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Coach Mark Kingston formally leaves USF for South Carolina baseball

Mark Kingston will earn $475,000 annually in base salary at South Carolina over six years, up from $140,000 he was receiving at USF.

CHRIS URSO | Times

Mark Kingston will earn $475,000 annually in base salary at South Carolina over six years, up from $140,000 he was receiving at USF.

Mark Kingston, who guided USF's baseball program back to prominence in three seasons as coach, formally accepted the same position at South Carolina on Friday.

Kingston, 47, replaces Chad Holbrook, who resigned earlier this month after the Gamecocks missed the NCAA tournament for the second time in three seasons. Kingston will earn $475,000 annually in base salary at South Carolina over six years, up from $140,000 he was receiving at USF. He can make up to $600,000 per year with incentives.

South Carolina will also pay his $150,000 buyout to USF.

"I had a tough conference call with my players at USF this morning," Kingston said during his introductory press conference Friday. "It was not easy. When you go through that stuff together, it was not easy telling those guys goodbye."

Widely known as a top-level recruiter, Kingston was instrumental in ​rebuilding USF, guiding it to an NCAA Regional appearance for the second time in three years last season​. Before Kingston's arrival from Illinois State in June 2014 to replace Lelo Prado, USF had not earned a postseason berth since 2002.

"Kingston was an awesome coach -- a coach that always had your back and knows a lot about the game," said former USF shortstop Kevin Merrell, who was selected No. 33 overall by the Athletics in the MLB draft on June 12.

"He was huge in my development over the three years I was (at USF). I definitely wouldn't be where I am today without his guidance and knowledge of the game."

Kingston said it is still "to be determined" whether he will bring his staff from USF to South Carolina. Among the top candidates to replace Kingston is current USF pitching coach Billy Mohl, who oversaw a staff that finished with a program-record 620 strikeouts in 2017.

"I have a great staff there," Kingston said. "They're so good that one of them is being considered to be promoted as the head coach at USF. So we need a little time for that to play out. Once that happens, I'll be able to start putting this staff together."

Kingston concludes his tenure at USF with a 100-78-1 record. The Bulls ​finished 42-19 last season, earning road victories at ranked Florida State and Florida to reach the 40-win mark for the first time in 21 years.

"We thank Mark for his tremendous leadership of our baseball program over the past three seasons," USF athletic director Mark Harlan said in a statement.

"A pair of NCAA tournament appearances and four Bulls selected in the 2017 MLB draft speak to the strength of our baseball program and the caliber of our student-athletes. We wish Mark and his family the very best."

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USF's Mark Kingston​ to be named coach at South Carolina

Mark Kingston led USF to its second NCAA Regional appearance in three years last season

CHRIS URSO | Times

Mark Kingston led USF to its second NCAA Regional appearance in three years last season

USF baseball coach Mark Kingston is leaving the program after three seasons to accept the same position at South Carolina, according to multiple reports​ ​Thursday.

A USF spokesman told the Tampa Bay Times ​that Kingston ​​had not informed the school of a​ decision by​ ​Thursday afternoon.

Kingston replaces Chad Holbrook, who resigned earlier this month after six seasons. The Gamecocks finished 35-25 last season, fifth in the SEC East.

The deal​ --​ first reported by Dan Lucas of WFLA Ch. 8 and d1baseball.com's Kendall Rogers​ -- ​could be finalized as early as Friday when South Carolina's board of trustees meet​ ​to discuss proposed athletic department contracts, including for a new baseball coach, according to The (Columbia, S.C.) State newspaper.

The contract will likely include a significant raise from ​Kingston's $140,000 annual salary at USF. Holbrook earned $400,000 per season​ at South Carolina.​ …

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USF hoops to play at Indiana in November

The USF men's basketball team is set to get an early test from a Big Ten powerhouse in non-conference play next season.

The Bulls will travel to face Indiana at Assembly Hall on Nov. 19 as part of the 2017 Hoosier Tip-Off Classic, the school announced Wednesday. It will be the first time the two programs have met.

The five-team tournament is slated to include Arkansas State, Eastern Michigan and Howard -- all of which will meet USF at the Sun Dome on dates to-be-announced in late November.

"We are happy to be a part of the Hoosier Tip-Off Classic," first-year coach Brian Gregory said in a statement.

"This will be a great road challenge I know our guys will embrace. We are also looking forward to hosting some of the Tip-Off Classic games at the Sun Dome and building a strong home environment here in Tampa."

USF, which saw seven players depart from a squad that went 7-23 last season, is expected to release the remainder of its non-conference schedule next week.

 

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SI ranks Quinton Flowers on top 100, above Deondre Francois

Sports Illustrated's ongoing countdown of the top 100 players in college football includes some high praise for USF quarterback Quinton Flowers.

Flowers came in at No. 53 on the list. That's ahead of other notable quarterbacks like Ohio State's J.T. Barrett and Alabama's Jalen Hurts.

SI writes: "The senior could lead the Bulls to a New Year's Six Bowl berth (and, with some luck, an undefeated record) while making a run at an invitation to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony."

What do you think, USF fans? Is this about right? Too high? Too low?

Also on the list today is Miami receiver Ahmmon Richards, who came in at No. 56. Other notables previously announced include Clemson receiver Deon Cain (Tampa Bay Tech) and Florida State quarterback Deondre Francois. 

Check out SI's full countdown here.

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Okeechobee speedster Jajuan Cherry commits to USF

Bulls coach Charlie Strong was just starting on his salad at Thursday night's annual Sneaker Soiree in east Tampa when Okeechobee CB Jajuan Cherry announced via Twitter he was committing to USF.

A three-star prospect according to 247Sports, Cherry becomes the Bulls' third non-binding commitment from the Class of 2018.

"I chose USF because of Coach Strong," Cherry said in a text message to the Tampa Bay Times. "He is amazing."

Here's some hudl footage of Cherry (5-foot-9, 165 pounds), who does a bit of everything -- including running a pretty nifty jet sweep -- for Okeechobee. He also reportedly had offers from Purdue, Georgia Tech and Western Michigan, among others.

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Charlie Strong: USF needs indoor facility, outdoor fan support

New USF football coach Charlie Strong (center) appeared Wednesday evening at the "Summer Stampede" booster function at Ulele restaurant.

Photo provided by USF

New USF football coach Charlie Strong (center) appeared Wednesday evening at the "Summer Stampede" booster function at Ulele restaurant.

Standing on a makeshift stage beneath a white tent on a soupy summer evening, new Bulls football coach Charlie Strong made it clear to new boss Mark Harlan and roughly 150 boosters he covets an indoor practice facility.

Not to mention one major appliance.

"Next year Mark, we've got to get us an air conditioner," Strong quipped.

Morale seemed as high as the humidity Wednesday night on the back lawn of Ulele restaurant as Strong, Harlan and new men's basketball coach Brian Gregory spoke to the gathering at the "Summer Stampede."

For now, it's the only booster stop slated for the coaches, who trumpeted their respective programs and -- in Strong's case -- passionately lobbied for fan support.

Here are some highlights from the evening.

Need 1: Outdoor fan base
Like predecessor Willie Taggart, Strong hasn't been shy about trying to ignite a constituency with a spotty recent attendance record. …

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Will Houston represent USF's biggest headache? We say no

UCF sophomore quarterback McKenzie Milton gets another crack at USF on Nov. 24 in Orlando.

CHARLIE KAIJO | Times

UCF sophomore quarterback McKenzie Milton gets another crack at USF on Nov. 24 in Orlando.

These days, those of us who cover college football wrack our respective cerebrums to keep fans engaged. We attend camps, follow recruiting, and react to the litany of preseason rankings that waft through cyberspace. 

We also compile lists, tons of 'em. Some are compelling, others pure clickbait. The good ones elicit debate.

On Wednesday, we found just such a list, courtesy of ESPN. And yes, we're debating it.

This one attempted to identify the "biggest opposing headache" for each top-25 team (or at least the teams listed in Mark Schlabach's post-spring top 25). FSU's headache? The talented pass rushers its reconfigured offensive line will face. Florida's was LSU TB Derrius Guice (who had a pedestrian 83 yards on 19 carries in the Tigers' dramatic home loss to UF last season).

And USF's? Houston DE Ed Oliver, a freshman All-American last season whose team comes to Raymond James Stadium on Nov. 4.

To be sure, Oliver's a force, not to mention future pro. His 23 tackles for loss ranked second nationally in 2016, and his team projects to be pretty darn good.

But as headaches go, we don't predict the Bulls' biggest one to hail from Houston. We can see UCF potentially providing a migraine-caliber challenge to the Bulls on Black Friday.

Follow us here: By the time USF travels to Orlando, we expect the Bulls to have clinched the American Athletic Conference's East Division and still be in contention for the New Year's bowl berth awarded to the Group of Five's highest-ranked conference champ.

That puts the Knights -- whom we expect to be far improved in '17 -- in prime position to spoil the Bulls' postseason aspirations. Moreover, Knights sophomore QB McKenzie Milton will be far more seasoned once this game arrives. So will a defense that must rebuild at linebacker and the secondary.

Now toss in this additional dash of incentive: UCF's coaches likely are still seething over last year's game, when they took issue with a late TD tacked on by Willie Taggart in the Bulls' 48-31 romp.

It all makes for a scenario that could give USF fits.

If not a headache.  

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USF football rookies arrive on campus

Another sign of the 2017 football season's imminence arrived Tuesday at USF -- mostly in boxes.

All 19 members of Charlie Strong's inaugural signing class were expected on campus Tuesday, the rookies' formal move-in day. As of 4 p.m., the staff was waiting on a couple of late arrivals, but all were expected on campus.

The university's Summer B session of classes begins Monday.

Meantime, the Bulls veterans have long since been engaging in pre-dawn summer workouts, which include one exercise straight from Mr. Miyagi's dojo. Check out these clips of DT Deadrin Senat and DT Bruce Hector from defensive tackles coach Sean Cronin's Twitter feed.

We'll be sure and ask Strong about this at his "Summer Stampede" booster event Wednesday night at Ulele in Tampa.

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Former USF star Courtney Williams finds her WNBA groove

Former USF standout Courtney Williams has served as the offensive catalyst for the WNBA's Connecticut Sun during its four-game win streak.

Photo provided by the Connecticut Sun

Former USF standout Courtney Williams has served as the offensive catalyst for the WNBA's Connecticut Sun during its four-game win streak.

Brimming with her trademark confidence in the wake of a sparkling preseason, Courtney Williams informed her Connecticut Sun coaches she had a goal for the 2017 WNBA season.

Befitting the Williams swagger, it was hardly modest: win the league's Sixth Woman of the Year award.

"At that time I thought it was a very realistic goal," Sun coach Curt Miller said, "because of what an offensive spark plug she can be off the bench."

But as Williams has learned, circumstances change and roles are modified over the course of a professional season. As a result, the No. 2 scorer in USF history is slipping out of contention for that sixth woman of the year honor.

Because lately, she's playing like the sixth-best woman in the whole darn league.

Thrust into the Sun starting lineup when veteran G Alex Bentley took a hiatus (to play for Belarus in the EuroBasket Tournament), Williams (12.7 ppg, 4.9 rpg) has responded by producing stats -- and sleekness -- reminiscent of her dazzling collegiate career.

In her last four games (three of them starts), Williams has averaged 19 points and seven rebounds, propelling herself into all-star consideration.

The Sun (5-5) has won all four.

"The one thing is, she's so confident offensively that she can go score and get her shot against anyone," said Miller, whose team plays Friday against the New York Liberty.

"We're a transition-based team, so she really thrives in the up-tempo transition game too. But in the halfcourt you can really put her on the move -- just like South Florida did -- and run her off a bunch of screens. She's really, really hard to run around with, and then obviously she's got that ultimate confident swagger about her that makes her special."

The surge stands in stark contrast to the funk in which she found herself last year. Drafted by a veteran team (Phoenix Mercury) for whom she never seemed a good fit, Williams languished on the bench (playing 25 total minutes over six games) before being traded to the Sun on June 25.

In Connecticut, she found her niche in providing a spark off the bench, averaging 8.1 points and 3.6 boards in 19 games. Following an offseason in the Turkish League, she took first-team reps in the Sun's training camp while Bentley nursed an ankle injury, and flourished.

"You could see coming out of training camp, she had great confidence," Miller said.

It hasn't dissipated in her new role. Williams is generating all-star discussion, with the Sun launching a campaign on her behalf. (Fans can click her to learn how to vote for her.)

"Certainly these last four games, she should be in the discussion," Miller said.

"And our team is playing really, really well. Despite being 5-5 we have three two-point losses, and another game that we lost that was tied with under three minutes to go. It's hard not to think about the what-ifs...but this young group is starting to learn how to win close games and starting to learn who to play through in those types of situations."

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USF a consensus preseason top-25 pick...so far

USF linebacker Auggie Sanchez (43) and the Bulls appear in the top 25 of all prominent preseason rankings released so far.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

USF linebacker Auggie Sanchez (43) and the Bulls appear in the top 25 of all prominent preseason rankings released so far.

If the preseason ended today, USF would be a consensus top-25 squad.

Alas, a bit more forecasting and prognosticating looms (it's only mid-June), but so far the Bulls appear in every prominent summer top 25. Here they are, broken down by publication:

Lindy's: 17th

Athlon: 24th

Street & Smith's: 23rd

Phil Steele: 18th

The Sporting News: 22nd

We're still awaiting the preseason rankings from ESPN and Sports Illustrated (not to mention the Associated Press), but aren't expecting any shockers. The Bulls were 19th in the post-spring rankings compiled by ESPN's Mark Schlabach, and SI.com had the Bulls 25th in its way-too-early top 25 released in January.

And of course, USF finished 19th in last season's final AP poll.

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Mets draft USF's Joe Cavallaro in 24th round

Junior RHP Joe Cavallaro became the third current Bull to see his name go off the big-league draft board when the Mets took him Wednesday in the 24th round.

Arguably USF's most effective reliever down the stretch, Cavallaro was among five right-handed pitcher with a USF connection to be drafted. Senior Ryan Valdes -- an Alonso High alumnus -- also was drafted Wednesday (Pirates, 33rd round).

A 6-foot-4 converted starter, Cavallaro -- the 727th overall pick -- posted a career-best 2.28 ERA in 30 appearances, all out of the bullpen. He finished 5-3 with five saves, striking out 77 in 59.1 innings.

USF Draftees
Round; Player; Club; Overall pick

CBA (A): SS Kevin Merrell, A's (33)
7: RHP Jackson Tetreault, Nationals (223)*
10: RHP Phoenix Sanders, Rays (289)
15: RHP Tommy Romero, Mariners (453)*
24: RHP Joe Cavallaro, Mets (727)
33: RHP Ryan Valdes, Pirates (988)
*-USF signee

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Rays select USF pitcher Phoenix Sanders in 10th round

USF senior right-hander Phoenix Sanders was drafted by the Rays in the 10th round Tuesday.

Photo by Travis Pendergrass | USF

USF senior right-hander Phoenix Sanders was drafted by the Rays in the 10th round Tuesday.

His anxiety level increased with each passing round of the big-league draft Tuesday, though Phoenix Sanders really needn't have stressed.

He was soaking in good USF karma all along.

The Bulls' Friday night starter the last two seasons, Sanders was at the Niceville home of former USF C Scott Hemond -- highest-drafted player in program history -- when he got the call that the Rays had taken him in the 10th round (with the 289th overall pick).

Sanders' girlfriend, Haleigh, is the daughter of Hemond, taken by the A's with the 14th overall pick in 1986. The A's, in fact, were the first team to phone Sanders on Tuesday.

He'll gladly take the Rays, known for their affinity for guys with crafty sliders.

"They sent me a questionnaire and I met with them once," Sanders said. "And it wasn't until about the eighth round rolled around, their area scout gave me a call and was like, 'Hey, what's your signability? Are you good to sign for this dollar amount?' I was like, 'Yeah, I'm ready to go.'

"I hadn't heard anything from them, and (USF assistant) Chris Cates had called me and said, 'Hey, a couple of teams are gonna look at you in the 10th round.' And then I looked up and the Rays selected me. It was a feeling of relief."

Sanders, who turned 22 last week, was the second pitcher with USF ties to be drafted Tuesday; signee Jackson Tetreault -- a former Lennard High standout -- was drafted by the Nationals in the seventh round.

Though his approximate pick value is $136,000 (according to MLB.com), Sanders indicated he'll likely sign for a bit less.

"I think they did the whole senior-saver kind of thing," he said. …

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The top 5 draftees in USF baseball history

USF shortstop Kevin Merrell was selected by the Oakland A's with the 33rd overall pick Monday night in the Major League Baseball Draft.

CHRIS URSO | Times

USF shortstop Kevin Merrell was selected by the Oakland A's with the 33rd overall pick Monday night in the Major League Baseball Draft.

Candidly, we didn't expect Bulls junior SS Kevin Merrell to go off the Major League Baseball Draft board so quickly Monday night, and neither did he.

"I'm pretty speechless right now," Merrell said by phone from his Odessa home, roughly 30 minutes after the Oakland A's drafted him with the 33rd overall pick in a sandwich (i.e. Competitive Balance) round immediately after Round 1. "So thankful."

Officially, Merrell is the third-highest draftee in Bulls history. And since we know you're wondering (because we certainly were), here are the top five:

1. C Scott Hemond, A's, 1986, first round (14th overall)
2. SS Jason Dellaero, White Sox, 1997, first round (15th overall)
3. SS Kevin Merrell, A's, 2017, Competitive Balance Round A (33rd overall)
4. SS Brett King, Giants, 1993, second round (72nd overall)
5. LHP Mark Hubbard, Yankees, 1991, third round (89th overall)

Naturally, Merrell oozed as much modesty as shock in the immediate wake of his selection. He said he's slated to meet with A's representatives Thursday, when he conceivably could sign his contract and get his minor league assignment.

"I guess it's time like this you just think about all the people that have just made an impact, have invested so much time in my life," Merrell said. "It's been an awesome journey, and I guess the next step's with A's, so I'm excited."

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USF's Shane McClanahan named freshman All-American

USF left-hander Shane McClanahan struck out 104 batters in 76 innings this past season.

Photo by Travis Pendegrass | USF

USF left-hander Shane McClanahan struck out 104 batters in 76 innings this past season.

Bulls LHP Shane McClanahan, a likely big-league draftee this time next year, has been named a first-team freshman All-American by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association (NCBWA).

A power pitcher who redshirted the 2016 season while recovering from Tommy John surgery, McClanahan finished 4-2 with a 3.20 ERA as USF's Saturday night starter. Brandishing a fastball that can reach the upper 90s, McClanahan struck out 104 batters in 76 innings. His 12.32 strikeouts per nine innings ranked eighth nationally.

He's the first Bull to be recognized as a freshman All-American since Kevin Merrell (2015), who was expected to be drafted as early as Monday night.

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Draft wait likely short for USF's Kevin Merrell

USF shortstop Kevin Merrell (right) is expected to become the first Bulls player taken in the first five rounds of the Major League Baseball Draft since 2006.

CHRIS URSO | Times

USF shortstop Kevin Merrell (right) is expected to become the first Bulls player taken in the first five rounds of the Major League Baseball Draft since 2006.

Last week's encouraging news for Bulls baseball fans (Coach Mark Kingston appears set to stick around) now seems destined to be offset by some a little tougher to absorb.

SS Kevin Merrell almost certainly has played his last game for USF. RHP Joe Cavallaro -- a fellow junior -- conceivably also could depart. There's even a modest chance OF Duke Stunkel Jr., who wielded USF's hottest bat in the postseason, may exit too. …

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