USF men’s basketball coach Stan Heath is here for one reason: to turn the program around.
However, it’s been extremely hard for him, considering USF has been in the bottom of the Big East Conference for far too long.
Where does Heath have to start bulking up? Recruiting.
Heath has worked his charm on the recruiting trail for two seasons at USF and brought in respectable signing classes to the University. Sometimes, however, he’s had trouble keeping the recruits on the team — including those that he inherited from former coach Robert McCullum in 2007.
Since the Bulls’ jump from Conference USA to the Big East four years ago, the men’s basketball team has managed a dismal 11-57 conference record — the worst of all USF sports.
Winning in the Big East isn’t an easy task, but if talented newcomers join — and stay — USF should improve every year.
That’s the key for Heath — attracting and keeping recruits in the program.
USF has brought 38 players to its program since moving to the Big East. However, 16 are no longer on the team. The big question is — Why are so many players leaving?
In 2006, Solomon Bozeman and Adamu “Amu” Saaka both earned plenty of playing time as true freshmen. Bozeman even started 24 games. In 2007, both appeared consistently throughout the season, but Bozeman only started two games, while Saaka saw his playing cut in half.
And away the two players went.
USF has also had a handful of one-and-done players that left after their first year. Orane Chin arrived on campus as the 15th best player in the state in 2007. He underachieved and transferred to Cal State Fullerton at the end of the season, though.
The most recent departures were Eladio Espinosa and Gaby Belardo, who bolted this spring.
Belardo spent most of last season on the bench, though he appeared in 18 games. He averaged less than one point and 0.5 rebounds per game.
Espinosa played a much bigger role, starting in 12 of 31 games. However, the North Carolina native transferred to Marshall because he didn’t see eye-to-eye with Heath and
wanted to be closer to home.
Some who transferred into the program just packed up their gear and quit. Mitch Emory was a walk-on at the start of the 2008 season, but quit the team after playing in only one game. Zaronn Cann’s situation was different — Heath rescinded his scholarship and Cann didn’t return to the team in 2006-07.
So what’s the reason for so many players leaving? Coaching changes, competition and academics are all logical answers, but it could be something much more obvious.
Most college basketball players were the stars in high school and grew used to that. Harsh realities set in that they aren’t Mr. All-American — and they can’t handle it.
The situation is probably especially frustrating because they’re at USF, a struggling team, where they thought they’d contribute much more. This was the case for Bozeman, Saaka, Chin, Espinosa and Belardo — along with plenty of others. They all got reality checks, though.
There’s no doubt that USF continues to struggle in Big East and non-conference play, and it’s improvement depends on the players Heath recruits.
Heath and his staff have six talented players coming in for next season. And each has the potential to help turn the lagging program around.
That’s if they stay, of course.