TAMPA — A 17-day USF coaching search that periodically regressed into a circus has ended at the feet of a 40-year-old who once performed beneath basketball's ultimate big top.
As a Harlem Globetrotter.
Kentucky assistant Orlando Antigua, widely considered the behind-the-scenes catalyst of the Wildcats' astounding run of recent recruiting success, will be formally introduced as the Bulls' ninth men's basketball coach today at a 3 p.m. news conference.
A Dominican Republic native reared in blighted circumstances in the Bronx, Antigua replaces Stan Heath, dismissed March 14 after compiling a 97-130 record in seven seasons. Antigua becomes the first Bulls men's basketball hire without previous college head coaching experience in nearly 40 years.
"I don't know him exceptionally well, but what I know about him, he has great work ethic, personality, he's got excellent training under (John) Calipari," ESPN analyst Dick Vitale said from his Tropicana Field seat at the Rays' season opener.
"He's a tough kid from New York City, a lot of toughness."
Terms of Antigua's contract weren't immediately available, but ESPN reported he signed a five-year deal. He'll remain with the Wildcats through their Final Four run.
"I said from the beginning of this search, we were looking for a great leader, a great communicator, a proven record of being able to recruit and develop players, and someone who will represent USF with exceptional energy and integrity," new USF athletic director Mark Harlan said in a statement released by the school.
"We have found all of that and more in Orlando Antigua."
A 6-foot-7 rangy sharpshooter at Pitt in the early 1990s, Antigua has spent the past five seasons on Calipari's staff at UK following a year with Calipari at Memphis.
"I have been preparing for the challenge of leading a program my entire life and I have a deep belief and passion that USF basketball can thrive and is ideally positioned in a community as rich and diverse as the Tampa Bay area," Antigua said in the news release.
A bilingual married father of two, Antigua became the first Latin-American to play for the Globetrotters— who dubbed him "Hurricane" — when he joined the iconic team after college.
That's hardly the most unique part of his backstory.
The oldest of three brothers reared by a single mom in the Bronx, Antigua has been credited with helping keep his family intact during a stretch of homelessness, when it slept for a time in a convent across from its school.
As a high school sophomore, he was shot in the head near his left eye as a bystander on a Bronx street. Doctors left the slug in, determining it too risky to remove, and Antigua was playing basketball weeks later. In 1994, the U.S. Basketball Writers Association gave him its most courageous athlete honor.
As a coach, he spent five years at his alma mater before joining Calipari at Memphis in 2008. While at UK, he has helped Calipari land five consecutive signing classes ranked No. 1 by at least one major scouting service or news organization.
The current 'Cats team is the first to reach the Final Four with an all-freshman starting lineup since Michigan's Fab Five of 1992. Six members of the 2012 team were taken in that year's NBA draft.
"My guess is they will do things that have never been done before at South Florida," Calipari said via Twitter.
His arrival caps a bizarre — and botched, some may argue — search for Heath's replacement. USF confirmed it reached an agreement in principle with Manhattan's Steve Masiello early last week but broke things off when the search firm discovered inaccuracies on Masiello's resume. ESPN reported Masiello had signed a five-year, $6.06 million deal.
On Friday, UNLV coach Dave Rice reportedly was offered the job after meeting in Tampa with Harlan. Rice reached an agreement on a contract extension with UNLV the following day.
Times staff writer Joe Smith contributed to this report.