TAMPA — Jose Fernandez has raved about the talent level on USF's women's basketball roster, and Friday's opener against Jacksonville offers the first chance to see a lineup loaded with newcomers, such as high-scoring junior G Andrea Smith and 6-foot-4 freshman C Akila McDonald.
"This group has been very fun to coach; they've brought a lot of energy, a lot of intensity, a lot of commitment," Fernandez said Tuesday. "I'm looking forward to Friday to get things kicked off."
Smith, the national junior college player of the year, should give the Bulls the elite scorer they haven't had since Shantia Grace (2005-09) and Jessica Dickson (2003-07). McDonald starts a new era in the post after three seasons with Jessica Lawson entrenched there.
"She's still a freshman, she's going to make mistakes, but for a 6-4 kid and her physique, we've been very impressed," he said.
Fernandez could have three or four players making their first starts. Smith's twin, Andrell, might start on the wing, and he joked Tuesday that the two — who wear mirror jersey numbers in Nos. 21 (Andrea) and 12 — could create problems for game officials.
Fernandez should have his best depth ever, especially once PG Sasha Bernard, who has to sit out this semester because of NCAA transfer rules, joins the team next month. The Bulls will play their first two games without senior F Porche Grant, who has a suspension for an NCAA issue from before last season.
RECRUITING: Since USF joined the Big East, few Bulls coaches have gone into the Northeast and landed elite players the way softball coach Ken Eriksen has.
He'll get two more standouts today in pitcher Samantha Greiner of Sparta, N.J., and D'anna "Dee" Devine, a speedy outfielder and leadoff hitter from Fairless Hill, Pa. Both were teammates on the Newton Rock Gold travel team.
Eriksen, who will start his 15th season as head coach in February, signed one of their teammates last year in current freshman C Brittany Garvey, and it's the same travel program as former USF P Courtney Mosch. Three years ago, Eriksen landed another top pitcher from New Jersey in junior Capri Catalano.
THIS AND THAT: Today opens the fall signing period for basketball, baseball, softball and more. Stan Heath will sign two huge post players in 6-11 Andre Jackson and 7-3 Jordan Omogbehin, and Fernandez is expected to sign three, including Boca Ciega G Tamara Taylor. … USF started rolling out the sod on its new football practice fields Tuesday, and construction continues all over the Bulls athletic district — there's a "U" logo on the side of the third-base stands on the new baseball stadium. … Kickoff for next week's football home game against Pittsburgh has been set for noon, with national broadcast on ESPN2.
Greg Auman can be reached at [email protected] and (813) 226-3346. Check out his blog at tampabay.com/blogs/bulls and follow him at Twitter.com/gregauman.