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Wednesday, Sep 20, 2017
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Bulls create strong foundation with NCAA run

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - In the short term, it was difficult to look past Sunday night's crushing result. When the No. 12-seeded University of South Florida Bulls lost in the third-round of the NCAA tournament, the immediate thought was disappointment. After all, the Bulls (22-14) missed an opportunity to qualify for this week's Sweet 16 at St. Louis and extend USF's magical run a few more days. Time will heal those wounds.
And it might bring another realization: The time seems right for USF men's basketball to reach a different level and perhaps stay there for good. "Even though I'm leaving, I look forward to being able to see another NCAA tournament banner being hung up," USF senior forward Ron Anderson Jr. said. "It won't be the last one, either. This program is on firm ground now." The Bulls must replace Anderson, a rugged inside presence; forward Augustus Gilchrist, the team's leading scorer; and guard Hugh Robertson, a lockdown defender who generally guarded the opponent's best offensive player. But the returning cast is strong. Point guard Anthony Collins, a member of the Big East Conference's all-rookie team, will be a sophomore and among the league's top players at his position. Swingman Victor Rudd Jr., who has shown signs of taking over a game offensively, will be a junior. The mercurial Jawanza Poland will return for his senior season at guard, where he's joined by other backcourt members Blake Nash and Shaun Noriega. Toarlyn Fitzpatrick, a senior next season, will be an important frontcourt presence as his rapidly improving game continues its development. Meanwhile, reinforcements are on the way. The Bulls will add South Alabama transfer Martino Brock (6-foot-6, 190 pounds), who averaged 12.8 points, 5.2 rebounds and 2.2 assists in 59 games with the Jaguars. Also, 7-3, 291-pound freshman center Jordan Omogbehin becomes eligible. USF's recruiting class, ranked 12th nationally by HoopScoop, includes 6-11 center Waverly Austin from Palm Beach State College, who will be a junior; 6-5 shooting guard Musa Abdul-Aleem from Georgia Perimeter College, who will be a junior; and 6-5 shooting guard Javontae Hawkins of Flint, Mich., who will be a freshman. The Bulls have an additional scholarship available for the spring signing period. The talent level appears to be increasing. USF coach Stan Heath said he knows each team is different and chemistry must be developed. For now, future teams can build upon this season's foundation. "Obviously, we're trying to create and build a history and tradition," Heath said. "We don't have much, but we have a little bit. Our guys talked about leaving some footprints in the sand."

jjohnston@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7353 Twitter: JJohnstonTrib

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