When a new coach steps into a program for the first time, the transition is almost never predicted to be smooth. There’s a new system and style of leadership to learn for the players, along with a new team and league for the coach.
USF’s men’s basketball coach Robert McCullum’s inaugural year as the Bulls’ leader on the bench was going as expected before the start of Conference USA play, with the players coming along in his system and some leaving because they didn’t fit into the new direction the team was heading. This however, is changing rapidly, and USF will once again look like a different team this weekend against Saint Louis.
The are entering trying times as they take on their second C-USA opponent of the season. Before their first conference game of the year, junior Marlyn Bryant, the Bulls’ most physical player, was sidelined with his second anterior cruciate ligament tear of his career. Junior guard James Holmes was also lost for the Bulls first C-USA game against Louisville with an injured left foot and was unable to contribute in an 85-40 loss to Louisville.
Then two days after senior Jimmy Baxter said, “If anybody thinks that our season is over because of one game, they can think twice,” he quit the team.
The trying turn of events in the last week and a half may have fans surprised and looking for answers, but not McCullum.
“Nothing that has happened has shocked me,” McCullum said. “Guys quit every year, guys have differences every year (and) you have blowouts every year, so I don’t know of anything that happened that’s a total shock.”
The Bulls are not dwelling on their misfortunes as of late and are using it to carry them into their next game at Saint Louis tomorrow.
“Right now, we’re dealing with a lot of adversity,” freshman Sam Barber said. “But adversity doesn’t do anything but bring us closer and closer together. So we’re just going to play the hand were dealt, keep fighting and hopefully win some more games.”
The only discussions about the Bulls’ off-court turmoil have been McCullum telling his team that struggle will breed success.
“What we talked to them about is that success comes from struggle, and that’s the way life is,” McCullum said. “Things will happen that we have no control over.”
One way the Bulls are handling the struggle is by moving on after the absence of Baxter and placing Barber in the starting small forward position.
Barber is ready to step up into the starting lineup and according to McCullum, “He’s definitely prepared to do that.”
“Jimmy was a great player, but now I have to step up and do the things you need to do to win,” Barber said.
The Bulls have to put the off-court troubles aside and focus on searching for McCullum’s first win in C-USA.
“(Saint Louis is) a great team with a great coach, and we’re just going to go in and try and get a win,” Barber said.
The recent injuries and defections have forced McCullum to dress two walk-ons for the game. Alton Darling and Brian Graham will give the Bulls nine players on the bench.