This wasn’t supposed to be USF men’s basketball’s season at all. After a rocky first season, coach Brian Gregory led the Bulls to one of their best seasons yet after they lifted their first national postseason trophy in program history.
“There was a fight in that group,” Gregory said. “We played with a great spirit the whole year.”
With USF’s championship in the College Basketball Invitational (CBI), the Bulls look toward the 2019-20 season with great expectations. Past winners of the CBI have often gone on to bigger and better things. Nevada won the CBI in 2016 and went on to appear in the NCAA Tournament the following three years.
“As opposed to fighting for relevancy, now we’ve got to handle some expectations,” Gregory said.
USF will have to adapt to the loss of its seniors, with T.J. Lang, who shot 74.5 percent from the free-throw line and Nikola Scekic, who towers at 7 feet 2 inches tall, both graduating from USF.
“[Lang] played his best basketball for us at the end … both those guys are steady guys,” Gregory said. “You can’t underestimate the value of [Scekic] … in terms of sacrificing. He started almost every game last year as a junior and although it was tough on him, you couldn’t tell every day in practice. He’s a better player now than he was last year and he didn’t log nearly as many minutes.”
Gregory said that the team owes it to the outgoing seniors to continue to strengthen the program.
“With those seniors that are leaving, they started this whole thing up for us and now it’s up to us to continue to build it.”
David Collins and Laquincy Rideau have been cited as the players in which the team has been built around and both guards had seasons to remember.
Collins broke his record for points in a game with 31 and steals in a game with seven against Stony Brook in Round 1 of the CBI and was named MVP of the tournament. Rideau broke his record for points in a game with 35 in Game 2 of the CBI final and led the Bulls in steals with 101 last season.
Collins and Rideau will now have to fill the shoes of the outgoing seniors and set an example for the underclassmen.
“They’ve kind of proven to be the heart and soul,” Gregory said. “Those two guys as a backcourt have a special opportunity in front of them next year.”
USF will travel to Montréal at the end of July in preparation for next season. This will give an opportunity for the team to bond and give the incoming freshmen to show their skills on the court.
The Bulls are not getting ahead of themselves after their title-winning season. The focus is now on sharpening their consistency. With big shoes to fill, Gregory says that the Bulls will need to keep a level head to match the caliber of the NCAA Tournament contenders next season.
“For us to play in the CBI is not the same to play in the NCAA Tournament, no one is trying to equate it to that,” Gregory said. “We had some unprecedented success this year and some surprising success to some. That doesn’t pass our guys by without them noticing … they didn’t come here as we move forward to play in the CBI.”