For the USF men’s basketball team to make steps toward national competitiveness this season, the level of point guard play must be equal or greater than last season’s.
Coach Stan Heath will have to develop an efficient rotation despite a lack of big bodies to play in the post.
Last year’s starting point guard, Anthony Crater, was a steady hand running the Bulls’ offense and dominated the available minutes, playing 33.6 minutes per game. While he didn’t score much, averaging less than four points per game, his value was in his consistency and defensive prowess.
Crater is no longer on the team, though, following a dismissal in May due to a violation of team rules. The players who played the second- and third-most minutes at the point guard position, Mike Burwell and Shedrick Haynes, are also gone, having transferred away from the program.
That leaves sophomore LeVonte Dority as the only returning point guard on the team, though he has help from two newcomers. Fellow sophomore Blake Nash joins the team from Williston State Junior College in North Dakota, while true freshman Anthony Collins arrives in Tampa as a highly-touted guard from Houston.
With Heath hoping for more point production out of the point guard position, each of the three brings something different to the lineup.
“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.”
In their only open-door exhibition of the preseason, against the University of Tampa on Nov. 5, Dority played most of the minutes, with Nash backing him up and Collins unavailable due to a minor injury.
The other key focus for the Bulls will be in the interior, where USF simply lacks depth. In starters Augustus Gilchrist and Ron Anderson Jr., Heath has reliable players at the power forward and center positions, respectively. But, when it’s time for substitutions, the bench is short.
Junior Toarlyn Fitzpatrick is likely to be the first big man off the bench and, at 6-foot-8, 243-pounds, was a consistent role player last season. With the ability to post up or go outside with a 34.4 percent shot from 3-point range, Fitzpatrick’s role will expand this season.
Beyond Fitzpatrick, the only available player at Heath’s disposal to send into the paint is 6-foot-7, 221-pound Victor Rudd Jr., who figures to be the Bulls’ starter on the wing at small forward. Though he has the ability to shoot from anywhere on the floor or drive to the rim, Rudd is undersized to play at the power forward position too often, especially when the brutal Big East season rolls around.
If any of those big bodies get injured, Heath will have a real issue in figuring out how to replace them.