Dark clouds are gathering over USF’s men’s basketball team, and they don’t appear to be parting any time soon. A slew of injuries and legal entanglements are keeping a lot of players on the bench.
“These things you just have no control over. You just gotta deal with them,” said coach Seth Greenberg.
In Saturday’s game against Marquette, sophomore guard Marlyn Bryant suffered an injury when he landed precariously and twisted his leg 10 minutes into the game. What was originally thought to be a torn medial collateral ligament now appears to be a torn anterior cruciate ligament, which means that what could have been a three-to-six-week injury has turned into a season-stopper for Bryant. He is expected to have surgery as soon as the swelling subsides in a few weeks.
“I really hope it doesn’t hurt the team. I hope it brings us together and makes people strive to work harder,” Bryant said.
The impact Bryant’s injury will have on the court is yet to be determined, but the team will certainly feel the loss of a key player.
“It’s 30 minutes a game. Obviously, it’s a big loss to our team,” senior guard Reggie Kohn said. “You can’t replace someone that plays like Marlyn Bryant.”
Bryant was not the only player injured in Sunday’s game. Freshman forward Yusuf Baker, who had a torn ACL this summer, rolled his ankle and left the game. Although Baker heals quickly and has been making good progress since Sunday’s game, he is still questionable for tonight’s game.
“The positive thing about his rehabilitation is that he does not swell,” Greenberg said. “He’s got a freakish body that responds well to injury. Hopefully, he will continue to make improvements.”
Along with injuries suffered in the starting lineup, there are bench players who have not seen any court time, or very little of it, due to injury. Freshman guard Sheldon Franklin, who suffered a torn ACL before the season started, still has swelling in his knee and is unable to play. Freshman guard Sam Barber is also riddled with injury, playing limited minutes in the first five games before being forced to take a seat after a foot injury.
“Having these injuries obviously does not help us a great deal, but hey, it’s one of those things,” said Greenberg.
Another headache keeping the Bulls from storming the court full force is the fact that Israeli player Raphael Toren’s eligibility is still tangled up in the NCAA’s system of regulations.
“Raphael Toren is now on campus and has come here from Israel. Since he did play on a team from Israel — a professional team – although in our mind he is not a professional, the NCAA under our rules had us appeal for his eligibility,” said Steve Horton, associate director for athletics.
The appeal to get Toren on the court was sent in December, but a number of questions about his career in Israel have yet to be answered. The NCAA is claiming that Toren is a professional basketball player, and according to the NCAA guidelines, a professional player cannot play at the collegiate level. USF argues that although he did play professional games, since he was only paid for expenses, he is not a professional and is only required to sit out eight games before he can play for the university.
“The NCAA staff has a number of questions, so they sent me an e-mail a couple of days ago asking me for some additional information on a number of his, quote, agreements,” said Horton. “They call them contracts. I call them agreements.”
Horton and two attorneys from the law firm of Holland and Knight are now making sure that all of the NCAA’s questions are answered quickly, so the matter can be cleared up as quickly as possible.
“We are going to try and answer these questions as best as we can. The process will be to answer these questions and hopefully get a response to the NCAA for them to review sometime this week,” Horton said.
Amid all of the problems, the Bulls have a game to play today against a 9-4 Conference USA opponent. The Golden Eagles of Southern Miss are 2-0 in the conference, but have yet to win a road game.
“Right now we feel like we need to win,” center Will McDonald said. “For some of our players that are hurt, too.”
Despite all of the bad news, the team has been getting the past couple of days, there is some good news. Guard Jimmy Baxter and center Will McDonald, the team’s leading scorers, are healthy and ready to play after Baxter didn’t start Saturday while serving a suspension.
“We have eight healthy bodies, and we’re hoping that Yusuf Baker continues to improve and is able to suit up (tonight),” said Greenberg.
Injuries have been the biggest news for the Bulls recently, but there is optimism that things will turn around soon.
“The greatest thing about being 18, 19 and 20, you bounce back quick,” said Greenberg. “Young people bounce back quick.”