No one knows what to expect when USF takes the court Saturday for its first exhibition game, but first-year coach Orlando Antigua says the unexpected can be a huge advantage for his young team.
“People don’t know what they can bring to the table and what their strengths and weaknesses are,” Antigua said. “Our job is to try to maximize, push them to their limits and see what we can get out of them.”
Nine newcomers are eligible to play this season – six of them are freshman. And only three players on the roster played Division 1 basketball last season: Corey Allen Jr., Anthony Collins and Chris Perry.
“It’s been the veteran guys that have assumed that role of leadership,” Antigua said. “Corey is doing it by leading by example. Anthony’s doing it by pulling guys aside and explaining what they need to do in certain situations – the kind of effort they need to have – those kinds of things.”
Antigua has been pushing the players since their first workouts in May. Freshman Troy Holston Jr. immediately knew it wasn’t going to be easy.
“The first day I came here on my workout, I knew it was a very hard workout for me as a freshman,” Holston said. “We did ball-handling drills up and down the court – all fast-paced. Basically like conditioning basketball drills. We’d get tired quickly, and that’s what really made it hard.”
Antigua emphasizes having a fast-tempo game with “a team that’s disciplined, that’s physical, that runs, that moves the ball (and) that’s unselfish.”
The team has had 20 official practices so far and Antigua said they’re still continuing fundamental basics.
“I think that’s something we’ll continue throughout the year,” Antigua said. “Our defensive principals: running, spacing, sharing the ball and helping them identify where they need to get the ball at certain times.”
Last season, the Bulls (12-20) needed shooters. They made just 25.8 percent of their three-pointers.
“They’re going to be using me to shoot outside the three-point line,” Holston said. “My IQ is pretty high, my shooting ability.”
The 6-foot-4, 200-pound shooting guard averaged 23 points as a senior at Oldsmar Christian High School, where he helped the team to a 16-9 record.
“Troy’s got his body in great shape,” Antigua said. “(He’s) always been known as a shooter and a scorer, and with him being in better shape, it’s being demonstrated even more.”
The Bulls found another shooter in Nehemias Morillo, the 6-foot-5, 180-pound shooting guard from the Dominican Republic.
“(Morillo) is doing a great job in finding his niche in the offense,” Antigua said. “He’s really athletic, really aggressive. He’s shooting the ball extremely well – especially from the 15- to 17-foot range.”
The junior transfer averaged 12.2 points, 4 assists and 6.2 rebounds per game last season at Monroe College in New York.
“My strengths are to shoot the ball, to grab rebounds and run fast,” Morillo said.
Freshman Ruben Guerrero also moves quickly on the court. Originally from Spain, Guerrero played on the 18-U Spanish National Team before moving to Kansas, where he averaged 9.3 points and 8.5 rebounds at Sunrise Christian Academy.
The 6-foot-11 center/forward arrived at USF weighing 199 pounds. He said he’s gained 25 – 30 pounds by “eating five to six times a day, drinking body shakes, working out and lifting more.”
“One of the things we had to do with (Guerrero) was get him stronger, put some weight on him,” Antigua said in an interview with BullsCast. “Now that he’s gotten that weight on him, we have to get him used to playing with that weight.”
The other big-bodied center on the team, Jaleel Cousins, has also gotten in better shape. The 6-foot-11, 261-pounder has lost about five pounds and is still working toward his 250-pound goal.
Cousins, a junior transfer from Alabama, averaged 3.7 points and 2.9 rebounds per game last season at Navarro College in Texas.
Players have been developing individually, and Antigua is looking forward to how they develop as a team.
“I’m most excited about how we show growth,” Antigua said. “I know it’s going to be an up and down because of our youth. The process of development and growing is what I’m most excited about and seeing where that takes us.”
USF starts the season with an exhibition game against Indiana University of Pennsylvania on Saturday at 4 p.m. in the