TAMPA — Tuesday marked the first official day of men’s basketball practice at USF, and the team looks quite a bit different than last season.
Ten newcomers, including eight from the transfer portal, took the floor along with new assistant coaches Louis Rowe and Jason Slay. The coaches came onboard in July after USF declined to renew the contract of associate head coach Tom Herrion. An independent review concluded Herrion made inappropriate comments to players, several of whom transferred out of USF last spring.
One newcomer of particular interest, former St. Petersburg High star guard Serrell Smith, practiced Tuesday though his eligibility for the season is pending. USF had to submit an eligibility waiver request to the NCAA because Smith transferred schools for the second time. He began his college career at Maryland, then finished last season at East Tennessee State. There is no timetable on a ruling.
Smith, a 6-foot-4 junior guard, started 17 of 25 games for East Tennessee State, averaging 23.6 minutes and seven points for the 13-12 Buccaneers. He played sparingly (7.7 minutes, 1.5 points) the previous season for a 24-7 Maryland team that won the Big Ten title.
A perimeter dynamo at St. Petersburg High, Smith averaged 29.3 points, 5.0 rebounds and 3.7 assists as a senior, scoring 36 points in a loss to eventual state champion Pompano Beach Ely in the semifinals. He was named the Class 8A state player by the Florida Dairy Farmers and the Pinellas County Player of the Year (all classifications) by the Tampa Bay Times.
Smith, however, is but one of several talented transfers playing this year for Brian Gregory, heading into his fifth season with the Bulls.
Javon Greene is a 6-4 graduate transfer from George Mason, where he led the Patriots in 3-point percentage (37.5) and ranked second in scoring (11.5 last season); 6-8 junior Corey Walker Jr. (Tennessee) was the nation’s No. 68 recruit by Rivals.com for the class of 2020; 6-8 sophomore forward Jalyn McCreary (South Carolina) averaged 5.1 points and 2.5 rebounds in 17 games last season; and others new to the team include 6-7 sophomore forward Sam Hines Jr. (Denver), 6-7 forward Jake Boggs (UNC Wilmington), 6-9 forward Bayron Matos (New Mexico) and 6-6 sophomore forward DJ Patrick (Triton College).
Of the returning Bulls, Gregory is particularly high on sophomore guard Caleb Murphy.
Murphy, rated the No. 72 high school player in the nation before signing with USF, started in 18 of 21 games as a true freshman and averaged 23.8 minutes and 8.3 points to rank fifth on the team.
Gregory said Murphy is returning more polished, “shooting better and making better decisions.”
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“It’s a lot to ask for a true freshman to come in and handle everything,” Gregory added. “As a sophomore he’s ready.”
Joining Murphy in the backcourt will be freshmen Lamont Evans (Blanche Ely High School) and Trey Moss, who last year at Windemere High was ranked the 17th-best player in Florida by recruiting services. Moss averaged 13.9 points, 7.5 rebounds and 5.2 assists for the Wolverines.
“Overall I like the energy of the group we have here,” Gregory said. “They are eager for the new opportunities that we have ahead of us. After everything that we’ve gone through the past year, with all the challenges, I think everybody wanted to hit the reset button.”
USF, which finished last year’s coronavirus-hampered season 9-13, opens Nov. 9 at home against Bethune-Cookman. Other early highlights on the schedule include Auburn at Amalie Arena on Nov. 19 and a Dec. 18 game against Florida in the Orange Bowl Classic in Sunrise.
Gregory also acknowledged that Rowe and Slay have brought plenty of positive energy. Rowe — who played at Lakewood High, the University of Florida and James Madison — also had local coaching stints at Osceola (2005-06) and Hollins high schools (2006-07) before making the move to college. Slay comes to USF after four years as an assistant at Youngstown State.
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