USF coaches, players continue season preparations at annual media day

With tipoff of USF basketball season just 23 days away for the women’s team and 24 days away for the men’s team, coaches Jose Fernandez and Stan Heath travel to New York today for the annual Big East Basketball Media Days.

Traveling to represent the women’s team will be junior guard KaNeisha Saunders and senior guard Andrea Smith, who is still recovering from a torn ACL suffered in the Bulls’ final game of last year.

Having completed 10 practices, Fernandez said the maturity and age of the women’s team has started to show as the Bulls work through their 30 allowable preseason practices, allowing for a quicker start and better comprehension. The Bulls have just one freshman on the roster this year – Shalethia Stringfield.

“For the most part, I think we have a veteran team,” Fernandez said. “From that standpoint, a lot of kids knew exactly what we were doing … through the team workout.”

An extra motivation for the Bulls’ quick start to the practice season is their early season schedule. They begin the year with three games in Daytona Beach for the WBI Tip-Off Tournament against big-name teams from power conferences in Florida State, Arkansas and Minnesota.

With less than a month remaining before the season’s start, Fernandez said he is impressed with the depth his roster will have once all players are available. Smith is able to run, but is still being held out of contact drills and cutting. Inga Orekhova, a 6-foot-2 guard transfer from Northeastern Oklahoma A&M, will have to sit out until Jan. 7 due to an NCAA ruling stemming from her time playing for Austrian club team UBBC APOsport Herzogenburg before coming to the U.S.

On the men’s side of the Muma Center, Heath offered a similar prospective on his team, saying the 2011-12 Bulls are the best offensive team he’s had at USF and highlighting the talents of forward Victor Rudd, who sat out last season after transferring from Arizona State.

With last year’s starting point guard, Anthony Crater, no longer with the program, a trio of LeVonte Dority, Austin Collins and Blake Nash will split time at the one guard position, which Heath expects to play a bigger role offensively than it did last season.

“They’re all fairly new,” he said. “LeVonte is back, had some experience, but not much … but I do think we’re better, we’re deeper. We get more done from the position.

“Anthony Collins is a phenomenal penetrator and passer, he just creates havoc in the paint. Blake gives us that outside effect. He’s a guy that can knock down the three. He can still make plays off the dribble and LeVonte has improved a lot. He is just kind of an all-around sturdy guard.”

On the wings, Rudd can create matchup problems for the opposition. Standing at 6-foot-8, 220-pounds, he has spent a year on the sidelines learning the system and is now ready to play.

“Victor has gained 20 pounds since last year,” Heath said. “He’s up to 220 now and at almost 6-foot-9…the thing that gives us is (that) if you do put him out there at the (power forward spot), it’s a matchup nightmare for somebody because of his range with the three and ability to go off the dribble.”

Seniors Augustus Gilchrist and Ron Anderson Jr. will accompany Heath to New York City.

One issue both teams will have to face this season is a rotation of “home” courts, with the Sun Dome unavailable as it undergoes renovations. The women will play non-conference games in the Campus Recreation Center before moving to the Bob Martinez Sports Center on the University of Tampa campus.

The men’s team will split its home games between the Martinez Sports Center and the St. Pete Times Forum, with an additional game at the Lakeland Center.

Heath said he has spoken with Villanova coach Jay Wright for advice, as the Wildcats split their time between the on-campus Pavilion and downtown Philadelphia venues in the Wells Fargo Center and the Palestra.