TAMPA — To USF sophomore forward Toarlyn Fitzpatrick, there are dunks.
And then there are Jawanza Poland dunks.
Poland, the dynamic sophomore guard, has wowed crowds and energized teammates with highlight-reel moments throughout his first season with the Bulls. That included his "rock-the-cradle" reverse slam against DePaul last month that made ESPN's Top 10 plays.
With Poland's in-air flair, it's no surprise the tattoo across his shoulders reads, "airwanze."
"When Jawanza dunks, it's a different experience," Fitzpatrick said. "Because of how high he gets off the ground and he doesn't care if there's traffic down there or not, he goes to the rim regardless of who's down there. He has no conscience when it comes to getting in the lane and finishing above the rim."
Poland flew relatively under the radar early in his basketball career. But after not getting many looks out of Wichita East High, he turned into one of the best junior college shooting guards in the country. And though Poland sat out last season due to transfer rules, he has become the Bulls' top scorer of late.
"I don't think there's any question he's got a tremendous upside," USF coach Stan Heath said. "We get him to work, work, work, and I think he can be a premier player in the (Big East)."
• • •
Though Poland is soft-spoken and a bit shy, he has always been confident he could make an impact at the Division I level.
An all-around athlete in high school, Poland played football and competed in long and high jump. But he admitted he wasn't as polished in basketball then, and he didn't get offers from Kansas or Kansas State.
Poland splashed on the scene after a big freshman season at nearby Cowley College, ranking as the third-best junior college shooting guard in the nation.
"When I first got there, I was on a mission, because I wasn't recruited by nobody coming out of high school," Poland said. "So I was on a mission to show everybody that I could play. I had a chip on my shoulder."
But first, Poland had to sit. He joined several teammates in leaving for Hutchinson CC last season, following coach Steve Eck. Having to redshirt, Poland got to practice with the scout team but couldn't play in games.
"I learned that when you don't have (basketball)," Poland said, "you miss it more."
USF assistant Jeremy Cox, who first watched Poland at a junior college showcase in the summer of 2009, stuck with him.
"The first thing is, obviously, he's such a monster athlete," Cox said. "There's not many guys with his physique that are that athletic."
Though Poland had his pick of several quality programs, such as Oklahoma, Missouri and Cincinnati, it was USF that was on him first and gave him his first offer. He appreciated the Bulls' loyalty, so he returned the favor.
All Poland has done since is average 10.6 points, hitting double figures six times in his past eight games, including a career-high 20 on Feb. 2.
Said Fitzpatrick: "I think he's the MVP of the new faces that we have."
• • •
Cox believes Poland can be an All-Big East player by the time he's a senior, but there's still plenty of room to grow.
Heath said he has been hard on Poland in practice, and the 6-foot-4 guard admittedly has to work on being more consistent with his intensity throughout each workout and game.
"He's got a good shot, I think he can get better," Heath said. "He's got decent ballhandling skills, get that better, and decent passing skills, get that better. If he gets all those things better, the skills to go along with his athleticism, you've got something pretty special right there."
As for his dunking skills, those are still developing, too. Poland, who has a 42-inch vertical leap, said he'll think before a game about what he wants to do. But the DePaul dunk was inspired.
"Some of my teammates had been getting on me about how I was doing the same dunks," Poland said. "So I had to switch it up."
COACHING TALK: With Wyoming firing basketball coach Heath Schroyer on Monday, USF assistant Jeremy Cox has surfaced as one of the early candidates the school may focus on during its national search. Wyoming assistant Fred Langley has taken over as interim coach for the remainder of the season, and Cox said Tuesday he hadn't been contacted yet, but "there's no question" he would be interested.
Cox started his coaching career at Wyoming as a graduate assistant in 1991-92, and his wife, Cindy, went to school there.
"I'm from the Rocky Mountains, my wife graduated from Wyoming, I can tell you probably everything there is to know about the history of Wyoming basketball," Cox said. "It's a special place for me and my family. But at the same time, I hope whoever is there gets that thing really rolling like I remember it happening."
Joe Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.