Sunday, February 25, 2018
Sports

Fennelly: Welcome to Tampa, Brian Gregory: Make USF basketball interesting (w/ video)

TAMPA — Congratulate me.

I'm pretty sure Wednesday was the fifth new USF men's basketball coach news conference I have attended.

Seth Greenberg, Robert McCullum, Stan Heath, Orlando Antigua and now Brian Gregory.

The boxed set.

Shouldn't I get a prize?

A set of steak knives?

A winning program?

Brian Gregory was introduced Wednesday at the Sun Dome. Like the men before him, he said the right things. He said them quite well, in fact. He comes from the Tom Izzo coaching tree, as good a tree as there is.

Welcome to USF's hollow log.

Enough of that.

Here's the chance for USF to start over and build it right.

You've got a guy with some coaching chops dropped in the middle of a city that doesn't care.

Well, make it care.

There's no good reason why USF, properly coached, properly stocked with recruits, including local recruits, shouldn't be able to make the NCAA Tournament every three or four years.

"There's no reason," Gregory said. "We've got a road to attack in order to get there, but we play in a league that can give us that opportunity. There's a talent base that's able to put us in the position. Is there a belief among the staff and head coach? There is now. There is now."

The optics right now are horrible. USF went 7-23 this season. In four years in the American Athletic Conference, the Bulls are an astonishing 11-61 — four years in and 50 games under .500.

"I'm not all that interested in why things haven't worked out in the past," Gregory said. "I know that if we do things according to our game plan that we are going to be successful. I know there have been glimpses of success (here), but maybe not sustainability. That's what I'm looking to do."

It's going to require patience. Next year will be bad. If it's anything more than bad, if Gregory produces receptivity first shot out of the box, name the Sun Dome court after him.

USF has been to the NCAA Tournament three times in the program's 46 years. The last time was 2012 under Heath. What is amazing is just how few times the Bulls have even been on the NCAA bubble. It has been a recurring blister.

It doesn't have to be this way.

And here is the perfect vacuum.

There are no expectations.

USF can become a laboratory. Gregory and his staff aren't trying to crack the riddle of the double helix. For starters, try beating Tulane and East Carolina twice a season.

And what are fans going to do if you lose, not come to games?

They already don't come to games.

USF men's basketball is a moonscape.

But it's a blank canvas, too.

Stick with the plan. No shortcuts. No quick fixes. That's what Antigua was about, slapping together players from everywhere, no rhyme, no reason, no team in any way.

And recruit the area. Try and own it.

"Our footprint of our university has been underutilized in the recruiting process," Gregory said. "That must and will change. It has to. You have to be the first one in the gym and the last one out."

I'd consider hiring local coaching talent such as former USF player and assistant and current Wharton High coach Tommy Tonelli or Tampa Prep coach Joe Fenlon. I'd be all over the locals. Go and meet Tampa Catholic star Kevin Knox, who is bound for a powerhouse school. Go meet him anyway.

Get out there and stay there, in high school gyms and living rooms, and maybe two, three years down the road, it pays off, when another star local stays home. Refuse to let anyone reject USF out of hand.

Oh, and work this city. Once upon a time, before all the losing and the Lightning arrived, USF basketball was a viable entertainment choice on Saturday night. Time to reconnect. Open up practices. Let senior citizens in. Let kids in. Practice all over town. Do whatever it takes. Make USF basketball something to talk about.

Before I forget: Where are my steak knives?

 
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