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Reports: Masiello accepts USF basketball job

TAMPA – The man reportedly poised to become the University of South Florida’s new men’s basketball coach, Manhattan College’s Steve Masiello, compares favorably to some of the sport’s biggest names.

Some people believe Masiello is a modern version of Louisville’s Rick Pitino, his Hall of Fame mentor, whether it’s his organizational skills, his courtside intensity or his custom-made Italian suits.

Others compare him to Florida’s Billy Donovan, another Pitino protégé, a prodigy, a tireless recruiter and worker, a coach who thrives on proving people wrong.

But Masiello, 36, a native of White Plains, N.Y., is his own man.

Tuesday, ESPN.com and CBSSports.com, among others, reported that Masiello was offered a five-year contract by USF and accepted the job. As of Tuesday night, there was no official announcement of that from either USF or Manhattan.

The Quadrangle, Manhattan College’s student newspaper, reported Tuesday morning that Masiello met with his players to tell them he had accepted the USF job. After that, Jaspers senior guard Michael Alvarado posted on Twitter, “I’m going to apply for the HC job at Manhattan.’’ Meanwhile, according to Masiello’s Twitter account, he began following several of the USF players.

Masiello was 60-39 in three seasons at Manhattan, including 25-8 this season, which ended with a 71-64 NCAA second-round loss against Louisville in Orlando.

Masiello spent the previous six seasons on Pitino’s staff at Louisville. Previously, he was an assistant at Manhattan and Tulane. He played at Kentucky for Pitino and Tubby Smith, and was a ballboy for the NBA’s New York Knicks when Pitino coached there.

Masiello would inherit new challenges in making the Bulls program relevant again.

“Stevie can do whatever he wants to,’’ Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich said. “He’s just terrific. He’s a rising star in this business.’’

“This is a great, great hire for USF,’’ ESPN analyst Dick Vitale said. “He’s going to give them a big lift. If you’re looking to go young, he’s your guy. He has such energy, such enthusiasm. I just think he has a brilliant future.’’

Masiello interviewed Monday with new USF athletic director Mark Harlan, according to ESPN.

USF fired Stan Heath on March 14 after going 97-130 in seven seasons. He had a pair of postseason appearances, including a 22-14 team in 2011-12 that came within one victory of reaching the NCAA tournament’s Sweet 16.

The Bulls finished 12-20 this season, closing with a nine-game losing streak and a 3-15 last-place mark in the American Athletic Conference.

USF paid Eastman & Beaudine, a Texas-based search firm, a $60,000 fee to find candidates for the men’s basketball position. The same firm was paid $100,000 by USF in the search for a new AD, which resulted in Harlan, formerly the associate athletic director at UCLA.

According to a document obtained by The Tampa Tribune through a public-records request, the firm’s initial $30,000 invoice to USF for the men’s basketball search was dated March 12.

That was the day of USF’s 72-68 loss against Rutgers in the AAC tournament – or two days before Heath was told of his firing by USF assistant athletic director Barry Clements.

Although Cynthia Visot, chief of staff for USF’s Board of Trustees signed the invoice for school president Judy Genshaft on March 18, it appears the school was looking for a new men’s basketball coach while Heath was still employed.

“You can’t be surprised by anything in this business,’’ said Heath, who received a contract extension from then-AD Doug Woolard in July 2012, but was fired with four years remaining on his contract and is due a $1.5-million buyout payment by USF. “It’s irrelevant. When a new AD comes in, you expect changes, especially if you aren’t winning games. Steve (Masiello) is a good coach and he’s going to do a good job.’’

Masiello’s candidacy was supported by Chris Sullivan, the co-founder of Outback Steakhouse and close friend of Pitino. Sullivan, a USF benefactor who is ramping up his support of the school’s athletic program, and Pitino are founding members of Tampa’s Old Memorial Golf Club.

Pitino said Masiello asked him about the USF job on Thursday, when Louisville defeated Manhattan 71-64 during a teacher-beats-student NCAA tournament second-round game at Orlando’s Amway Center.

“I told him I was very proud of his coaching and his preparation,’’ said Pitino after the game. “I was really disappointed I had to play Steve because he had an unbelievable year. I thought he could win a couple of games in the tournament.”

During the Orlando NCAA games, Pitino said Masiello would be an excellent choice for USF, which he called “a program on the rise’’ and “a place where you can win because you now have the facilities and the ability to recruit good players.’’

USF just finished its third season in the Pam and Les Muma Basketball Center, a state-of-the-art practice facility. Following USF’s NCAA tournament appearance in 2012, after playing one season in downtown Tampa, the Bulls returned to campus in a renovated Sun Dome.

But the new home did not immediately translate to on-court success under Heath, whose teams lost 32 of their last 38 conference games, including tournament play.

The Bulls have 12 players returning from last year’s roster, including 6-foot-10, 245-pound center John Egbunu (7.4 points, 6.2 rebounds) and 6-8, 266-pound forward Chris Perry (8.9 points, 5.3 rebounds), both members of the AAC All-Rookie Team after their freshman seasons.

There’s also 6-1 junior guard Corey Allen Jr. (9.0 points, 3.3 rebounds) and promising 6-5 wing Dre Clayton, who sat out last season. USF signed Oldsmar Christian shooting guard Troy Holston in the fall and has at least one more scholarship available.

Of particular interest is junior point guard Anthony Collins, a catalyst on the 2012 NCAA team and a second-team All-AAC preseason pick. Collins, who missed 24 games (including the final 22) with a knee injury, dismissed talk of a possible transfer by announcing on Jan. 27 that he planned to finish his career at USF and was “100 percent behind Coach Heath.’’

Heath said he expected Collins to remain at USF, but added “if he’s not comfortable with the new coach, all bets are off.’’

Meanwhile, Josh Heath, the coach’s son who played in 17 games and started four as a freshman point guard, is exploring his options and could transfer, his father said. The younger Heath was the Tribune’s Hillsborough County Boys Basketball Player of the Year in 2012.

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