Slow first day in early signing period

Three USF sports programs wasted no time and took advantage of the first day of the fall signing period Wednesday, though there wasn’t exactly a plethora of new recruits joining USF. Men’s and women’s basketball each snagged a pair of early signees, as did the softball team.

Men’s basketball coach Robert McCullum didn’t hesitate to acquire some players early. High school senior Collin Dennis and junior college transfer Solomon Jones have signed and returned their national letters of intent.

Dennis is a 6-2 guard from Richland High School in North Richland Hills, Texas. In his junior year, he averaged 24 points per game. McCullum likes the fact that he can play both guard positions.

“When you have just 13 full scholarships it is important you have versatile players that can play more than one position, so the fact that Collin can play both guard positions weighed heavily in our decision to pursue him,” McCullum said. “As good as a player he is right now his best days are clearly ahead of him as he puts on weight and gets stronger. He has the potential to be just an outstanding player at South Florida.”

For his second signee, McCullum dipped into the junior college pool and came out with some size in Solomon Jones. In his first season at Daytona Beach Community College, Jones blocked 38 shots. McCullum hopes the 6-10 forward/center from DBCC can fill in when senior Gerrick Morris departs next year.

“Just his size and his athleticism are really much needed here,” McCullum said. “We need to add players along our front line with the departure of Gerrick Morris.”

Women’s basketball signed two players as well, including one from Tampa. Chi Chi Okpaleke from Tampa Bay Tech is the first Tampa Bay area recruit since Iris Flemming in 1994. Okpaleke was The Tampa Tribune’s Hillsborough County Player of the year in 2002-2003. Coach Jose Fernandez’s other pickup, Nicole Munneke, comes from Centennial High School in Minnesota.

Fernandez even received praise for his recruits by Bret McCormick, a scouting director and managing partner of the All-Star Girls Report.

“As a whole, I think USF has done a very good job with this year’s early signing class,” McCormick said. “Both Chi Chi and Nicole are the type of players that have the potential to step in right away and contribute immediately.”

Softball coach Ken Eriksen followed suit, picking up two early signees as well. Neither will have to travel far as both Carly Griffin and Bree Spence are from the Bay area.

Griffin, who attends Chamberlain High School, comes from a winning tradition, having helped the Chiefs win their first state championship. She has been a member of two state final-four teams and has been named to the all-county team in the last two years.

“Griffin brings enormous qualities to our program,” Eriksen said. “I look for Carly to come here, work hard, and I will not be surprised if she is contributing right away.”

With Spence, Eriksen will be adding to his pitching staff. Like Griffin, she won a state title with her alma mater, Countryside High School in 2002.

“Bree Spence has already proven that she is able to win the big game when she is in the circle,” Eriksen said. “I feel she steps right in to join a long line of great pitchers from the Tampa Bay area that have decided to stay and represent their communities at USF.”