TAMPA — Chris Howard and Sam Young won two state championships together in high school, and it's a rare day that the USF point guard doesn't trade phone calls or motivational text messages with Pittsburgh's athletic forward.
"That's my best friend, like a brother to me," Howard said. "We talk every day, communicate maybe four or five times a day."
Young is the leading scorer on the No. 1 team in college basketball, and Howard is trying to guide USF into what would be the biggest upset in school history. The two probably won't trade calls today, but will talk back and forth, up and down the court, the length of the game, pushing each other's buttons.
"He's turned into a terrific player," said Howard, who led Friendly High in Fort Washington, Md., to state titles in 2003 and 2004. "In the summer, we work out a lot, push each other. He's turned himself into a player who has a chance to play at the next level, a very exciting player."
When Howard and Young were seniors at Friendly, USF F Gus Gilchrist was a freshman. He remembers the work ethic Young showed in high school.
"Sam was the hardest worker I've ever seen," said Gilchrist, who saw Young at open gyms when he was at Maryland last summer. "Sam motivated me when I was younger, seeing a senior win back-to-back championships. Their hard work was instilled in me."
MOVING UP: USF has picked up five football commitments since Saturday, including area DEs Ryne Giddins (Armwood) and Julius Forte (Boca Ciega) and RB Lindsey Lamar (Hillsborough). The push boosted USF as high as No. 24 in the national recruiting rankings.
ESPN.com has USF No. 24, second in the Big East behind Rutgers. Scout.com (30th) and Rivals.com (39) have the Bulls with the conference's No. 3 class.
Coach Jim Leavitt called the current class "smoking," preparing for another big weekend of official visits. Those recruiting rankings don't account for one of USF's biggest newcomers, former FSU T Daron Rose, who will arrive this fall and compete for the starting left tackle.
DRAFT DAY: USF should be well represented in Thursday's MLS draft, as seniors Yohance Marshall and Jordan Seabrook have been in St. Louis this week at the league's official combine workouts. Marshall, a defender, is projected as a first-round pick, and Seabrook, a speedy forward, could join him in the top 15. USF's last MLS first-rounder was St. Petersburg's Anthony Wallace in 2007.
GIVING BACK: Former USF basketball standout Jessica Dickson, the Bulls' all-time leading scorer, is establishing a nonprofit organization called "Jess 4 Kids" to help at-risk children in her hometown of Ocala with tutoring and coaching. Fans can reach the Jessica Dickson Foundation at Devereux Kids, 1629 NW Fourth St., Suite 102, Ocala, FL 34475.
Greg Auman can be reached at email@example.com and at (813) 226-3346. Check out his blog at blogs.tampabay.com/usf.