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Former Gator guard patient on bench

He’s played 23 minutes in six games, tallied two points and hasn’t scored a bucket all season.

But forget the numbers.

“I’m just trying to learn every day in practice,” said guard Chris Capko, who scored his only points this season on free throws. “This year, with the minutes I get I just need to do what coach asks me to.”

A sophomore, Capko transferred to USF last season from University of Florida, where he walked-on as a freshman. A non-scholarship player at UF, Capko eventually grew frustrated with his role on the bench, where he says he “had a lot of practice but no play.”

So, soon afterward, the 6-foot-2, 185-pounder packed his sneakers and made the trip from Gainesville to Tampa, where the opportunity, not to mention the sunshine, seemed brighter.

“I kind of realized, you know, if my chance (to play at Florida) ever did come, it would have been down the road,” Capko said. “I was thinking, ‘I don’t know if I want to wait that long.’ I just got antsy and wanted to play.”

The Lakeland native (he led Kathleen High to a state title in 2001) remains antsy but understands why he has seen limited action this season. He knows inexperience plays a role, saying that he is still learning the offense. But mostly, he cites the impressive play of senior point guard and team leader Brain Swift, who is averaging 15.2 points a game this season.

“Hopefully next year I can have the type of year (Swift) is having this year,” Capko said.

When Capko does play, McCullum expects him to keep the team in sync, making sure the offense doesn’t miss a beat when Swift gets a breather.

Also, plainly, McCullum just needs players. The Bulls have been without senior guard Bradley Mosley, who was diagnosed with renal cell cancer just before the season began. Add to that the departure of freshman guard Montavious Waters and Marius Prekevicius’ left knee injury, and it is easy to see why McCullum said the team “had a need for a backup point guard.”

So, when McCullum extended his hand, Capko embraced it.

“My advisor from Florida and my high school coach both know coach McCullum and they had nothing but great things to say about (McCullum) as a person and as a basketball coach,” Capko said. “I just thank him so much for giving me an opportunity to play.”

Last year, McCullum met with Capko, told him where he stood and that he would have an opportunity to play as a Bull. Because of NCAA rules, Capko wasn’t eligible until the end of the fall 2004 semester, so instead of dressing for games, Capko ran the scout team that competes against Bulls’ regulars at practice.

Experience gained from both this and last season — along with the skills he gained from playing pickup games with current Phoenix Sun phenom Amare Stoudamire (“A beast,” according to Capko) in his high school days — will aide Capko next season, when a sizable hole left by Swift will need filling.

“He’ll certainly have more playing time next year,” McCullum said.

It won’t be easy, though. Capko will have to compete for time with a 6-foot-3, 200-pound recruit named Chris Howard, a point guard McCullum calls a “very talented player.”

Then McCullum paused.

“But Chris will have an edge over anyone when it comes to familiarity of the program,” he said.

In the Bulls’ Dec. 29 win over Texas-Arlington, Capko made the most of an opportunity, dishing out five assists in a season-high nine minutes played.

“He’s a great shooter and a team player, he has good ball skills and a good understanding of what we’re trying to do,” McCullum said.

So forget the numbers. Just remember the name.