Make us your home page

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Smaller, faster USF Bulls trying to return to NCAA Tournament

TAMPA -— Ask 6-foot-8 senior Toarlyn Fitzpatrick about the challenge of stepping inside as USF's starting center this season, about his team's limited number of post players, and he doesn't so much as blink, remembering being pressed into a big role as an undersized freshman and handling himself just fine.

"I had no idea what I was doing out there. I was thrown to the wolves," said Fitzpatrick, who started 22 games that year. "We've been there before. We've overcome adversity time and time again. I think we have a tough group, and we'll be able to overcome it. It's no big deal."

The big deal is that USF trying to return to the NCAA Tournament — say that again, just for emphasis — after going 12-6 in the Big East and winning 22 games, including two in its first trip to the NCAAs in 20 years. There's a buzz around Bulls basketball, combining last year's success with a return to the Sun Dome after a $35 million renovation, and Fitzpatrick can't wait to see how USF can handle the novelty of such high expectations.

"I've been on the good teams and bad teams. Coach (Stan Heath) is expecting a lot from me," the King graduate said. "I'm just excited to show more of a leadership role, to take the younger guys under my wing and show them what things to do and what not to do to help our team win."

Point guard Anthony Collins is ready to build on a strong freshman debut, and Fitzpatrick hopes to become the vocal front-line leader that Ron Anderson was last year, keying the stifling defense that set a Big East record for fewest points allowed. USF will have a smaller, faster lineup that should be much stronger on the offensive end, with new perimeter shooting threats like freshman JaVontae Hawkins and sophomore Musa Abdul-Aleem, as well as returning shooters like seniors Shaun Noriega and Jawanza Poland.

Fitzpatrick won't be alone inside: 6-foot-9 junior Victor Rudd, who emerged as the team's top scorer down the stretch last season, will see more time as a power forward, and Heath added a graduate transfer in Florida Atlantic's 6-8 Kore White, who will provide depth along with 6-7 freshman Zach LeDay and, in small bursts, 7-foot-3 redshirt freshman Jordan Omogbehin.

Heath will shift to an uptempo pace, using his team's speed and athleticism to offset the lack of size inside, but after grinding out low-scoring wins last season, he's looking forward to fielding a more offensive-minded team without forgetting its core defensive identity.

"It's the most different team I've ever coached," Heath said. "We don't necessarily have true low-post players. All of our guys with size like to gravitate to the outside. I'm not going to change a Toarlyn Fitzpatrick, who was my leading 3-point shooter, percentage-wise, last year. I'm going to let him shoot, and let the other team that has those 7-foot, 6-foot-10 guys chase him outside. We're going to open up that basket, be more of a driving team, more of a team that I think can shoot a lot better from the 3-point line."

USF will be hard-pressed to match that 12-6 Big East mark, with a schedule that has two games each with Louisville, Marquette, Connecticut and Villanova, but Heath has learned from last season and won't put a ceiling on his team's upside. This is a team proud of reaching the NCAA Tournament, but also one that knows how close it was to reaching its first Sweet 16 as well, and is motivated as a result.

"We want to challenge the very top of the league," Heath said. "That includes challenging for a championship, whether it's the regular season, the conference tournament or both. … We certainly have our eyes set on some lofty goals."




Smaller, faster USF Bulls trying to return to NCAA Tournament 11/05/12 [Last modified: Monday, November 5, 2012 9:05pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Bucs-Jaguars: Five things to watch Thursday in Jacksonville


    JACKSONVILLE — The Bucs have their second preseason game here Friday against the Jaguars, and here are five things to keep an eye on as Tampa Bay moves closer to paring its roster from 90 players to 53 by Sept. 3.


    Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (3) participates in training camp at One Buccaneer Place in Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017. LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times
  2. We knew Aguayo was a goner, and 'Hard Knocks' still delivers


    Tuesday night's second installment of Hard Knocks, the HBO show that is going behind the scenes at training camp with the Bucs, had plenty of interesting tidbits, revelations and insights.

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers kicker Roberto Aguayo (19) kicks during training camp at One Buccaneer Place in Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017. LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times
  3. For starters: Rays at Jays, looking for some carryover


    The six runs and 13 hits the Rays posted on Tuesday were a positive, but the true test if they are out of their historically bad hitting slump will come tonight and in the coming days as they try to build on their success.

    "Hopefully,'' manager Kevin Cash said after Tuesday's 6-4 win, "there is a …

    Daniel Robertson is expected to make a third straight start tonight, likely at shortstop.
  4. What you might have missed in the second episode of the Bucs on 'Hard Knocks'


    We're back for another episode of The Annotated Hard Knocks, trying to find behind-the-scenes insights and things you might have missed in Tuesday's second episode of "Hard Knocks," following the Bucs in …

    As the crowd recognized him and got loud, Jameis Winston jumped up and down in celebration. [GREG AUMAN | Times]
  5. Why Noah Spence could be the Bucs' X-factor


    JACKSONVILLE — Noah Spence crouched in a four-point stance, bending low like a sprinter in starting blocks. At the snap, he took one step to his right, startling Jaguars left tackle Josh Wells with his explosiveness. Wells went for the move and Spence countered with an inside swim move, flying past Wells' right …

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive end Noah Spence (57) participates in training camp at One Buccaneer Place in Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017. LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times