre -- the two played together last season at Golden West College in California, with Ronald, a 6-foot-1, 235-pound sophomore, finishing third on the team with 43 tackles, including a sack and forced fumble. Pierre, 23, said he had scholarship offers from I-A schools like East Carolina, New Mexico State and San Jose State, but chose to walk on at USF to stay in his home state and continue playing with his brother Michael.

"I didn't want to leave Florida," said Pierre, who will join the Bulls in preseason camp and start classes with the fall semester. "I want to play for the best, and USF was the only BCS school that offered me a chance to play." …

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Robinson DT Hector is Bulls' 8th commitment

USF's SuperBull recruiting weekend has spawned a fourth commitment for 2013, as Robinson two-way standout Bruce Hector told the Times' Joey Knight that he committed to the Bulls on Monday, just two days after picking up an offer from his hometown school.

Here's the full story on Hector's commitment -- he joins running back JoJo Kemp and cornerbacks Darius Whitty and Johnny Ward as the Bulls' latest commitments, doubling their season total in the past 48 hours. USF is ahead of the curve in offering Hector, whose best previous scholarship offers were from MAC schools Akron, Bowling Green and Ball State. USF now has eight players pledged for the Class of 2013.

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Junior college lefty commits to USF baseball

With top starters Andrew Barbosa and Derrick Stultz now playing in the Arizona Diamondbacks system, USF baseball coach Lelo Prado has found another arm for his 2013 staff in junior college standout Nolan Thomas, a 6-foot lefthander from Tallahassee Community College.

Thomas, who visited USF last weekend, went 7-2 with a 2.83 ERA, pitching for the first time since his junior year in high school. He struck out 61 batters in 70 innings while walking only 26. He also hit .352 for TCC with four home runs and 27 RBIs, but coach Mike McLeod said his future is likely on the mound.

"He's got a great arm, with an upper-80s fastball and a power breaking ball at 80-81," McLeod said. "Nolan was outstanding in the first 50 innings of the year, and I think (USF coach Chuck Hernandez) will be a huge difference for him."

Thomas originally signed with Mississippi State out of high school, but wound up at Meridian Community College, where he spent one year as a hitter before transferring to TCC. McLeod said he came in as a hitter, but asked about pitching and emerged as the team's ace, with a 1.72 ERA in his first nine starts of the season. …

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Two tall cornerbacks commit to Bulls for 2013

A strong recruiting day for USF football started with the commitment of DeLand running back JoJo Kemp, and it continued Saturday evening with news that two tall cornerbacks -- Jacksonville First Coast's Darius Whitty and Moultrie (Ga.) Colquitt County's Johnny Ward -- also committed during the SuperBull recruiting event, helping the Bulls address two key positions and build some summer momentum.

Whitty and Ward were told that USF only intends to take three cornerbacks in its 2013 class, which would leave one spot available for Wharton standout Vernon Hargreaves III. It's a key position for USF's next recruiting class, with starter Kayvon Webster a senior this fall and a new generation of potential starters moving in with young players like Kenneth Durden and Chris Bivins. …

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