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At last, USF’s Laquincy Rideau getting noticed

Overlooked by colleges during his prep career, the sturdy point guard is shining for USF.
USF Bulls guard LaQuincy Rideau (3) runs back on defense against the Houston Cougars during the first half at the Yuengling Center on Jan. 19. (OCTAVIO JONES | Times)
Published Jan. 31
Updated Jan. 31

TAMPA ― Everything about the Pompano Beach point guard, from his surname to his stats to the state title he helped capture for Ely High, seemed conspicuous.

Yet to major-college recruits, Laquincy Rideau may as well have been the name of a New Orleans gourmet.

“He was overlooked,” said legendary Ely coach Melvin Randall, who has won six of his Florida-record eight state titles with the Tigers. “Plain overlooked.”

No other rationale sufficiently explains how Rideau’s staggering debut as USF point guard was preceded by a two-year hitch in Division I obscurity, followed by a season on the sideline. As a teen, his sturdy frame and skill set were there all along, accompanied by nary a red flag.

And while he didn’t earn a solid ACT score until the spring of his senior year, Randall said that shouldn’t have scared off most suitors, based on his solid GPA.

“I took my ACT late, so coaches didn’t think I was gonna pass it,” said Rideau (the French name is pronounced Ree-DOE). “But I was more so under-recruited.”

Today, the backcourt dynamo who slipped through the cracks is slicing through lanes as one of the nation’s most effective rim attackers.

“He’s an intelligent kid, he’s got a good feel and he’s only gonna get better,” Bulls second-year coach Brian Gregory said. “I’m excited about coaching him every day because he brings it every single day.”

Rideau’s arrival has coincided with USF’s stunning transformation in Year 2 of the Gregory era. Entering Saturday’s home showdown against fellow American Athletic Conference surprise Memphis, the 22-year-old redshirt junior leads the league in assists (5.8 per game) and steals (3.3) while averaging 13.9 points.

The most glaring highlight to date: an unconventional triple-double (18 points, 10 assists, 10 steals) in an 82-80 loss at Temple three weeks ago. Only five other NCAA players in the last 20 years have recorded a points/assists/steals triple-double.

With three steals against the Tigers, he breaks USF’s 45-year-old single-season record (68). And his relentless dribble-penetration, resulting in 100 free throws, is a primary reason the Bulls rank second nationally with 570 free-throw attempts.

“He’s worked on his game,” Gregory said. “And I still think as a point guard he’s just kind of scratching the surface.”

Sure beats scratching the head, which Randall did at length while his offensive catalyst went widely ignored.

Related: Once a league pushover, USF men now pushing back

Rideau (6-foot-1, 210 pounds), who transferred to Ely from Palm Beach Lakes for his senior year, led the Tigers in scoring (16.5 ppg), collecting three triple-doubles for the undefeated Class 7A champs. He even flirted with a quadruple-double against Coconut Creek Monarch, falling one assist short.

“And I had the triple-double in the first half,” he said.

“He’s not shy about attacking the rim at all,” Randall added, “and that’s what has made him a very special player.”

Yet by the end of that historic season, which ended with Ely competing in a New York City tournament (and losing in the first round) for the mythical national title, he had two collegiate offers.

One was from Saint Peter’s in New Jersey, which Rideau said pulled the offer after the program had a coaching change. The other was from Gardner-Webb, which to the casual fan may sound more like the name of a law office or brokerage firm.

“I mean, I had Georgia Southern, but they weren’t recruiting me hard,” he added. “They weren’t even really in the picture.”

With no other options, Rideau signed with Gardner-Webb, nestled about 50 miles west of Charlotte in Boiling Springs, N.C. By his second year, he had become the first player in Big South history to post at least 150 rebounds, 150 assists and 100 steals in a season.

There would be no Year 3.

“It was home but it just didn’t feel like home for me,” Rideau said. “Being from the city and going to the country, it was a hard transition for me. I knew what I was capable of doing, so I had to do what’s best for me.”

Hoping that someone ― anyone ― at the major D-I level finally had noticed his production and potential, Rideau entered the NCAA’s transfer portal following the 2016-17 season. This time, Rutgers, Iona, Providence, USF and Florida Gulf Coast expressed serious interest.

He accepted the offer from Gregory, who had just been hired to clean up the wreckage left behind by Orlando Antigua. Proximity to his mom (a middle school culinary-arts teacher), dad (a West Palm Beach police officer) and four siblings factored into his decision.

“Knowing this program was at the bottom, I just wanted to be a part of the change, to change the culture,” said Rideau, whose dad, Greg, was born in Louisiana and pitched briefly in the Indians organization. “That’s really important.”

His only misstep since transferring was a painful one. Much to Gregory’s ire, Rideau fractured a foot playing pick-up basketball roughly two weeks before arriving at USF. Though he already had to sit out the 2017-18 season per NCAA transfer rules, the injury kept him out of practice until January.

“One of the reasons we played a little better down the stretch (last season) was because he finally got healthy and practices became very competitive,” Gregory said. “Starters didn’t like it very much.”

Today, opponents aren’t crazy about it.

“A lot of people, they didn’t expect me to come in and play how I’m playing right now,” he said. “So I guess I’d say I’ve just proved 'em wrong.”

Contact Joey Knight at jknight@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.

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