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Joey Knight, Times Staff Writer

Joey Knight

A fourth-generation Floridian, Joey Knight was born in Tampa and raised in Zephyrhills, where he still resides. He moved to the Times in July 2006 after 15 years at the Tampa Tribune, which included a seven-year stint (1997-2004) as University of Florida beat writer. He began covering the University of South Florida athletic department for the Times in 2013. A married father of three, he enjoys running, classic television and classic heavy-metal music.

Phone: (813) 310-6328

E-mail: jknight@tampabay.com

  1. Two USF basketball players home safe after being left at airport


    Two USF men's basketball players arrived home safe Friday afternoon after they were left at an airport in Houston when the team's connecting flight home from a game at Tulsa left without them.

    Guards Troy Holston and Geno Thorpe, who played in USF's loss at Tulsa on Thursday night, flew with their teammates to Houston on Friday morning but fell asleep in the airport there. USF coaches didn't realize they weren't on the flight until too late, and three hours later, the two players were able to get on a flight and return to Tampa....

  2. Two USF basketball players home safe after being left at airport


    Two USF men's basketball players arrived home safe Friday afternoon after they were left at an airport in Houston when the team's connecting flight home from a game at Tulsa left without them.

    Guards Troy Holston and Geno Thorpe, who played in USF's loss at Tulsa on Thursday night, flew with their teammates to Houston on Friday morning but fell asleep in the airport there. USF coaches didn't realize they weren't on the flight until too late, and three hours later, the two players were able to get on a flight and return to Tampa....

  3. Two Bulls players left stranded at airport, mom says


    The mother of USF redshirt sophomore Troy Holston Jr. has alleged her son and Bulls junior Geno Thorpe were left behind at an airport terminal following the Bulls' loss Thursday night at Tulsa.

    Monica Holston Greene leveled the allegations in a series of tweets posted late Friday afternoon. USF had no immediate response.

    Among her tweets: When U think it cant get any worse THEY LEAVE UR SON+1 BEHIND SLEEPING AT THE AIRPORT GATE! Is there any other way 2 say ur not important?

    If true, the allegations would represent the latest blemish in arguably the program's most embarrassing season, which already has featured an NCAA investigation and the dismissal of Coach Orlando Antigua. Thursday's 82-68 defeat dropped USF to 7-20 overall and 1-15 in the American Athletic Conference.

    We'll update this story as we learn more....

    The mother of USF guard Troy Holston Jr. alleges he and teammate Geno Thorpe were left stranded at an airport following the Bulls' loss Thursday evening at Tulsa.
  4. Bulls dismiss AAC Player of the Year Juli Weber (UPDATED)


    USF senior CF Juli Weber, the 2016 American Athletic Conference Player of the Year, has been dismissed from the program.

    “I can confirm that as of (Tuesday), Juli Weber is no longer a member of the USF softball team," Bulls coach Ken Eriksen said in a statement released by the school.

    "This was purely a coach’s decision that I felt was in the best interest of the program and the success of our team moving forward. Due to student privacy concerns, I cannot comment further.”

    Weber's last game was an eight-inning 3-1 home loss to Wisconsin on Feb. 16.

    Weber hit a team-best .406 with five home runs and 39 RBI last season. She led the conference in five categories including average, runs (49), hits (78), doubles (18) and total bases (117). Her 22-game on-base streak and 18-game hit streak both were team bests.

    The 25th-ranked Bulls (7-3) have won four of five since her departure....

  5. Harlan 'not very' concerned over possible NCAA findings


    Bulls athletic director Mark Harlan said he's "not very" concerned about the possible findings in the NCAA's probe of his men's basketball program, which he expects to wrap up shortly.

    In an exclusive interview in his office Thursday afternoon, Harlan said he feels good about how the university has cooperated with the investigation, reportedly for academic impropriety. The probe, which surfaced last summer, resulted in the immediate resignation of assistant Oliver Antigua.

    Antigua's brother, USF coach Orlando Antigua, was dismissed Jan. 3 after the Bulls lost their first two American Athletic Conference games.

    "We're getting close to conclusion on that matter, and I expect us to be able to share those outcomes in a relatively short period of time," Harlan said. "Hard to say exactly when, but we're on the backside of the process.

    "I appreciate the (NCAA) staff and certainly feel like we've done everything we've been asked to do."

    The investigation was among a variety of topics addressed Thursday by Harlan. He also spoke extensively for the first time about his January tweet re-affirming his commitment to USF amid speculation he was being considered for the same job at Arizona (his alma mater).

    "I went to Arizona and I worked there off and on for almost 17 years, so I think I can get why there would be a connection," Harlan said.

    "But we are so happy here. I say 'we' the family, we just love living here. And then when you look at the university and the work part of it, I'm just so excited about what we've done and how much more we will do, that I'm not going anywhere."

    Also discussed by Harlan:

    * The performance of Murry Bartow, 1-12 as interim men's basketball coach: "I think he's done a terrific job. I told him the morning that I offered him this opportunity to lead us the rest of the way that I would judge him primarily on how the day-to-day activity of the program went.

    "In other words, how are our young people in that program performing off the court? Obviously in the classroom, but are their heads back up? Are they engaging with the overall department? Are they engaging with the student body? And we've seen all of that, and we really monitor those things."

    * On whether Bartow will be a candidate for the permanent job: "I guess I would put that under the auspices of, I just don't talk about any candidates while we're in a search."

    * The progress of USF's feasibility study of an on-campus football stadium: "We are right in the middle of that process, looking at the viability of an on-campus stadium. We hope to have some returns on that in some short period of time. ... As we get more data, and decisions made off that data, then the idea would be that we'd be very clear with our constituents where we stand on that matter."

    * His initial impressions of new football coach Charlie Strong: "A pro's pro. ... He's just very focused. He's very excited to be here, which is great. And even most importantly, when I run into our football players, I ask the question, 'How's it going? How's the transition?' And all of them are just like, 'It's good, it's really good.'"...

    USF athletic director Mark Harlan said he expects the NCAA's probe of his men's basketball program to wrap up soon.
  6. Q&A: USF defensive coordinator Brian Jean-Mary


    The improbable odyssey of new Bulls defensive coordinator Brian Jean-Mary has spanned a smorgasbord of destinations: New York City and North Carolina. Apopka and Atlanta. Texas and Tampa. At only 41, this New York City native (and son of Haitian-born parents) probably has several more stops looming in this vagabond profession. But the task before him these days is restoring the mojo -- and gap control -- of a USF defense that lacked much of both in 2016. During a sit-down Wednesday with the Tampa Bay Times, Jean-Mary -- a teammate of Warren Sapp at Apopka High -- discussed his Hall of Fame budddy, influences, and what he sees in the unit he inherited.

    What's your best Sapp story? (Jean-Mary was two years behind Sapp at Apopka.)
    "How much time we got? ... Nah, for all of his quirks and for some of the issues that he has, he was always a really, really good guy for us. ... He was about as big a jokester as you could have. That didn't start when he got (to Tampa). He missed most of his junior year. He broke his thumb, and you would think, 'Okay, what football story (occurred) for him to break his thumb?' He stuck his hand out of the bus while he was going home, trying to mess with one of the kids that was out there, and hit a tree and broke his thumb. That's Sapp for you."

    Ruffin McNeill (former East Carolina coach) was your defensive coordinator at Appalachian State. Was he a big influence for you?
    "Yes, yes he was. Big-time. I was blessed to be around some really great coaches. It's probably why I'm sitting here right now. ... My linebackers coach (at Appalachian State) is the defensive coordinator for the Minnesota Vikings right now, George Edwards. That was two big-time influences for me. And obviously the head coach is a legend, Jerry Moore, with all the things that he did when he was there. Appalachian is Appalachian because of the turn that he made with that program."

    From what you've watched on tape (Jean-Mary said he has watched every game from last season), what's your assessment of what you've inherited?
    "I think they have some really good players here. I think you've got some very prideful kids, some kids that for the most part think that they can get better. And they want to be pushed, which as a coach you couldn't ask for a better type of player. ... So I'm excited about it; very, very excited about it."

    USF fans are concerned in the fact you'll probably employ more linebackers, but you've suffered some attrition at that position. How much of a concern is that?
    "We have to pick up the depth, and that's something we tried to fix in recruiting. We didn't get a lot of the kids that we were trying to. We feel like we landed a good one in Keirston (Johson) up in Jacksonville...but we have to fix our depth issue. Right now, we have (Auggie) Sanchez coming off a labrum tear, so he's gonna miss the spring. So I told those guys that's an opportunity for some guys to step to the forefront, because now you're gonna get an opportunity to show what you can do. And that's usually where your depth comes from, whether it's through injuries or...some guys leaving through attrition. Guys are gonna start to kind of have their opportunity. We're low in numbers but we have some bodies there, and I'm hoping some guys kind of separate themselves during spring practice."

    Do you feel you have the numbers or the type of kids to run what you want to run at this point?
    "Yeah, and I've gotten that question from a couple of people. It's one of those things where I think if you're gonna be a good coach, you have to be able to adapt to the kids that you have. We're not gonna try to force things. If it's not a great fit, we're multiple enough that we're gonna make it work with the kids that we have."

    Charlie Strong appears to be a pioneer of the 3-3-5, and linebackers are very active in that scheme. They wreak a lot of havoc across the line of scrimmage. Is that what you'd like to do here?
    "We want to be ultra-aggressive and have obviously lost-yardage plays and sacks. If you're gonna be aggressive those are things that have to happen, and obviously linebackers and the defensive line are gonna play a big part in that. But it's just like I said, if we have more defensive linemen than we have linebackers that are gonna be productive, we have to find a way to get them on the field also. You want to try to get your best unit that you can. If that involves more defensive linemen or even more DBs, we can always work around that, whatever the strengths of the team are going to be."

    It appears as if you have some hybrid-type guys on this team.
    "We do, and that's what makes the 3-3-5, the 3-4 -- whatever you want to call it -- that's what makes it work: hybrid guys that can obviously rush the passer, can play at the line of scrimmage, but also can play linebacker or do some things that you would ask linebackers to do. That's what's gonna make it work, because now you can be so much more multiple."

    Former coach Willie Taggart made no secret that he felt poor tackling, and a lack of gap control, were major issues last season. From what you've seen, are these things correctable?
    "Of course. Tackling, which a lot of people still think it comes down to athletic ability or having the best player. It's still fundamental, and it's a technique issue. Tackling is something that has to be practiced and it's just like riding a bike, you have to continually do it on a day-to-day basis to be good at it. The minute that you take it for granted, it shows up on video, so that's something we're gonna really, really focus on.

    "And then the gap-control issues, it comes from trust with your teammates, and it comes from also just knowledge of what you're doing on defense. Those are obviously things that can always be corrected. I say trust and knowledge, it also comes down to effort, where if I have a gap and they're blocking me out of it, I've got to try like heck to get in that gap to protect us on defense also."

    Going into spring, is there one area on defense you feel particularly good about?
    "They still have to adapt to what we're gonna do and what we're gonna ask them, because some responsibilities are gonna change. But I think our defensive line -- from what I've seen, just them running around and from what I've watched on video -- I think that can be a strength for us. ... I think you've got great kids and, like I said, prideful kids that look like they're willing to go the extra mile to get the job done and get the team to where they feel like it belongs."

    You and Charlie have been together a long time. From a recruiting aspect, you don't really push kids to commit early. You seem to urge them to go make their visits and make an educated choice. Is that accurate?

    What's behind that? Because there's so much pressure in today's recruiting climate to get kids to commit early.
    "I think Coach (Strong) always feels like when kids commit early, they're just making a reservation. Our philosophy is always that it's easier to get a kid committed early, but it's hard to keep him committed once he commits. You hate to say it, it's the look-at-me age that we're in with all the social media and stuff. Sometimes when a kid commits, he becomes an afterthought, and if they have friends that are not committed and they're always on the front page...and everybody's always talking about them, it kind of eats away at them. So they want to be the story also, and that's just the way recruiting works. ... So we always say, 'Go out there and do that.' But we know on that first Wednesday in February, you can only pick one. So at least you can make an informed decision and you can get all that out of your system, and at the end you're still gonna pick the school that's best for you."

    Aside from Coach Strong, who would you say is your biggest influence?
    "I think you just talked about 'em. If I had to break it down into points of my life, obviously (former Apopka) Coach (Chip) Gierke was a big influence because he's the one that taught me football, and kind of was the first male coach that kind of showed that he cared and had my best interest at heart. Like most kids, I was raised with a single mom and didn't know anything about football. I moved from New York City in high school; nobody plays football up there, everything's basketball. So I got introduced to the game through him and I was fortunate enough that I didn't live too far from him, so there were a lot of times he picked me up and took me to and from practice. So he was a huge influence."...

    New USF defensive coordinator Brian Jean-Mary says the Bulls' depth at linebacker is a concern entering spring camp.
  7. Gasparilla half-marathon will be one of last stops for fabled distance runner Meb Keflezighi


    TAMPA — The final stretch of Meb Keflezighi's fabled running career will include a section of Bayshore Boulevard. From there, his finish line looms, a few more miles — and months — in the northerly distance.

    The wildly popular Olympic medalist says this fall's New York City Marathon will be his last competitive race. At 41, Keflezighi's speed and metabolism are mildly regressing. He simply can't train as feverishly as he once did. ...

    First-place finisher Meb Keflezighi waves a flag over his head at the finish line of the 2009 New York City Marathon. [AP photo]
  8. USF baseball: Breaking down Bulls' upset of FSU


    We understand the pitfalls of overplaying one contest in a 54-game regular season. A couple of key injuries, or one case of off-field malfeasance, can turn a sparkling year sour in an instant.

    Still, it's hard to understate the significance of the USF baseball team's 4-2 upset of No. 4 FSU on Tuesday in Tallahassee.

    The triumph was USF's first against the 'Noles since the Aqua Net era (1989), snapping a 15-game win streak in the series. Mentally, it can fortify a young club still developing confidence and mojo. Won't look too shabby on an NCAA Tournament resume either.

    "I think it builds on what we're trying to do," Bulls third-year coach Mark Kingston said. "I would compare it to a couple of years ago when we got the big win against Cal-State Fullerton (in the 2015 opener). It was something we were able to draw confidence from the rest of the way."

    Here's a closer look at the biggest win -- so far -- of the Kingston era.

    * It was the Bulls' first against a top-five team in nearly five years. USF defeated second-ranked Florida, 5-2, on April 24, 2012.

    * Six pitchers -- three of them freshmen -- combined for a one-hitter. Right-handed starter Ryan Valdes, a former Alonso High star who missed nearly all of last season after undergoing Tommy John surgery, made his first start since 2015 (1 ER, 1 H, 3 BB).

    * The freshman triumvirate of Noah Yager, Bishop McLaughlin alumnus Carson Ragsdale and Collin Sullivan teamed for four perfect innings, tossing two strikeouts apiece.

    "(Pitching coach) Billy Mohl did a great job calling pitches all night long, (Tyler) Dietrich did a great job behind the plate," Kingston said. "The pitchers were obviously the big show tonight."

    * 'Noles starter Andrew Karp retired the last 12 Bulls he faced before exiting after the seventh. In the ninth, USF scored all four of its runs in the ninth off three walks, two hit batters, a passed ball, an RBI-single (by sophomore David Villar) and a sacrifice fly (by Dietrich).

    "The big thing (about the ninth) is, we just finally started laying off some tough pitches down in the zone," Kingston said. "I thought that was the difference in us scoring some runs."   ...

  9. USF's Lauren Evans named AAC Player of the Week


    Bulls junior INF Lauren Evans, who hit .500 in five games this past weekend, has been named American Athletic Conference Player of the Week.

    A former Academy at the Lakes star, Evans finished 8-of-16 with four runs scored, a stolen base, sacrifice bunt and no strikeouts during the five-game stretch.

    She recorded multi-hit games against Wisconsin, (eight-inning, 3-1 loss), Hofstra (7-5 win) and Oklahoma State (six-inning, 12-4 win). For the season, Evans is hitting .385 with six runs scored.

    The Bulls, 2-7 this time a season ago, are 6-3 with one triumph against a ranked foe (No. 6 Michigan)....

    USF junior Lauren Evans has been named American Athletic Conference Player of the Week.
  10. ESPN bracketologist says USF not on bubble...yet


    Despite USF's unsightly two-game skid, the nation's foremost NCAA women's bracketologist doesn't think the Bulls are sitting precariously on the bubble.

    As of right now.

    "USF has faded, but I don't think there is danger of missing the tournament, yet," ESPN's Charlie Creme wrote Monday morning in an e-mail to the Tampa Bay Times.

    Besieged by injuries, the Bulls (20-6, 9-4 American) fell 66-62 to UCF at home on Tuesday, and watched a valiant second-half rally fall short in Sunday's 77-71 home loss to Temple....

    USF point guard Laia Flores (sore right ankle) is among a handful of Bulls playing through injury.
  11. No. 22 USF women fall to Temple to put NCAA Tournament seeding in doubt


    TAMPA — With 20 victories and a top-50 RPI, the USF women's basketball team has an NCAA Tournament resume that looks solid these days.

    Its seeding is another story.

    A furious second-half rally by the No. 22 Bulls ended with futility down the stretch in a 77-71 loss Sunday to Temple before 2,281 at the Sun Dome. USF (20-6, 9-4 AAC) has lost two in a row for the first time this season and almost certainly will fall out of the Top 25....

  12. USF women's rally falls short in costly defeat


    With 20 victories and a top-50 RPI, the USF women's tournament resume still looks pretty solid these days.

    Their seeding is another story.

    A furious second-half rally by the No. 22 Bulls (20-6, 9-4 American) ended with futility down the stretch in a 77-71 loss Sunday to Temple before a Sun Dome crowd of 2,281. USF has lost two in a row for the first time this season and almost certainly will fall out of the top 25.

    Suddenly, it appears in danger of losing three of its last five entering the American Athletic Conference tournament. The Bulls play at Houston (10-16, 3-10) on Tuesday and at Tulsa (8-18, 4-9) on Saturday before hosting top-ranked Connecticut on Feb. 27.

    "We've got to go on the road and win those two games," Coach Jose Fernandez said. "And if we don't, we don't deserve to go to the NCAA Tournament."

    Hampered by one of its most dreadful shooting halves of the season, USF trailed 39-26 at halftime Sunday, missing all 10 of its 3-point attempts. At that point, USF had more turnovers (nine) than field goals (eight).

    And Temple had done far more hand-checking than Fernandez could bear, prompting his technical with 2:53 to play in the first half.

    "I wasn't gonna sit here for the next 22, 23 minutes watching that game unfold the way it did," Fernandez said.

    The Bulls scored the first six points of the second half -- all by sophomore Kitija Laksa -- and trimmed their deficit to seven, 56-49, by the end of the third. When junior Maria Jespersen (26 points, 11 rebounds) converted a traditional three-point play with 2:46 to go, USF went ahead 67-64, its first lead since the first period.

    "I think the first and second halves definitely were officiated differently," Fernandez said.

    From there, USF went on a 2:17 scoring drought lowlighted by two turnovers and a critical defensive lapse.

    The Bulls failed to box out after a missed 3-pointer by Temple's Alliya Butts on the left wing, enabling Feyonda Fitzgerald (23 points) to hit a second-chance 3-pointer to tie the score at 67-all.

    A Donnaizha Fountain trey from the right baseline made it 72-67 with 56 seconds remaining. Temple (21-5, 11-2) went 7-of-8 from the free-throw line in the last 1:33.

    "Up three and we don't get a defensive stop when we needed to," Fernandez said. "It was a long three (by Butts) from the left wing and we didn't block out. And that's what it comes down to."...

  13. Speedster Chauncy Smart signs with USF


    The Bulls received a significant -- and speedy -- late addition to their 2017 recruiting class when Auburndale High ATH Chauncy Smart signed a letter of intent.

    One of the nation's top sprinters, Smart (5-foot-8, 160 pounds) announced via social media on Saturday he'll play football and run track for the Bulls. In a follow-up message to several media outlets including the Tampa Bay Times, he indicated he had signed.

    If and when the announcement is confirmed by the school, Smart will become the 19th signee in the Class of 2017.

    Smart, who has an all-conditions personal-best time of 10.3 seconds in the 100-meter dash, is on a visit to USF this weekend.

    A three-star prospect according to 247Sports, Smart signed a track scholarship with FSU last fall but was granted a release. Originally a two-sport athlete, he quit Auburndale's football team about midway through the '16 season, presumably to stay healthy for track....

  14. Nine-run inning rallies Bulls past Iowa


    On the eve of what could be a nasty storm front in Tampa, USF brandished the art of storming back.

    Handcuffed most of the night by Iowa right-handed starter Nick Gallagher, the Bulls exploded for nine eighth-inning runs off two Hawkeyes relievers in a 9-4 romp before a USF Baseball Stadium opening-night crowd of 1,113.

    Spoto High alumnus Chris Chatfield's one-out RBI-single started the rally. Senior DH Luke Borders followed with a two-run triple that he nearly stretched into an inside-the-park homer.

    Sophomore Cameron Montgomery provided the go-ahead RBIs with a two-run double. By inning's end David Villar and Kevin Merrell each had stroked two-run singles....

  15. The answer to racial strife? Tony Dungy and a Tampa forum offer theirs


    TAMPA — In a previous life, Tony Dungy impulsively — almost petulantly — quit football.

    Prior to his senior season at Parkside High in Jackson, Mich., Dungy and his best friend were strong candidates to be elected captains on a team that never previously had two African-American captains. Dungy was elected. His buddy wasn't.

    "So I'm sure, I'm positive, that this is racism," Dungy said Thursday evening from the stage of The Crossing Church on Tampa's eastern fringe. "I believe the coach doesn't count the votes right because the school doesn't want two black captains."...

    Baltimore Ravens tight end Benjamin Watson speaks during "Under Our Skin: A Forum of Race and Faith," a live event hosted by Tyndale House Publishers at the Crossing Church in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, February 16, 2017. About ten authors and sports personalities gathered to speak on subjects related to race and faith in front of a live and web audience.