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Cooley proud of USFs growth

With the men’s basketballteam’s success in what was expected to be anothertough season,other league coaches are starting to take notice.

The Bulls,who are 6-3 and tied for third in the Big East, were picked to finish 14th out of 16 in the league’s preseason coaches’ poll. Last season,USF finished 15th in theleague after going 3-15 inconference play.

This season, USF is playingimproved basketball with a lock-tight defense and betterbalance. USF is 11-1 athome and, in a rarecircumstance, was the favorite in a game against Providence on Sunday. The Bulls rarelyhave Big East games that they’re expected to win.

After an 81-78 USF win, Providence coach Ed Cooley,in his first year with theFriars and mired in last place with a 1-8 Big East record, applauded the progress USF coach Stan Heath has madein shedding the school’s reputation as a bottomdweller.

“Stan had some of these days when he took over,coming (to USF),” he said. “I’m really, from a coachingstandpoint, proud to see what he’s done and how hisprogram has grown. We hearso much moaning andgroaning in our league about the teams that weretraditionally at the bottom. So from an encouragementstandpoint, where our programis trying to build, a lot ofcredit goes to Stan for fightingall the things he’s had to deal with, with the injuries and all the negative things he’sgoing through. Good for him.”

Cooley said Heath’s teamis built with interior depthand is playing to its strengths more this year, rather than adapting its game plan totry to match its opponent.

“I like their size,” he said. “They’re probably the biggestteam in this league. Theydon’t take bad (3-pointers); they take rhythm (3-pointers).They go to their strength, which is their interior. They have a couple of what I just call ‘players,’ positionless guys that bond together and playa system. You can see that their identity is theirdefensive system and theirinterior scoring and it shows.”

USF struggled for stretches of the Providence game, but with a win in hand, Heathsaid the team’s self esteemis only growing.

“We’re building a lot ofconfidence,” he said. “I think anytime you win, that feeds into your confidence even more so. … This is thehalfway point. We’ve putourselves in a good position,but there’s still a lot ofbasketball to be played. This league is a funny league. You can go into stretches either way – up or down.”

With a strong season in hand, the Pam and Les Muma Center – which the playershave credited for theirimproved free-throw shooting- and the refurbished Sun Dome to show off to recruits, USF is moving in the rightdirection.