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USF men set to host Wichita State with fans in the stands

Coach Brian Gregory says every game is a blessing during the pandemic, but he’s especially pleased to see the return of fans.
USF coach Brian Gregory yells instructions during the first half of a Dec. 8 game at the Yuengling Center. At least he'll have a real audience on Tuesday.
USF coach Brian Gregory yells instructions during the first half of a Dec. 8 game at the Yuengling Center. At least he'll have a real audience on Tuesday. [ MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE | Times ]
Published Dec. 21, 2020

Coach Brian Gregory understands the significance of Tuesday’s basketball game against Wichita State (3-2).

Sure, improving the Bulls’ record to 6-2 is important, but so is the fact that USF finally will see fans return to the Yuengling Center for the first time since March 7.

“It’s going to be special, there’s no doubt about it,” Gregory said in a conference call Monday. “Everything you get to do, there’s a little added bonus to it this year because of everything that these players have been through.”

The men’s team has already had two games canceled due to coronavirus-related issues in other programs. This year especially, Gregory said the Bulls have learned every tip-off is a blessing.

“We’re trying to be as flexible as we can, not only with the schedule but with daily practices, different things like that,” he said. “When you get the opportunity to play, you really want to take advantage of it.”

USF is expected to safely bring in around 1,200 fans, including 300 students.

Related: USF Bulls men win fourth straight, halt losing skid to Cincinnati

“We talked about part of where we want to get to is having a great home-court advantage,” Gregory said. “In terms of making this a difficult place to play, whether there be 10,000 people or 1,000 people like (Tuesday) and so we have that opportunity. You want to try to take advantage of these opportunities as much as you can.”

Gregory said even seven games into the season he can already sense the physical and mental toll on his players and coaching staff. Some of his players haven’t really seen their families since June and the holiday break — three days off this week — will give a little reprieve before they resume play in the new year.

Gregory said the team has had conversations since the summer about the challenges this season would bring. The coaching staff has tried to stay proactive and keep the players’ families in the loop, too.

“There is a little bit of a fatigue,” Gregory said. “And I think it’s not because (the players are) not doing what they love in there and it’s not because they’re not enjoying what they’re doing. It’s just, outside of our team, there’s not a lot of contact with other people.”

Gregory said the student-athletes don’t get enough credit for the sacrifices they’re having to make and how they’ve handled challenges during the pandemic.

“It’s just the wear and tear on a daily basis,” he said. “And I feel for the guys, I really do. I want to win games, I want to build a great program — a program of excellence — I want our guys to graduate, but I also want our guys to enjoy the college experience. And for 11 months now, or 10 months now, they have not had that.”

Up next

vs. Wichita State, 7 p.m. Tuesday

Yuengling Center, Tampa

TV/radio: ESPN+, Bulls Unlimited

Contact Mari Faiello at mfaiello@tampabay.com. Follow @faiello_mari.

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