Q&A: Catching up with USF's Stan Heath
The start of USF basketball practice, amazingly, is less than a month away, and I was able to sit down Tuesday with men's coach Stan Heath, who will make the trip to his native Michigan for this weekend's USF football game at Michigan State. Heath, of course, was an assistant at Michigan State for the Spartans' national championship in 2000 and three straight Final Fours.
Q: You've been excited about the offseason progress for forward Zach LeDay, who has been busy in the weight room and should be able to build on a strong finish to his freshman season. How does he look?
A: He's a lot bigger, stronger. He came here about 215, and he's fluctuating between 245 and 250. He really learned from last season. He was a guy who wasn't afraid, didn't back down to anybody, but at the same time, he knew, 'Man, if I'm going to have to go up against these guys, I have to do something with my body.' He's part of this special crew that my strength coach, Graham Anderson, calls the Monster Crew. Those are the guys that do above and beyond what everybody else does in the weight room. He, JaVontae (Hawkins) and Big Jordan (Omogbehin) were the original guys, and now the new freshmen have joined in and joined that group.
Q: Somebody the other day was tweeting at like 2:45 in the morning the other night, showing a picture of the basket and taking shots. You have to like to see that commitment when you wake up in the morning.
A: Corey Allen. He's like a kid in a candy store here. You get these guys and they've never had the ability to have access to a gym. They just swipe a card and go in and they're in heaven.
Q: Chris Howard was a turn-the-lights-out guy back in the Sun Dome days, but this is something they can take advantage of whenever they want.
A: Chris was, Dominique Jones was. Zach and JaVontae both do that. AC (Anthony Collins) is an early-morning guy, always in here early. I love it. This is the most guys I've had on one team that are gymrats, that truly are in there above and beyond. Not just after practice, but finding time to work on their game and hone their skills.
Q: Men's teams shifted to the women's model, so you get to start practice much earlier, at the end of the month even.
A: The 30th is our first day of practice. We get started 40 days before our first game, Nov. 9. I think it's a great rule. I think what will happen will be that play will be a lot better. I know we were atrocious in some way, a lot of ways, offensively, but all of college basketball was suffering offensively .The scoring average as a whole was down. We weren't the only ones. We weren't good, I know that. I think it's a great thing for college basketball. We won't have to worry about two-a-days and guys getting hurt trying to do so much in a short amount of time.
Q: For you, it's almost ideal, trying to work in as many newcomers as you have.
A: I've got six new guys, some veterans back which is nice, but blending everyone together is so important. Right now, we can work with players in groups of four for two hours a week. On the 15th, we can bring them all in if we want to. We'll hit the ground running, but we'll be smart about it, too. We'll go two days, take a day off, go two days, take the weekend off. It's already a marathon season, and I want them excited about practice and getting better and working on things.
Q: Health-wise, OK?
A: We start our conditioning today, probably will get to boot camp later in the month, where we get in about 6 in the morning, throw in a little agility and conditioning and do some things without a basketball that can help us for the season.
Q: Is Dre Clayton OK, coming back from an Achilles injury?
A: He's the one guy -- he's OK, he's moving along, but he's not full go. He does everything with no contact. The doctors have technically cleared him, but he doesn't have full range of motion. I really want to get his weight down -- he's at 260, and I really want to get him to 250 before he starts working out with the guys, hopefully his playing weight becomes 240, 245.
Q: Of the newcomers, who have impressed you?
A: Almost by default, the big guys are the most important, the guys I feel we need to have. They impress me with their God-given talent, but they still have a ways to go. Talent alone gets them out on the floor and they're going to be productive. They both have a chance to be really special if they master some things big men are really good at. Right now, they're both foul-prone. They get out of position and they foul. That's totally normal. What helps speed that up -- I really wish Ron Anderson was on the team and they could learn from (him). For Josh (Heath) and my younger guys, they're good, but they learn things from watching AC. They speed up their process because they really see how hard he goes. It's building habits. They're very, very talented.
Q: When you think about John Egbunu and Chris Perry, could they see time on the floor together?
A: Yes. I think Perry has more versatility to play either position, center or forward. He has good feet, he has long arms -- he has a 7-foot-5 wingspan. It's ridiculous how long his arms are. He has great hands. He definitely has the ability to do both. I see a nice future with those two guys out on the court. Obviously we still have LeDay and Vic (Rudd). We have a good group of frontcourt players.
Q: There's always a curiosity among fans about Jordan Omogbehin. How's he doing?
A: Jordan was thrown in the fire last year. I never expected him to have to go out on the court, but we didn't have much of a choice. This was the year I thought he'd be out there in bits and pieces. He surprised me. This summer, he was at 340, but then he came back at 323, which is a lot better. He's more of a factor. I say 'Give me as much as you can so you can get up and down the court for about three minutes, then we'll rest you.' Small doses. If he can anchor in around the basket, just stand around there, he's a huge presence. He changes a lot of things inside. He is getting better offensively. No, he's not Shaquille. I see progress. It's still going to take time.
Q: I would think the 2-guard is probably the best competition you'll have. I know you can't have too many, it seems.
A: I learned that last year. We have a lot of different ways to go at that position. Tino (Brock) is probably the returning guy that played the most at that spot. Musa (Abdul-Aleem) is the guy who was recruited to be that guy, but never played because of his injuries. Those two guys are in the mix. Probably, right now, the most talented wing I have is Hawkins. He can play the 2 or the 3. I think he will be out there on the court, in either one of those spots. Then you have Corey Allen, where we can play smaller, quicker, faster, two ballhandlers and really be an aggressive team. I've got four guys battling for those spots.
Q: Freshman Bo Zeigler is probably behind those guys then?
A: Zeigler is behind those guys. He's very talented, but it's going to take time. Lots of experienced people in front of him. It's not a knock on him. He's very talented, it's the experience factor with the older guys.
Q: Hawkins had that run early in Big East play where he was nearly your top scorer over a stretch of games, and then he seemed to hit a wall.
A: He had a lot of adversity -- if you remember, from maybe Game 2 to Game 8 or 9, he was hurt, and we almost were going to redshirt him. That didn't work out. Then we just threw him in the fire. He never really had the preseason training, the learning the system, building your confidence. Once we threw him in the fire, we saw the talent. He was very productive. Then he hit a bit of a wall, and plus other teams made adjustments, scouted him, took away some of the things he was doing. I think he learned a lot. He had a good summer, spent some time (in Flint) with my old players, Mateen (Cleaves) and Morris (Peterson). He came back and said 'Man, those guys made me work on defense.' I never heard of a summer workout working on defense.
Q: As a coach, there probably isn't a better place you'd want him to spend a summer than with those guys.
A: That was awesome.
Q: There had been talk about Chucky Atkins joining your team as a student coach, student assistant, and I know that didn't work out as you had hoped.
A: I didn't quite work out, and I don't blame Chucky. He has his brother on his team (at Orlando Evans). He has a great team, chance to win a lot. He was fine with taking classes. His main issue was he's built a heck of a program and leaving those guys right now would be tough, which I understand.