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“I woke up this morning and said, ‘Wow, I’m here. I get to work here,’and that is an exciting feeling for me.”-Stan Heath

Video by Kevin Smetana

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Stan Heath ushered in a new era for the men’s basketball program with a joke.After donning a green-and-gold USF hat for the first time, he immediately took it off before addressing the audience, citing his team policy.

“I’m not going to let you guys wear hats inside the building, so I’ll take mine off,” Heath said.

But the joking quickly turned to business – Heath has the Bulls scheduled to work out at 7 a.m. today.

Point guard Chris Howard looks forward to proving himself to a new coach prior to the beginning of the season.

“Bringing in Coach Heath gives everyone a little more hunger,” Howard said. “For me, it’s like being a freshman all over again. So it’s a new start and a new beginning, and I’m definitely looking forward to it.”Kentrell Gransberry, the leading rebounder in the Big East last season, said the addition of Heath is the first step in transforming USF into a legitimate basketball school.

“Getting Heath to come here was key. We’re going to just go out there and get some wins,” Gransberry said. “Hopefully, we can do what we need to do and make it to the NCAA Tournament and then bring some recognition to the school.”

Heath, 42, has taken on the daunting task of turning around a program that has gone 4-28 in conference play since moving to the Big East two years ago. USF is the only program that failed to appear in the conference tournament for the past two seasons.

Heath brings instant creditability to the Bulls after spending five years as an assistant under Tom Izzo at Michigan State and helping the Spartans to three straight Final Four appearances, including a national championship in 2000.

Kent State made Heath its head coach in 2001, and after an Elite Eight appearance, Arkansas chose Heath to replace Nolan Richardson.

Arkansas fired Heath abruptly last week after he met with Athletic Director Frank Broyles. In five seasons at Arkansas, Heath guided the Razorbacks to a record of 82-71 with back-to-back 20-win seasons and consecutive NCAA Tournaments.

But after Arkansas struggled with a 31-49 record in Southeastern Conference play, Broyles decided to take his program in a new direction.

Immediately after the announcement about Heath’s firing was made, USF Athletic Director Doug Woolard focused his pursuit for a replacement for Robert McCullum on Heath.

“We talked to several people, and we felt (Heath) was a great fit,” Woolard said. “He’s won at every level, won at Michigan State, at Kent State and Arkansas. He was just a great fit for us.”

Heath is due a base salary of $325,000, with $350,000 for radio and television appearances. Before incentives, his five-year contract is worth $675,000 per year, up nearly $425,000 from McCullum’s salary last year.

After officially being introduced as the eighth men’s basketball coach in school history, Heath discussed the opportunity of putting his own imprint on a young Big East program.

“This is a job with great up side, and we’ve got to progress and move forward,” Heath said. “(South Florida) is a great area to sell (for recruits) … and I see a lot of good with it.”

Izzo realizes the opportunities his former assistant has at USF and feels this position was tailor-made for Heath.

“I think it’s awesome,” Izzo said Monday in a telephone interview. “I know Stan is excited, and if I know him, he’ll start working those kids right away. He’s really looking forward to this opportunity, and I think he can really make that program into something special very quickly.”

Heath agrees.

“We’re going to win, and we’re going to win soon,” Heath said. “People look at things differently, and I see great possibilities here. … We want to win this season, and we can do that.”

The Bulls haven’t made an NCAA Tournament appearance since 1992 and haven’t had a winning season since going 15-14 under Seth Greenberg in 2002-03.Although trying to build a basketball program in the Big East from scratch was a task eight coaches publicly announced they weren’t interested in, Heath relishes the opportunity.

“I woke up this morning and said ‘Wow, I’m here. I get to work here’ and that is an exciting feeling for me,” Heath said. “You go through ups and downs … but once South Florida contacted me, there wasn’t anywhere else I wanted to be.”