TAMPA — Martino Brock has picked up many roles in his first season playing for USF basketball: defensive stopper, starting shooting guard, backup point guard when necessary.
Less obviously, coach Stan Heath takes a certain pride in claiming he's the funniest player in college basketball.
"It's a special talent. He keeps you loose," Heath said of the 6-5 junior from Memphis who transferred to USF last year from South Alabama. "He controls the room. The locker room, the restaurant, it's a show. But he'll say things to players to make them think: 'Why would you take that shot?' It's frank, but it's in a funny way."
From teammate impersonations to random comments, Brock can bring humor to the most tense of situations. Last week, point guard Anthony Collins lay in a hospital bed, unsure of his future after leaving a game on a stretcher with a neck injury. Tests showed that his injuries weren't severe, but he was already feeling better just from laughing with one of his closest friends in the room.
"Other people get mad. He never gets mad. He's always joking," Collins said. "If I'm ever mad, I just go around him, and I can't even be mad anymore."
A sense of humor isn't often seen as a basketball skill, but Brock watched from the bench while sitting out last season during USF's NCAA Tournament run, and he said the key to that success was the team's chemistry and camaraderie. "Last year, they came together and understood each other's roles," he said. "Around this time of year, we just have to stick together."
Brock had a solid two seasons at South Alabama, averaging 12.8 points, and when he sought a fresh start, a mutual friend called Heath, who sought out film, wondering how his talents would translate at the Big East level. He saw him against Louisville as a sophomore, going for 24 points in a Jaguars loss, and brought him in for a visit.
"That piqued my interest quite a bit. That's what sold me," Heath said. "And when he came up here, he really connected well with our team, and I noticed how hard he played."
That charisma has helped the Bulls beyond the court. Brock was instrumental in his own way in Heath landing a six-member recruiting class for next season that ranks as his best since coming to Tampa.
"He's phenomenal on recruiting visits," Heath said. "You're out at a meal, and he keeps things so lively. Kids leave, and they say, 'Man, I want to hang with him. I want to be his friend.' He's fun to be around. He's the go-to host. He's the best we've got."
Brock is also the guard Heath turns to when he needs an opponent's top scorer held in check, taking over the role that senior Hugh Robertson thrived in last year. Defense is the easiest currency to stay on the floor under Heath, and it has worked for Brock.
"I pride myself a lot on defense, especially when Coach Heath tells me he wants me to stop somebody or give somebody a hard time on defense," said Brock, who said Cincinnati's Sean Kilpatrick is the Big East player he's most looking forward to guarding this season.
And even when handling the ball, he limits his turnovers: He has committed only nine, which works out to one every 34.7 minutes of court time, best among the Bulls regulars. In a triple-overtime win against Bowling Green, he played 52 minutes without a turnover, scoring 18, and he played 35 in last week's win at Central Florida without a turnover.
Collins sums up Brock by saying, "It's hard to find people nowadays that will play hard all the time," and Heath said that's most evident in the energy he spends staying on a player defensively.
"The one thing you know about Tino is you're going to have to work," Heath said. "He's going to chase you off screens, he's going to make it hard for you to get shots. He's going to give a 100 percent effort defending those kinds of guys. Martino does a great job against some really top-notch scorers."