TAMPA ― One of the most anticipated USF men’s basketball seasons in recent memory has been hijacked by hard luck before it even tips off.
Six-foot-8 redshirt sophomore Alexis Yetna, the reigning American Athletic Conference Freshman of the Year, suffered a left-knee injury Friday during practice and will miss the 2019-20 season.
Additionally, 6-9 junior reserve Mayan Kiir is dealing with some “private, personal issues” and is sidelined indefinitely, Coach Brian Gregory confirmed Monday. Jarrod Lazarus, USF’s director of operations since 2017, also has left the program, the school confirmed.
USF, a trendy NCAA Tournament dark horse pick that returned all five starters (including Yetna) from a 24-14 team, opens its season Tuesday at home against Arkansas-Pine Bluff.
“There are things out there you cannot control, and when those things happen, you need to respond the right way, collectively as a staff and collectively as a team as well," Gregory said.
"Obviously (Yetna’s) production is gonna be difficult to replace, but we just need everybody to become a better version of themselves. If we do that, we’ll be a little different obviously, but there’s some opportunities out there.”
Gregory didn’t offer specifics of Yetna’s knee injury, but said it occurred on a routine basketball play during practice. Arguably the Bulls’ top NBA prospect, he’ll undergo surgery later this week and “from all indication, he’ll come back even stronger and better than before,” Gregory said.
“Just heartbroken for the kid,” Gregory said.
“The guy’s worked his tail off and he’s exactly what college athletics is supposed to be about. He’s exactly what the University of South Florida wants from its athletes, and obviously he’s exactly what I want to be around every day in this coaching profession.”
Born in Paris, Yetna signed with USF shortly after Gregory’s arrival in 2017, but was forced to sit out his first season on campus. He had competed at a prep school in Connecticut during the second year following his high school graduation in France, which violates NCAA guidelines.
When he finally hit the court, he did so with a vengeance.
Yetna averaged nearly a double-double (12.3 ppg, 9.6 rpg), led the AAC with 15 double-doubles, and set a school and league freshman record for rebounds (346). He and 7-footer Michael Durr were one of only two duos in the nation to collect 200 rebounds apiece last season, joining Duke’s RJ Barrett and Zion Williamson.
The absence of Yetna and Kiir (4.7 ppg, 2.7 rpg) means USF will lean more heavily on Durr ―whom Gregory called one of USF’s most improved players ― and 6-10 senior Antun Maricevic (3.5 ppg, 2.7 rpg in 2018-19) in the low post.
The Bulls, rife with wing players and deep at the point, also could opt to go smaller more frequently.
Contact Joey Knight at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls