Following up the best season in school history and replacing two seniors that were huge in both stature and playmaking will not be an easy task for the USF mens basketball team. But thats not stopping the team from preparing for a big season.
With the departure of forwards Ron Anderson Jr. and Augustus Gilchrist, who combined for almost 14 feet and 472 pounds of post presence, the Bulls will need to replace both the size and leadership of a pair of seniors that led the team to USFs first NCAA Tournament since 1992 and the first two NCAA Tournament victories in program history.
I think the biggest things we lost was the leadership from Ron Anderson Jr. and Gus Gilchrist, senior forward Toarlyn Fitzpatrick said. So (Anthony) Collins, Victor (Rudd) and I will need to be more vocal to take the leadership. Itll be important for us to show the way for our newer guys, tell them what we need from them to win.
Fitzpatrick, who led the team in three-point shooting at 41 percent, said he is familiar with the situation the team is in at the moment without a true threat in the post game.
We have to weather the storm, he said. Weve been in this situation before, like in my freshman year when Gilchrist was hurt and I had to play. I had no idea what I was doing, and I was thrown to the wolves. We have a tough group and I think we can overcome it.
One player who could immediately step into the paint to contribute is center Jordan Omogbehin, a towering Nigerian product who stands at 7-foot-3 and is listed at 334 pounds. Though the redshirt freshman has the size to impact any game, there are concerns with his mobility and ability to avoid injuries.
Rudd, a junior, said Omogbehins improvement in getting up and down the court was seen during the teams offseason workouts.
Hes getting better at it, Rudd said. We have this drill called 22 where we have to go up and down the court twice in 22 seconds, and hed been doing it in 25, 27 seconds. Then, last week, he did it in 22 seconds, so hes coming along in that aspect.
As for Rudd, the Bulls will need strong production from the forward who led the team with 14.8 points per game in USFs five postseason contests. The 6-foot-9 transfer said he took advantage of a chance to play summer league basketball in his hometown of Los Angeles.
Ive added a lot of things from when I played summer league back at home, he said. I didnt take any threes, I tried to get to the basket and to the line, because I can score a lot more if Im shooting 10 free throws a game. Ive added some post moves working with (assistant coach Andy Hipsher), and Ive added a mid-range shot. I want to do more than just shoot a majority of threes.
Rudd also said he bulked up for the 2012-13 season, knowing that he may have to take responsibility for bigger players on the defensive end.
Im at 6-foot-9, 232 this year, where last year I was at about 6-foot-8 and 222, he said. So I added about 10 pounds, which adds confidence. Last year, when I would guard bigger guys like (Kansas forward) Thomas Robinson, theyd push me and Id have to fight harder to guard them. So getting bigger will help me to guard bigger guys.
Coach Stan Heath said his teams lack of size may actually be an advantage against bigger, slower opponents.
We have a different team we dont have a single main post guy, he said. But Im not going to change a guy like Toarlyn Fitzpatrick, who was my leading three point shooter percentage-wise last season. Im going to let him shoot. Well make teams with those other 7-foot, 6-foot-10 guys guard us outside.
Fans can get their first look at the 2012 team on Friday night at the first annual USF HoopLa at the USF Sun Dome at 8 p.m. The team will begin its season Nov. 10 against UCF at home.