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Guard needs being filled

With USF’s most recent commitment, men’s basketball coach Stan Heath is quietly addressing his needs at guard this offseason.

Jawanza Poland, a 6-foot-5 shooting guard, will be one of the four new guards in the mix for playing time next season, two of which come from junior college. USF will need it – as it lost a lot of experience from last season’s team, which made it to the NIT tournament.

“When you lose guys like Mike Mercer, Chris Howard and Dominique Jones, those are some valuable players,” Heath said Monday. “To replace them with some guys who may have a taste of college experience or at least a year removed from high school, sometimes it is an advantage.”

Last year’s starters – Mercer, Howard and Jones – averaged a combined 41 points per game. Heath acknowledged the personnel loss at guard but added that he’s been satisfied with the way he and his staff have been able to address those needs in recruiting, as the program is in the heat of the early signing period.

The Bulls could potentially have three juniors starting in the backcourt. Point guard Anthony Crater played significant minutes last season as a sophomore and has a lot of potential despite shooting woes, Heath said. Guards Mike Burwell and Shaun Noriega saw limited time at guard as freshmen last season, while Poland, one the top-rated junior college guards, and fellow junior college signee Hugh Robertson will bring touted experience.

“I think Anthony Crater got tremendous experience in the backcourt, and I’m hopeful our freshmen who didn’t play a lot that had a chance to be in our system will give us a little bit of experience, too,” Heath said. “They have game experience and time in a uniform. I’m very, very pleased with the recovery we’ve been able to make after losing some really good players.”

In all, the Bulls expect to bring in three new players with two years of college experience – albeit junior college – including two guards and a forward. Poland could work his way into a starting position immediately, trying to fill Jones’ shoes after he opted to forgo his senior season and enter the NBA draft.

“We don’t start off recruiting saying, ‘Hey, we want this kind of guy,'” said Heath, who could not speak specifically on unsigned recruits but talked about the players the coaching staff looks for. “We try to target the best players we feel can help our program. We look at in-state kids. We look at high school kids. We look at prep school kids, and we look at junior college kids. We try to fill our needs … We like to get good spacing in terms of having freshmen, sophomores and juniors to have balance. It just happened to work out that way, but there was no plan (of recruiting junior college players).

The Bulls return their top three post players and add Ron Anderson, a transfer from Kansas State who had to sit out last season because of NCAA transfer rules, while adding 6-foot-9 Waverly Austin, who signed a letter of intent in November. Ultimately, the bigger concern is filling the guard position.

“I feel really good about the experienced front line we have now, when you look at (senior Jarrid) Famous, you look at (junior Augustus) Gilchrist. (Sophomore) Toarlyn (Fitzpatrick) has a year underneath his belt and Ron Anderson – I think that’s a really formidable front line,” Heath said.