TAMPA — Like the couple of thousand others who convene at the Sun Dome on game days, USF athletic director Mark Harlan sees the ridiculously long row of guys in gray warmups on the Bulls' bench, either ineligible or incapacitated.
He sees the Bulls' schedule, ranked second-toughest in the American Athletic Conference by noted analyst Jerry Palm. He sees walk-ons being thrust into the rotation out of necessity, logging more minutes in a game than they dreamed they'd get in a season. Mostly, Harlan sees the big picture.
Which is to say, he gets it. "It's a team that, when I witness it, has really shown a lot of character," he said.
But Harlan also gets this: Division I men's basketball is a performance-based industry, and success in the win column can't be put off forever.
Hence the reason he's counting on significant improvement in Year 3 of the Orlando Antigua era in 2016-17.
"I think it is reasonable to expect that because that's my expectations," Harlan said in a phone interview.
"We know that the recruiting class that's coming in is very solid. … So we could see a full complement of scholarship athletes next year in the third year of a program where, by that time, the head coach and his staff and the elements that he's trying to put in are firmly now in place."
Antigua, in the second year of a five-year contract that pays $900,000 annually (with $25,000 annual built-in escalators), is 15-44. After he replaced Stan Heath in March 2014, seven players left the program, some in a mutual decision with the coaching staff.
As a result, USF fielded the youngest team in Division I (three players with D-I experience) last season and went 9-23.
This season, no team in the conference has dealt with more roster holes than the Bulls (6-21, 3-11 AAC), who host Memphis today.
Two players (guards Roddy Peters, Troy Holston) are sidelined for the year with injuries, while two others (guard Geno Thorpe, post player Isaiah Manderson) are transfers being forced to sit out per NCAA guidelines. Additionally, heralded freshman Tulio Da Silva is an academic nonqualifer who can only practice for now.
"I'm just puzzled sometimes like, 'Man, is there any other obstacle that we're gonna have to face?' " redshirt sophomore Bo Zeigler said.
Toss in the recent suspension of veteran power forward Chris Perry, who logged his first game action in nearly a month in Tuesday's 69-52 win at East Carolina, and the Bulls entered recent games with as few as six scholarship players. Yet they've won three of their past five road games.
"They're fighting the way we want to fight, and that's encouraging for us," Antigua said.
"When you go on the road in this conference with six scholarship players and are able to win two (in a row) like we did a few weeks ago, I mean, that really speaks to effort and focus and really listening to your coaches and doing the right things," Harlan said. "So from that perspective, I've been happy to see the fight.
"But certainly the record is something that we all know needs to get a lot better going forward."
Harlan's statements Tuesday seemed to echo those he expressed after the Bulls football team's home shutout loss to UCF in 2014, ending a 4-8 season. At that point, Harlan indicated USF is "too special to not have a team in a bowl game."
Similarly, he believes men's basketball, considering USF's wealth of resources, is too special to regularly miss postseason play.
"I think I would add to that to say that the facilities surrounding our basketball program are profound; not only arguably the best in our conference but best in the country," said Harlan, who oversaw UCLA men's basketball as a Bruins senior associate AD before coming to Tampa.
"Extraordinary practice facility, extraordinary university, extraordinary city. All those things lead me to believe we can have an extremely successful basketball program, and not (just for a) season. We're looking for a program, and that's really the goal Orlando and I have continued to talk about."
Contact Joey Knight at [email protected]. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.