It’s that time of year again.
On Friday, the USF basketball teams will have their first official practices of the 2008-2009 season. For second-year men’s basketball coach Stan Heath, the offseason has been hectic.
The Bulls lost several players to graduations and transfers, and added new players late in the signing period.
The biggest loss for the Bulls happened when center Kentrell Gransberry — USF’s all-time leader in rebounds per game (10.8) — graduated and moved to France to begin his professional career.
The Bulls return four starters and have eight new players on the roster.
Heath, however, said this is a very exciting time for USF basketball at Tuesday’s media luncheon.
“We’ve got a unique team,” he said. “They’ve looked pretty good in the preseason. I’ve been very pleased with the way our guys have been preparing themselves for the start of the season.”
Heath also said he will be looking to returning players to be leaders for the newcomers.
One returning player who will likely command attention from opposing defenses is sophomore guard Dominique Jones.
Jones, who led the Bulls with 17.1 points per game, set the USF freshman scoring record last season (531) and was the first Big East freshman since Allen Iverson in 1994 to score more than 30 points in consecutive games.
Jones said he spent the summer working out and trying to improve his game.
“I think my role is going to change this year,” he said. “I’m going to have to spread myself out more because I know opposing teams are going to be eyeing me up, so I’ve got to get my teammates involved and make my teammates better.”
Senior guard Jesus Verdejo, one of the Bulls’ returning starters, said Jones has matured into a leader.
“Every time you see him walk onto the court or step into the gym, you can tell he is a better player,” Verdejo said. “A lot of guys are going to have a lot of problems trying to guard him one-on-one.”
Senior forward Mobolaji “B.J.” Ajayi — who is stepping into the spot vacated by Gransberry — said he was impressed with the progress made by Jones.
“He’s matured a lot during the offseason,” Ajayi said. “He’s doing things offensively that he could not do last season. His confidence is also a lot higher.”
Jones said he was ready to be a leader for the Bulls.
“I’ve worked on my shots off the dribble,” he said. “I’ve worked on my defense. I’ve worked on pretty much everything.”
Heath said the work Jones put in would be important because Gransberry’s departure makes him the focal point of the offense.
“I’ve been really impressed with Dominique,” Heath said. “I think, in my opinion, he has the chance to be one of the better players in our whole league. There were times last year when he was really able to go out and do some big things, and I think he’s poised to have an even better sophomore season.”
The play of Jones was overshadowed last season by the Bulls’ 3-15 record in the Big East Conference. USF hasn’t won more than three conference games in a season since joining the Big East.
Heath, however, said the Bulls could surprise some people.
“Our league is the No. 1 league in the country,” he said. “There are going to be some real heavyweight battles. At the same time, I think that every year there’s one or two teams that surprise you — that nobody thinks are going to be in the mix. We’re not going to concede anything to anybody.”
The Bulls start practice Friday at 7:30 p.m. at the Sun Dome Corral. It is open to the public and free of charge.