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Sunday, May 20, 2018
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USF hires Kentucky assistant Antigua as coach

TAMPA – By next Monday night, the University of South Florida's new men's basketball coach might be cutting down the nets at AT&T Stadium at Arlington, Texas, celebrating a national championship.

And that still won't nearly be the most interesting thing about Orlando Antigua, the University of Kentucky assistant coach who was hired by USF on Monday to be the ninth head coach in the program's history.

The victim of a 1988 drive-by shooting in the Bronx, he competed for years with a bullet lodged in his head and received the U.S. Basketball Writers Association's Most Courageous Athlete award while playing basketball at Pittsburgh.

For a time, his family was homeless after being evicted from an apartment, sending them to live in an uninhabited convent.

He once played for the Harlem Globetrotters.

Antigua's next trick: Making the USF Bulls into winners.

“My guess is they will do things that have never been done before at South Florida,'' UK coach John Calipari said.

Antigua, who will be introduced this afternoon during a news conference at the Sun Dome, will remain with No. 8-seeded UK (28-10) this weekend, when the Wildcats face Wisconsin in the national semifinals, two victories away from head coach John Calipari's second national title.

Antigua replaces Stan Heath, who was fired on March 14 after going 97-130 in seven years. Last season, the Bulls were 12-20, closing with a nine-game losing streak. They 32 of their last 38 conference games over a two-year span.

Antigua's only head-coaching experience is with the Dominican Republic national team.

“He's going to have to make an adjustment to being a head coach,'' ESPN analyst Dick Vitale said. “He's a great communicator, tremendous personality, great work ethic.

“It kind of surprises me they went the assistant route. But if you go that route, he's the guy you want. He's a rising star.''

Antigua, who is fluent in Spanish, will receive a five-year contract. Terms were not immediately available.

His appointment marks the end of a twisting, turning coaching search, engineered by first-year USF athletic director Mark Harlan and the Texas-based search firm, Eastman & Beaudine.

According to a series of reports, Antigua was selected over Arizona State assistant Eric Musselman, a former NBA head coach.

On March 24, USF offered the job to Manhattan College coach Steve Masiello, a Rick Pitino protégé who accepted and signed a five-year contract. But during the background check, Masiello was rejected as a candidate because the search firm determined he had lied on his resume and never received his bachelor's degree from UK, putting USF at the forefront of an embarrassing national news story.

Note: Antigua holds a 1995 bachelor's degree in social sciences from Pittsburgh.

“I have been preparing for the challenge of leading a program my entire life,'' Antigua said in a statement released by USF. “I have a deep belief and passion that USF basketball can thrive and is ideally positioned in a community as rich and diverse as the Tampa Bay area.

“I look forward to renewing my strong connections in the state of Florida and can't wait to being working toward our future success.''

Antigua inherits a program that was 3-15 in the American Athletic Conference last season, one season after the Bulls finished 3-15 in the Big East. But USF's roster has upside with 6-foot-10, 245-pound center John Egbunu and 6-8, 266-pound forward Chris Perry, both members of the AAC's All-Rookie Team. USF also expects big things from freshman wing Dre Clayton, who sat out last season.

Junior point guard Anthony Collins, catalyst of USF's 2012 NCAA tournament team, missed 24 games last season with a knee injury. Collins quelled rumors that he wanted to transfer from USF, but Heath said he should stay with the Bulls “unless he's not comfortable with the new coach, then all bets are off.''

Antigua, who worked five seasons (2003-07) for Jamie Dixon at Pittsburgh before joining Calipari at Memphis (2008) and Kentucky (2009-present), is known as one of the nation's most accomplished recruiters. He helped to attract players such as John Wall, Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and DeMarcus Cousins, along with current standouts Julius Randle, Marcus Lee and the Harrison twins, Aaron and Andrew.

“We were looking for a great leader, a great communicator, a proven record of being able to recruit and develop players, and someone who will represent USF with exceptional energy and integrity,'' Harlan said in a statement released by USF. “We have found all of that and more in Orlando Antigua.

“He has tremendous passion and a unique and exciting background that includes being a key participant in one of the most successful runs in the college game. …Orlando's personal story is a powerful testament to his drive and determination that will serve our program well.''

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