Orlando Antigua says he's 'up to the task' of USF basketball

Published Apr. 2, 2014

TAMPA — At some point soon, when his current team's mesmerizing NCAA Tournament odyssey concludes and his mind decelerates by a few rpm, new USF basketball coach Orlando Antigua will have a chance to gather his thoughts.

For now, gathering his composure is enough of a struggle.

On Tuesday, the 40-year-old Kentucky assistant might have been the first coach to win a news conference by, well, losing it. While publicly thanking dozens of people from his past and present, in both English and Spanish, Antigua was forced to pause upon reaching two or three names.

Among them: his son, Orlando. A Marine stationed in Camp Lejeune, the younger Antigua was granted temporary leave to watch his father introduced as USF's ninth men's basketball coach Tuesday. The dad, brown eyes welling, saluted his son in the front row. Applause ensued.

"I'm passionate," said Antigua, introduced before an audience of reporters, relatives, administrators, boosters and current USF players in a second-level Sun Dome club area. "I enjoy life, I enjoy people and at times that gets emotional."

"I think that's an Antigua thing."

The other distinctive Antigua traits? Bulls constituents will have to wait at least a few more days to experience those. Faster than one can whistle a few choruses of Sweet Georgia Brown, the 6-foot-7 one-time Harlem Globetrotter had come and gone Tuesday.

Upon landing in Tampa around 2 p.m., Antigua (pronounced An-TEE-gwa) met with the returning Bulls players, appeared at his introductory conference, spoke to reporters and hopped on a private plane back to Lexington for the Wildcats' evening practice at the Final Four.

Kentucky faces Wisconsin in the national semifinals on Saturday. "What day is it, anyway?" he asked rhetorically.

When the Wildcats' season formally concludes, Antigua immediately will begin his new gig, for which he signed a five-year deal that pays $900,000 his first year, with $25,000 escalators built in each ensuing year. Performance bonuses are included, including $50,000 for an at-large NCAA tourney berth.

"After sitting in a room with this man," new Bulls athletic director Mark Harlan said, "I knew he was the one."

Yet Antigua was the second coach to sign a contract with USF in less than a week. Manhattan's Steve Masiello signed a five-year deal — reportedly for $6.06 million — before inaccuracies in his resume were discovered.

"I think I was my wife's second choice too, but that's worked out; we've been together for 20 years," said Antigua, among roughly seven candidates contacted by Harlan during a process set in motion by Stan Heath's dismissal March 14.

"I just know that things happen and I'm really excited that (fate) intervened and I'm the one that's sitting here in front of you."

He sat down just long enough Tuesday for reporters to notice the Kentucky national title ring (from 2012) on his right ring finger. He said he wears it when recruiting, then puts it away, next to the bullet slug extracted from his ear canal his junior season at Pitt.

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The oldest of three boys (he also has six half-siblings) reared by a single mom in the Bronx, Antigua was shot in the head as a bystander on a street in the borough as a teenager; doctors didn't deem it removable until a few years later.

Soon thereafter, he was playing hoops again for St. Raymond's High School, where he was student body president and evolved into a second-team McDonald's All-American.

"His background is one that matches a lot of tough times and challenges and how he's overcome everything so well is great, just great," USF president Judy Genshaft said. "I think he's going to be waking up our giant and letting us take off."

Why hasn't it stayed awake for longer than a few spurts? Antigua, who also has a daughter with wife Dana, can't say. But he does believe his background is "perfect" for USF. His mantra: play as fast as possible on offense and be as disciplined on defense as necessary.

"You don't get to Kentucky or to Memphis or to Pitt by saying you're a basketball player," said Antigua, who has assisted at all three schools and currently coaches the national team of his native Dominican Republic.

"There are plenty of basketball players out there. You've got to put in sweat, blood and tears, and I've been fortunate to work with some great staffs; I think that's very important. … I think I'll be up to the task."