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Despite pain of Tournament exit, brighter days ahead

Published: Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Updated: Tuesday, March 20, 2012 00:03

In the immediate aftermath of a season that ended as abruptly as the men’s basketball team’s did, with a 62-56 loss to Ohio in the third round of the NCAA Tournament on Sunday night, it’s hard for coaches, players and fans to look past the negatives.

The pain overshadowed the triumph of the best season in school history, but that will change with time.

“We advanced in the tournament more than anybody in our school history has,” forward Victor Rudd Jr. said after the loss. “So we’ll be proud of it in about a month, I think.”

When the Bulls do get over the loss, they’ll begin the transition to next season, which won’t be easy as the Bulls lose a trio of senior starters that formed the backbone of the team in forwards Augustus Gilchrist and Ron Anderson Jr. and guard Hugh Robertson, a group that combined for 81 starts this season, as well as walk-on Alberto Damour.

Gilchrist has seen his numbers decline in his senior campaign, but has drawn praise from coach Stan Heath for being a better teammate and playing a key role in the offense.

Anderson, a transfer from Kansas State, served as the Bulls’ emotional leader, keeping
his teammates focused and motivated on the court.

Robertson was one of the best on-ball defenders in the country, guarding the oppositions’ best player night in and night out and leading the best scoring defense in the Big East.

“I don’t get to coach Ron Anderson Jr., Gus (Gilchrist), and Hugh, Alberto,” Heath said. “I don’t get to coach those guys again. That’s hard.”

Gone too may be Rudd, who announced Monday night he will enter the NBA Draft but will not hire an agent, which means he can choose to return to school by April 10 and retain his eligibility.

Soon, though, the sorrow of loss will give way to a bright future for the program.

Forward Toarlyn Fitzpatrick and guards Jawanza Poland and Anthony Collins will serve as the foundation moving forward.

Playing mostly off the bench, Poland has proven himself to be among the most dynamic players in the Big East with his ability to shoot a 3-pointer or drive to the rim for a highlight dunk. The same can be said for Rudd, should he return for his junior season.

Standing at 6-foot-8, Fitzpatrick was consistently undervalued in his 3-point shooting ability and became one of USF’s most dependable shooters.

Collins shone in his freshman year, gaining a national reputation as a premier ball handler. With a full season under his belt, Heath said Collins’ limit is unimaginable.

“The best is yet to come for that young man,” Heath said. “He’s good, but just wait until next year because he will be extremely motivated. This kid gets up, you know, during the regular season at 6 in the morning and shoots and works on his game when everybody else is sleeping.”

Losing in the tournament hurts, but only one team will finish it with a win. There’s a lot to look forward to with a strong returning unit, the newly renovated Sun Dome and one of the strongest recruiting classes in school history.

When you add it all up, it seems unlikely that USF will go another 20 years without a trip to the NCAA Tournament.

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