Friday, December 15, 2017
Sports

Victor Rudd steers USF Bulls basketball team

TAMPA — His legacy will be defined primarily by dunks, the type for which God created SportsCenter. The video montage of Victor Rudd's college career will be mesmerizing, even if the win-loss total isn't.

Oh sure, there was the indelible March of 2012, when Rudd helped USF reach a previously uncharted stratosphere, but the stay was fleeting. The Bulls haven't sniffed the NCAA Tournament since.

Yet in these past two seasons, even as hope descended, fans could count on Rudd elevating.

Who can forget his posterizing of Rutgers' Junior Etou this year (No. 1 on SportsCenter's Top 10) or last year's alley-oop dunk in the grill of Syracuse junior Baye-Moussa Keita (Rudd's personal favorite).

In the end, going into his home finale today against Temple, perhaps that's the 6-foot-9 Los Angeles native's most endearing contribution: He gave people a reason to keep coming to the Sun Dome.

"He should be remembered as a guy who could score, who had great highlights, who helped us win in his first year," Bulls coach Stan Heath said.

"I really think if we were 100 percent healthy, we could've remembered him a little bit differently this year, too."

Based on his performance over the past month, Rudd is bent on going out in a blaze, even if the Bulls (12-18, 3-14 American Athletic Conference) don't.

The team's leader in scoring (16.0 points per game), rebounding (6.8) and minutes (33.6), Rudd has averaged 22.6 points and 7.8 boards in the Bulls' past five games — all losses. Had the 2012 Bulls gone into a similar late funk, who knows if Rudd would've kept playing so valiantly.

Back then, he possessed far more hops than maturity.

"He has grown up and I'm very proud of the growth," Heath said.

"He's relentless," said classmate Martino Brock, the only other Bulls senior. "I know it's been a stressful year for me and him, but he continues to play every night, he continues to bring it every night, he continues to be our leader every night."

Rewind two winters, and Rudd mostly eschewed leadership, prudent ball distribution or even the classroom.

"Early on in his career," junior point guard Anthony Collins said, "it just seemed like he just wanted to shoot a lot of 3s."

On a veteran club that came within seven points of the Sweet 16, the Arizona State transfer's 144 3-point attempts were 42 more than any other player.

Even Rudd acknowledges his shot discretion — or lack thereof — occasionally got him in trouble. Heath likens it to the prototypical son-dad dynamic. At times, the coach struggled to co-exist with him.

Rudd's team couldn't exist without him.

"The games down the stretch where we were right on the bubble going down to the wire, I felt Anthony Collins and Victor Rudd took their game to another level," Heath said.

Since that surreal season Rudd, who turns 23 on March 18, has experienced 24 total victories. But even as the success rate has stagnated, his maturity has mostly blossomed.

"The Vic from two years ago would be mad at the Vic right now for not scoring 30 points (a night)," said Rudd, nonetheless 14 points shy of reaching USF's career top 10 in scoring.

"It's good, because I've got to learn to (distribute) anyway for now and the next level that I want to play at, so I'm happy about it."

In May, he graduates with a general studies degree. Additionally, no less an NBA authority than Rick Pitino insists Rudd can play at the next level if he can develop his left hand and go to the basket more consistently.

To be sure, the occasional spats with Heath — who sat him for the entire second half of the Jan. 26 loss at Memphis — still surface, but no one disputes he steers the Bulls' ship on the floor these days.

Rudd has evolved into the rudder.

"He still has some things he's going to improve and get better at," Heath said. "But where he started and where he was, and kind of our moments back and forth, our head-butting and all those different things, we definitely put our arms around each other right now."

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