Cooley ‘proud’ of USF’s growth
Published: Tuesday, January 31, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, January 31, 2012 18:01
With the men's basketball team's success in what was expected to be another tough season, other league coaches are starting to take notice.
The Bulls, who are 6-3 and tied for third in the Big East, were picked to finish 14th out of 16 in the league's preseason coaches' poll. Last season, USF finished 15th in the league after going 3-15 in conference play.
This season, USF is playing improved basketball with a lock-tight defense and better balance. USF is 11-1 at home and, in a rare circumstance, was the favorite in a game against Providence on Sunday. The Bulls rarely have Big East games that they're expected to win.
After an 81-78 USF win, Providence coach Ed Cooley, in his first year with the Friars and mired in last place with a 1-8 Big East record, applauded the progress USF coach Stan Heath has made in shedding the school's reputation as a bottom dweller.
"Stan had some of these days when he took over, coming (to USF)," he said. "I'm really, from a coaching standpoint, proud to see what he's done and how his program has grown. We hear so much moaning and groaning in our league about the teams that were traditionally at the bottom. So from an encouragement standpoint, where our program is trying to build, a lot of credit goes to Stan for fighting all the things he's had to deal with, with the injuries and all the negative things he's going through. Good for him."
Cooley said Heath's team is built with interior depth and is playing to its strengths more this year, rather than adapting its game plan to try to match its opponent.
"I like their size," he said. "They're probably the biggest team in this league. They don't take bad (3-pointers); they take rhythm (3-pointers). They go to their strength, which is their interior. They have a couple of what I just call ‘players,' positionless guys that bond together and play a system. You can see that their identity is their defensive system and their interior scoring and it shows."
USF struggled for stretches of the Providence game, but with a win in hand, Heath said the team's self esteem is only growing.
"We're building a lot of confidence," he said. "I think anytime you win, that feeds into your confidence even more so. … This is the halfway point. We've put ourselves in a good position, but there's still a lot of basketball to be played. This league is a funny league. You can go into stretches either way — up or down."
With a strong season in hand, the Pam and Les Muma Center — which the players have credited for their improved free-throw shooting — and the refurbished Sun Dome to show off to recruits, USF is moving in the right direction.