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Seeking a happy ending

They will go down in history together, linked for all time.

B.B. and Altron, Altron and B.B. They are the highest-scoring, most talented duo in South Florida basketball history. USF fans long will remember them.

But what will they remember? Will they recall one of the great eras in USF athletic history? Or a pair of transcendent talents who never brought the Bulls to the promised land?

This is it for Altron Jackson and B.B. Waldon, senior forwards and twin axes of Bulls basketball. It's now or never.

NCAA Tournament or bust.

"This is what you play for, this is what you go to school to play basketball for," said Jackson, who averaged 18.9 points last season. "It's just like if you go to law school, it's to become a lawyer. We're here to try to go to and succeed at the highest level that we possibly can, and that's the NCAA Tournament."

USF, which hosts Fordham on Monday in the season opener, has gone 14-14, 17-14 and 18-13 in Jackson and Waldon's first three seasons. After advancing to the NIT in 1999-2000, the Bulls were aiming higher last season, and dropped lower.

In part because of a midseason four-game suspension to Waldon for a violation of team rules, USF went 4-7 down the stretch and whiffed on an NCAA and NIT bid.

Jackson and Waldon are complementary players, with Jackson (6 feet 6) in the role of perimeter slasher and Waldon (6-8) playing the versatile low-post player. They are gifted scorers and all-around performers. Waldon ranks fifth (1,455) and Jackson sixth (1,401) on USF's all-time scoring list. Barring injury, they will finish second and third, behind Charlie Bradley.

But will they script a winning legacy into their final chapter?

"I think about it, but you can't talk about it too much, you've just got to play," Waldon said. "Our goal is to focus on having the best year we can, and that should get us to the NCAA Tournament."

Coach Seth Greenberg thinks it would be inappropriate to judge Waldon's and Jackson's career based solely on whether the Bulls reach the NCAAs.

"I don't want to define four years by one season," said Greenberg, whose teams went 8-19 and 17-13 his first two seasons, before Jackson and Waldon arrived. "(Jackson and Waldon) have (helped) change the expectations and perceptions of South Florida basketball. That first team we inherited had no chance of winning. The expectation four years later is that anything but the NCAA Tournament is disappointing.

"It's hard making the NCAA Tournament (USF has made it twice). But these guys have created an expectation where there has never been any."

With an inexperienced cast, Waldon and Jackson will be relied upon more than ever. At the same time, Greenberg is taking some of the pressure off _ by applying pressure.

This is the most athletic team in Greenberg's six years, and he's looking to capitalize by applying extensive fullcourt pressure. Between the first and second preseason games, the fullcourt defense improved markedly.

"We're just getting the feel of it," Jackson said. "Every game we're getting more aggressive in the press."

"We're a more athletic team than in the past," Waldon said. "The sky's the limit."

Four seniors graduated from last season, leaving a production and leadership void. Cedric Smith (10.3 points a game) was the third-leading scorer behind Jackson and Waldon and is the school's career leader in steals. Chonsey Asbury, Sam Sanders and Artha Reeves were valuable role players.

Junior college transfer Greg Brittian, a childhood buddy of Waldon's from basketball camp at Florida Southern, should slip seamlessly into Smith's role. Freshmen forwards Kelvin Brown and Marlyn Bryant are physically mature players who will be in the playing rotation immediately.

Sophomore guard/forward Jimmy Baxter has been somewhat of an enigma in his brief career, but the long-armed leaper has the potential to be a big contributor, especially on defense, as does redshirt freshman Terrence Leather. Freshmen Brian Swift and Brandon Brigman will be key reserves at point guard and power forward behind Reggie Kohn and Waldon, respectively. And the center rotation of Will McDonald, Gerrick Morris and Mike Bernard is balanced and improved. (Bernard, who is recuperated from offseason shoulder surgery, won't play the first several games because of an NCAA suspension.)

For a team counting on such a large number of freshmen, USF has high expectations. In Waldon and Jackson, however, the Bulls have two players whose experience and production rival perhaps any duo in the country. They will go as far as their stars take them.

"I've been here for four years. I've seen it all, been through it all," Jackson said. "Now, we've just got to get it done. That's all there is to it."