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Lower expectations fuel Bulls drive to succeed

Altron Jackson and B.B. Waldon are second and fourth all-time in scoring at South Florida. They combined for 3,886 career points. USF won more games each season _ 14, 17, 18 and 19 _ during their tenure.

Their graduation, plus that of center Mike Bernard, leaves a void in scoring and rebounding and expectations.

The Bulls reaction?

"We like it," senior center Will McDonald said. "This is the first time we have some doubts about our expectations. We can't wait to prove everybody wrong.

"We're posting (the predictions) in our locker room. That's our motivation."

Most publications have the Bulls finishing in the middle of the pack, or a little worse, in Conference USA and missing a postseason berth. But while USF might have less experience and talent than last season, the Bulls think they have a better blend of players.

"This year we're going to have a lot of team chemistry," senior point guard Reggie Kohn said. "If you play hard and together and as a group, it doesn't matter if you step out there with five McDonald's All-Americans or just five good players, they can both succeed."

Added McDonald: "Everybody's on the same page this year."

In other words, the Bulls were ready to move on. USF had a solid four-year run with Waldon and Jackson, including notable wins over Pittsburgh and California, high seeds in the NCAA Tournament, early last season. A glut of minor injuries and suspensions harried the Bulls the rest of the way, and they finished 19-13, losing at Ball State in the opening round of the NIT.

Coach Seth Greenberg has adopted a buzz-phrase for the new era: Trying to be part of something bigger than yourself.

"That's what I'm preaching," Greenberg said.

He hopes the message filters to the promising youngsters. USF has eight freshmen and sophomores, but seniors Kohn and McDonald are the top players and unquestioned leaders.

"This year we're going to have two leaders off and on the court," Kohn said.

Greenberg said several times last season that Kohn was the team leader, and there is a natural chain of command now. Kohn earned his peers' respect by leading C-USA in assists per game (6.9) while playing last season with a lower-leg stress fracture that prevented him from practicing. Offseason surgery helped, but he skips some practice drills.

Without Jackson, Waldon and Bernard, and with the loss of Greg Brittian to suspension for academic fraud, finding offense is USF's biggest challenge.

Enter the 6-foot-11 McDonald. He was among the nation's most improved players last season, when his scoring average jumped from 3.6 to 11.9. He has evolved from soft and lethargic into a lean, dynamic low-post force who tirelessly runs the floor. McDonald has elevated his game another notch and could have a breakout season. He had 27 points and 11 rebounds in 20 minutes in USF's preseason win over the Connecticut Stars.

The scoring questions come after McDonald. Junior Jimmy Baxter (4.1 points, 1.7 rebounds), who replaces Brittian, could take pressure off McDonald and Kohn (75 3-pointers, 43.1 percent).

Rebounding is the second-biggest challenge. Waldon led the team (9.1 average) and Jackson was second (6.4). Gerrick Morris, a junior shot-blocker extraordinaire (1.5 average in 10 minutes per game) who will start at power forward, must increase his rebounding output (1.9 average). Prized 6-8 freshman Yusuf Baker of Orlando Evans also will help.

Freshman Sheldon Franklin is expected to redshirt (knee surgery), but the other seven underclassmen _ freshmen Danny Oglesby, Sam Barber and Baker, and sophomores Brian Swift, Marlyn Bryant, Brandon Brigman and Terrence Leather _ could be in the playing rotation. Many minutes are available and roles have not been defined.

While the departure of Waldon and Jackson has reduced USF's national profile, several nonconference games quickly could put the Bulls in the spotlight. USF hosts Providence on Tuesday and Nebraska on Dec. 5. They then have two road games against Top 10 teams: Dec. 8 at No. 8 Florida and Dec. 22 at No. 9 Michigan State.

Outsiders might doubt USF, but the Bulls have expectations. "The team chemistry is there. A lot of people take that for granted," Kohn said. "If a team plays well together and has good chemistry, they will be a good basketball team, regardless of whether they have All-Americans all over the court."

TONIGHT: USF VS. NOVA SE

WHEN/WHERE: 7; Sun Dome, Tampa.

2001-02 RECORDS: Nova Southeastern 4-23; South Florida 19-13.

COACHES: Nova Southeastern _ Tony McAndrews (79-130, eighth season; 159-250 overall); USF _ Seth Greenberg (93-86, seventh season; 198-156).

KEY PLAYERS: Nova Southeastern _ Brandon Weiss, C/F, 6-9 Sr. (16.6 ppg., 6.5 rpg); Eduardo Reguera F, 6-8 Sr. (10.8 ppg, 7 rpg). South Florida _ Will McDonald, C, 6-1 Sr. (11.9 ppg, 4.9 rpg); Reggie Kohn, G, 6-1, Sr. (9 ppg, 6.9 apg, 3.0 rpg); Jimmy Baxter, F/G, 6-5 Jr. (4.1 ppg, 1.7 rpg).

NOTES: Nova Southeastern has moved from NAIA to Division II and is in the Sunshine State Conference. USF returns two starters, Kohn and McDonald. Expected to round out the starting lineup are shooting guard Marlyn Bryant, small forward Baxter and power forward Gerrick Morris. Greenberg said freshman Yusuf Baker's recovery from offseason knee surgery has gone well and he should play. The Bulls are 5-1 in openers under Greenberg.

_ Compiled by Pete Young.

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