TAMPA – Eleven years ago, when the University of South Florida’s men’s basketball job came open, many coaches were curious, but expressed reservations as they walked the French Quarter during the Final Four at New Orleans.
Seven years ago, when USF’s men’s basketball job came open, a promising coach from Winthrop University arrived on the Fowler Avenue campus, kicked the tires a bit, saw some sub-standard facilities, then said, “Thanks, but no thanks.’’
Instead, Gregg Marshall went to Wichita State, where he reached last season’s Final Four, where his current team heads into the NCAA tournament at 34-0.
USF’s men’s basketball job is open again.
This time, it’s a desired destination.
ESPN’s Dick Vitale once described USF men’s basketball as “the hardest job in America’’ because of the facilities and the program’s history, with only three NCAA tournament bids in 43 seasons.
Things have changed.
Now there’s a renovated Sun Dome. Now there’s a practice facility – the Pam and Les Muma Basketball Center – as fine as any in the nation. Now there’s a lineup filled with young talent and a chance to move up in the American Athletic Conference.
“There’s a lot to work with here and we’re going to get a great head coach,’’ USF athletic director Mark Harlan said.
Harlan will consider sitting head coaches and assistants. The Bulls were 12-20 in Stan Heath’s seventh season, closing with a nine-game losing streak. But for Heath, who was fired on Friday, there were good times, too, especially the NCAA tournament team in 2012.
“The guys probably created a little bit of a monster,’’ Heath said. “We got a nice taste of that and showed that it is possible (to win at a high level). It won’t be easy (to maintain that), but it’s a much better job than the one I had at the beginning.
“The facilities are top-notch. You can recruit players. The community is outstanding. I do believe it’s going to be a great situation moving forward.’’
WNIT game on Friday
For the 10th time in the past 11 seasons, USF’s women’s basketball team has earned a postseason berth. Even though the Bulls had their sights set on an NCAA tournament at-large bid, it still adds to a significant era for Jose Fernandez’s program.
“There are a lot of teams that would like to still be playing,’’ Fernandez said. “We’re in it to win it. We want to keep winning games.’’
The Bulls (19-12) host North Carolina A&T (24-6) in Friday’s WNIT first round at 7 p.m. Tickets are $11 for adults, $7 for kids. There is free admission for USF students.
USF men’s tennis team went from No. 47 to No. 29 nationally. Meanwhile, the women have won 10 consecutive matches, the program’s longest winning streak since 2008, and Loreto Alonso-Martinez was named the AAC player of the week. …Lelo Prado’s baseball team opens AAC play Friday when the Connecticut Huskies visit for the opener of a three-game series. …LHP Sara Nevins, who had her fifth career no-hitter in Friday’s 3-0 win against Massachusetts, and SS Kourtney Salvarola, who leads the AAC in home runs (nine) and RBIs (22), were named AAC pitcher and player of the week, respectively. …Senior Shane Lewis was 15th in the men’s triple jump while earning second-team All-American honors in the NCAA Indoor Championships at Albuquerque, N.M. Lewis jumped 49-7 1/4. Baylor’s Felix Obi won the event at 54-5¼. …USF track and field had four event winners at last weekend’s USF Invitational – Laticia Sims (women’s 100 meters, 14.05); the women’s 4x100 relay team; Wayne Metzger (men’s pole vault, 16-0¾) and Matthew O’Neal (men’s triple jump, 50-7¾). USF hosts the Bulls Invitational, beginning Thursday.