March Madness, one of the biggest spectacles in all of sports, came to an end Monday night when Kentucky fell to Connecticut 60-54, and for a moment USF could be
mentioned in the same sentence as National Championship contenders – even if in the most passive of ways.
Before the Final Four faceoff with Wisconsin, Wildcats coach John Calipari allowed his assistant Orlando Antigua to hold a press conference at USF where it was announced that he will be the Bull’s new head coach for the men’s basketball team.
Since the announcement, USF, the esteemed Calipari and Kentucky basketball all shared the same train of thought when it came to Antigua and what he can bring to the Bulls.
While he has yet to prove himself as a head coach in the NCAA (USF being his first opportunity to do so), recruitment seems to be his biggest upside.
While Antigua is not from the area, like USF’s most recent coach, Willie Taggart, who brought in a top recruiting class for football this spring, he shouldn’t face much
difficulty recruiting considering who he has coached alongside. Two NCAA championship appearances and a ring to show for it don’t
Though the Wildcats couldn’t manage to take a single lead in Monday’s loss to the Huskies, telling an up-and-coming athlete you were part of a team that was seeded No. 8 in the Big Dance and featured five starting freshmen on the biggest stage in college basketball is quite the sales pitch – even if it is for a team that’s only had three tournament appearances in its
During Antigua’s time with Kentucky, the Wildcats had continuous top recruiting classes with multiple appearances deep into the NCAA Tournament. His championship ring from 2012 is just (very shiny) icing on the cake.
Kentucky’s run in this year’s tournament – a long one, considering only 2.1 percent of all brackets had the Wildcats making it as far as they did – simply adds to what is already an attractive resume for the Bulls to any high school basketball player considering USF as an option.
But growing up in the Bronx does not mean Antigua doesn’t have some home field advantage when recruiting.
When Antigua was first hired, USF women’s basketball coach Jose Fernandez said the new coach’s Hispanic roots might help him tap into areas such as west Tampa and Ybor City.
With the half-Puerto Rican, half-Dominican coach leading the biggest basketball program within an hour-and-a-half radius, it would be wise for Athletic Director Mark Harlan, Fernandez and Antigua to put a plan such as that into motion.
According to Pewresearch.org, about 4.2 million, or about 23.2 percent, of Floridians are Hispanic – meaning Florida has the third-largest Hispanic population in the nation.
The 2010 Census also reports 23.1 percent of Tampa’s nearly 336,000 residents and 24.9 percent of Hillsborough County’s nearly 1,230,000 are Hispanic or Latino.
It’s an idea that Fernandez was likely thinking of before in regards the women’s team, but it would be difficult for a program that draws roughly a quarter of the men’s program’s attendance to garner interest that far away
But things should be different now with the hiring of Antigua, who is still head coach of the Dominican National Team and a well-respected member of the Hispanic and Latino
Fernandez, who is Puerto Rican himself, and Antigua are in a position to create the most diverse basketball experience USF has seen in the Sun Dome.
Antigua could probably learn a few things from Fernandez who not only recruits out of the state Florida, such as Georgia’s Courtney Williams, but also leaves the country to find
players such as Laura Marcos Canedo and Ariadna Pujol of Spain.
Antigua has a chance to do the same with his ties to the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, and his loyalty to the mecca of basketball – New York City.
As a kid who made it out of the Bronx after a childhood of struggles, Antigua is a respected figure who should be able to go into any recruit’s home in the Big Apple and catch their interest because he knows about the difficulties.
But Antigua’s challenge will be whether he can recruit All-Americans to USF off the bat, or whether he’ll have to settle for three and four-star recruits.
Going off Antigua’s answer regarding his recruiting philosophy in his first sit-down with reporters after his introductory press conference, he seems to share Calipari’s philosophy of preparing elite players for the NBA in one-season increments as the way to go.
Antigua said there’s nothing wrong with recruiting an All-American who’s one-and-done, because it means USF is doing pretty well and winning games. Antigua has recruited NBA players toward Calipari’s programs at Memphis and Kentucky, including Derrick Rose, Demarcus Cousins, John Wall and Anthony Davis.
It may not happen overnight, but Antigua seems to think he can recruit the same level of players to USF.