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Goodbyes were bound to happen

March Madness was in full swing in Tampa last week. After four first-round bracket-busters, Tampa was dubbed “Upset City” by some clever members of the media.

Despite the madness surrounding the city, the USF basketball team has found itself on the outside of the postseason looking in for the third straight season.

The Bulls’ inability to win Big East Conference games has had a benefit in one important area for the Bulls – the future. By missing the conference tournament, Bulls coach Stan Heath got a head start on recruiting for the upcoming season. Heath, who will be entering his second season with the Bulls, is busy doing what most second-year coaches do – bringing in “his players.”

With only one scholarship available for next season, however, Heath was forced to let go of some players who had been on the roster. Now, sophomores Solomon Bozeman, Amadu Sakka and redshirt freshman Aaron Holmes are looking for new teams.

Finding a new team will be especially difficult for Holmes – who already lost a year of eligibility by transferring from Florida State to USF in January of 2007.

Bozeman -?who averaged 9.6 points and nearly 31 minutes per game under former Bulls’ coach Robert McCullum – saw his production fall to just 5.2 points and 19 minutes per game this season.

Sakka was virtually a ghost during Big East play, averaging just 1.9 points in 18 Big East games.

It is tough for someone like Holmes to transfer again. Fans may be disappointed to see the departure of Bozeman, who has appeared in 60 games over two years at USF.

Heath, however, is doing exactly what a second-year coach is supposed to do – bringing in the players who fit his system.

Heath was hired because McCullum wasn’t doing the job he was paid to do – win. One reason coaches can’t win is because they are unable to recruit talented players capable of winning. To succeed in the Big East – a conference that sent eight teams to the NCAA tournament and one to the National Invitational Tournament – talented players are a must.

Knowing that, Heath is bringing in players who will fit into the system that has made him successful up to this point in his career. There is a reason he has made three NCAA tournaments and has had three top-15 recruiting classes. Granting players a release to seek transfer may seem like they are getting cut on the surface, but it is actually to the players’ benefit.

Bozeman, Sakka, and Holmes are now free to find a University that will give them an opportunity to showcase their talent as opposed to staying at USF and not only spending time on the bench, but also wasting a scholarship that could be used to build the future of USF basketball.

Players know this and are fully aware as to how the system works. They were recruited to be a vital role in one coach’s offense, and find that they aren’t needed in another’s.

“It really wasn’t a good fit,” Bozeman said in an interview with the St. Petersburg Times on Tuesday. “By transferring, I’ll get another year of school, a year to get stronger. I think leaving was the best decision.”

The three new scholarships – as they should be – have started to benefit the Bulls before the former players can say goodbye to their former teammates. The Bulls have already signed two new recruits – 6-foot-8-inch forward Gene Teague and 6-foot point guard Dwan McMillan. With three scholarships left for next season, the upcoming weeks should be very busy for Heath.

If the team is to improve from its 12-18 record from last season and win more than three games in Big East play, Heath will have to continue to bring in the players who best fit his system. If that means that players have to clean out their lockers, well, that’s just part of the game.