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Immokalee's Bayes is Bulls' first 2014 commitment

Any commitment more than a year before a recruit's potential signing should be taken with a grain of salt, but Willie Taggart has picked up USF's first commitment for 2014, as Jimmy Bayes, a versatile prospect from Immokalee, accepted a scholarship offer on Wednesday.

A year ago, USF's first commitments for 2013 came from Immokalee's Tshumbi Johnson and Xavier Richardson, and neither will end up signing with the Bulls. But Bayes said Thursday that he's firm in his commitment and excited about playing for the Bulls.

"They're right around the corner, two hours from where I live at. What more could I ask?" said Bayes, who has developed a quick bond with Bulls linebackers coach Ray Woodie and Taggart. "It's a firm commitment. I'm excited."

Where will Bayes line up for the Bulls? That remains to be seen. At 6-foot-3 and 190 pounds, he's played primarily as a defensive end and receiver/tight end at Immokalee, but said his scholarship offer was officially as an outside linebacker, with the possibility of a look as a safety. …

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Longtime USF supporter Wittcoff dies at age 79

Richard "Dick" Wittcoff, whose family's love and support of USF basketball dated back to the 1970s, died early Thursday after battling cancer. He was 79.

Mr. Wittcoff and his wife Roslyn, who rarely missed a Bulls basketball game at home or on the road, were the first USF boosters to endow a basketball scholarship in 1982, adding a second in their name in 1991. Mr. Wittcoff died as a result of an adverse reaction to cancer treatments, his daughter-in-law, Jessica Wittcoff, said Thursday.

"They bled green and gold. They were Bulls," she said of Dick and Roslyn, who was affectionately known as the "first lady of USF basketball" and died in 2004.

Mr. Wittcoff was still attending USF home basketball games as recently as two weeks ago, missing only Saturday's loss to Notre Dame. His son Ken, who died in 2009, was a USF graduate who served on the USF Athletic Association's Board of Directors and also has a memorial scholarship in his name in conjunction with USF's athletic department. …

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Report: USF close to home-and-home with Old Dominion

Chances are this isn't the exciting future football scheduling news you'd been hoping for: USF is close to finalizing a home-and-home series with Old Dominion, which will move up to I-A in 2014 and host the Bulls that year in Norfolk, the Virginian-Pilot reported.

ODU, which is set to join Conference USA in 2014, would play USF in Tampa in 2016. The Bulls have two other nonconference games scheduled for 2014, with home games against I-AA Western Carolina and N.C. State.

The Bulls aren't that far removed from their humble beginnings, and it's not the first time USF has given a home-and-home to a I-A fledgling. The Bulls played at Western Kentucky in 2009 during the Hilltoppers' first season in I-A football, getting a 35-13 win in Bowling Green as part of a two-game series. ODU's athletic director, Wood Selig, was at WKU during that series.

ODU went 11-2 in I-AA this season, losing in the second round of the playoffs to Georgia Southern. The school has signed two other multi-game contracts with I-A programs, with a home-and-home with Idaho and a 2-for-1 with Virginia Tech, the Virginian-Pilot reported.

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Upset slips away as USF women fall to No. 12 Cards

TAMPA -- Up nine points on No. 12 Louisville with 12 minutes to play, USF's women's basketball hit a major scoring drought -- four points in the next 11 minutes -- and a furious comeback in the final 35 seconds fell short as the Cardinals escaped with a 78-75 victory Wednesday in the Sun Dome.

Down 74-68 with 35 seconds left, the Bulls nearly pulled off the comeback -- Andrea Smith got a basket, and Andrell Smith banked in a 3-pointer with 19 seconds left to cut the lead to one. Twice the Bulls had a chance to tie with a three -- USF settled for a two from Akila McDonald with 7.5 seconds left, and after two Louisville free throws, Andrell Smith's 3-pointer at the buzzer missed.

"That's definitely a tough, heartbreaking loss," said coach Jose Fernandez, whose team nearly beat No. 2 Notre Dame, losing in overtime, and lost in the final second at Villanova. "It's tough going into that locker room. ... I thought this game was going to come down to who's going to value the ball, who's going to make the most out of possessions. We lost that turnover battle." …

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USF's Gilchrist signs with NBDL's Iowa Energy

Former USF basketball player Gus Gilchrist has signed with the Iowa Energy of the NBDL, giving the forward a potential path to a contract in the NBA.

Gilchrist, listed at 6-foot-10 and 240 pounds, helped the Bulls to their first NCAA Tournament appearance in 20 years last spring, with the first two NCAA wins in Bulls history as well. The Bulls have sorely missed a strong inside presence this season as they have struggled to a 1-7 start in Big East play, a year after going 12-6 in the conference.

The Iowa Energy is affiliated with four NBA teams -- New Orleans, Chicago, Denver and Washington -- and Gilchrist could see his first action on Friday night as the Energy play host to the Springfield Armor. The Energy has some familiar Big East names on roster, like Syracuse's Paul Harris, Georgetown's Chris Wright and Louisville's Terrence Jennings.

He's not the only USF player in the D-League this season -- Ron Anderson is playing for the Tulsa 66ers, averaging 4.2 points and 3.6 rebounds off the bench; Solomon Bozeman is averaging 8.3 points and 2.5 assists for the Texas Legends; and Jarrid Famous is getting 9.8 points and 6.9 rebounds for the L.A. D-Fenders.

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Eriksen thinks softball can improve on CWS success

TAMPA -- USF softball coach Ken Eriksen was a confident guy before his team made it to the College World Series in Oklahoma City last summer, so with that dominant pitching staff back this spring, he has very high expectations for 2013.

How high? The Bulls were picked by league coaches as the Big East's preseason champs, and are ranked as high as No. 10 in national preseason polls, and yet USF still enters the season motivated to show it's better than expected.

"I think we still have a chip on our shoulder. We hear that aspect of people saying 'They overachieved last year.' 'You got lucky' is what they're saying. That comes from ignorance and fear, actually, and not enough respect," Eriksen said before practice Tuesday. "One of our administrators came running down the hall and said 'You're ranked 12th!' I was like ... I can understand that situation. We lost five seniors. When they stop talking about you, that's when you've got trouble." …

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USF softball picked as Big East preseason champs

It's little surprise, given the Bulls' trip to the College World Series in Oklahoma City last summer and the dominant pitching staff back this spring, but USF was picked Monday as the preseason pick of league coaches to win the Big East.

USF picked up seven of 13 first-place votes, finishing just ahead of Notre Dame. Third-place Louisville -- which went 55-5 last year and 20-2 in conference -- earned four first-place votes but finished a single vote-point behind the Fighting Irish, with DePaul as the fourth team to earn a first-place vote.

Ken Eriksen lost some key bats from last year's 50-12 squad, which had a 1.22 staff ERA, led by ace Sara Nevins, who went 31-6 and led the Big East with a 1.03 ERA. Lindsey Richardson was third in the conference with a 1.34, and Sam Greiner was sixth with a 1.58; Eriksen adds freshman phenom Erica Nunn to that deep staff this spring.

We'll have much more on softball later Tuesday ...

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Marquette loss drops Bulls to .500, 1-7 in Big East

USF's Big East struggles continued Monday night with a 63-50 loss at Marquette, one that has the Bulls back at 10-10 overall and alone in last place in the conference standings. Here's the full story from Tuesday's Times.

The Bulls kept close in the first half, but a rough shooting night by USF's key players -- Anthony Collins went 0-for-8 from the field, Jawanza Poland 1-for-8 and even freshman Zach LeDay went 2-for-10. Freshman guard JaVontae Hawkins continued his strong play of late with a career-best 14 points on 6-for-9 shooting.

Defensively, USF could not contain Marquette's Vander Blue, who went off for 30 points on 13-for-20 shooting. The Bulls held the Golden Eagles to 2-for-15 shooting on 3-pointers, but Marquette did well enough with layups and inside shots to shoot 55 percent as a team -- the third straight Bulls opponent to hit 52 percent or better.

USF has a short break before playing Sunday at Connecticut, then returning home to face Marquette again next Wednesday.

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Immokalee DT Senat latest to commit to Bulls

USF's late recruiting surge continued Monday night as the Bulls picked up a commitment from Immokalee defensive tackle Deadrin Senat, a four-star recruit who was once committed to Florida State.

Senat, who visited N.C. State this weekend and was also considering South Carolina, is USF's second four-star defensive tackle for 2013, joining Bradenton Manatee's Derrick Calloway. He has been looking at the Bulls since last summer, when teammates Tshumbi Johnson and Xavier Richardson were USF's first commitments for the class.

Senat's commitment comes one night after the Bulls were told by Jesuit's Robby Garcia that he was backing out of a commitment and will play elsewhere after USF coaches had told him to keep his options open. He's the third four-star in Willie Taggart's quickly rising first recruiting class, joining Calloway and Miami cornerback Lamar Robbins.

Rivals rates Senat at the No. 46 overall recruit in Florida for this class -- Calloway is No. 43 in the same rankings, and Robbins is No. 54; offensive tackle Joe Fennell is 59. The Bulls are also in contention for receiver Stacy Coley (#15), running back JoJo Kemp (#64) and tight end Travis Johnson (#74), among others.

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Ex-USF receiver Durant, 31, killed in Gainesville

Reshod Durant, whose brief career as a USF football player was cut short by off-field problems, died Saturday night in Gainesville as a result an altercation for which another man is now facing second-degree murder charges.

Durant, 31, was pronounced dead at Shands Hospital on Saturday night after suffering head injuries, which police said were from both a blow to the head and then striking the pavement. Eddie McCallum, 33, turned himself into police Sunday night and will face charges stemming from Durant's death.

Durant, a standout at Gainesville's Eastside High School, caught a touchdown pass from Marquel Blackwell at the end of his first USF football game, a loss at San Diego State to open the 1999 season. He caught only two more passes that season, then was dismissed from the team in the first month of the 2000 season due to what was announced as a violation of team and university rules. …

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Friday: Chat with Greg Auman, noon

Want to talk about USF football coach Willie Taggart's progress putting together his first recruiting class with the Bulls? The men's or women's basketball teams? Something else? Whatever's on your mind, join Times beat reporter Greg Auman for a live chat Friday, Feb. 1, starting at noon. Can't make it? Leave a question in the "Comments'' area below, then check back afterward to replay the chat.

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Jesuit DT Garcia no longer USF commitment

Another Tampa football standout who had committed to USF under Skip Holtz and was told to open up his options has decided to play elsewhere, as Jesuit defensive tackle Robby Garcia said Sunday he has told USF's coaches he "decommitted."

"When they said keep my options open, if they had never said that, I would have never left. I was a solid commit," he said. "When I go out and get to see Iowa and Annapolis, I know I can do this, I can be on my own. It opened my eyes. Maybe I need to get out and grow up a little bit, experience something new. ... I'm just going to cut it off with them."

Garcia took an official visit to Iowa State this weekend, and said he enjoyed the experience there enough to feel confident about playing college football out of state. He is hoping to pick up an offer this week from Boston College (which has former USF assistant Todd Fitch), and will decide from there whether to make his final official visit to Boston College or Air Force. Navy, he said, is another option. …

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Miami coup: Four-star corner Robbins chooses Bulls

USF has picked up one of the most decorated members of its incoming recruiting class, as Lamar Robbins, a 6-foot-3, 200-pound cornerback from Miami Southridge rated as a four-star recruit by 247sports and Rivals, committed to the Bulls on Sunday morning.

Consider the other four schools Robbins took official visits to: Oklahoma, Louisville, West Virginia and Purdue. Southridge coach Lamont Green said USF assistant Larry Scott did well in recruiting Robbins, who likes the style of play USF will have under new coach Willie Taggart.

"I think the key was being a little bit closer to home, and when Coach Taggart came in, he was a little more comfortable with that staff than the previous staff. Coach Scott did a good job recruiting him."

Cornerback is a huge position in USF's recruiting priorities, with both senior starters graduating from 2012 and very little experience in the returning options for 2013. Robbins and Kissimmee Osceola Stafon McCray continued a strong final push in USF's recruiting efforts -- they're the eighth and ninth commitments in the past eight days, solidifying the Bulls as a top-50 national class and perhaps the best in the new Big East. …

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Kissimmee RB McCray commits to play for Bulls

A key recruiting weekend for USF football has its first commitment, as Stafon McCray, a running back from Kissimmee Osceola, said he committed to the Bulls on Sunday during his official campus visit.

McCray has good size at 6 feet, 208 pounds, and has put up impressive numbers in the last two years at Osceola -- more than 1,700 yards and 25 touchdowns this season on a team that went 13-1 and reached the state semifinals, and 1,500 yards and 20 touchdowns as a junior. He's a teammate and close friend of another USF commitment, defensive back Hassan Childs.

McCray had been looking at schools like Marshall and Utah State (which finished the year ranked), but Osceola coach Doug Nichols said USF and Louisville both made late pushes, and USF got McCray, thanks to solid recruiting by Ron Cooper and Stu Holt. Nichols said McCray is already academically qualified as well.

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Spark from Flint: Hawkins embraces starting role

To preview Saturday's USF men's basketball home game against Notre Dame, weintroduce freshman JaVontae Hawkins, the guard from Michigan who has jumped into the Bulls' starting lineup. He's scored 33 points in his last four games -- as many as Toarlyn Fitzpatrick and one less than Victor Rudd -- and you'll hear from none other than his god-brother and mentor, former Michigan State star Mateen Cleaves.

"The sky's the limit for JaVontae, with his size, his athleticism, his God-given ability," Cleaves said. "The thing I really love about him is his work ethic."

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