USF coach Orlando Antigua is no stranger to facing adversity.
Beginning with his journey to America from the Dominican Republic with his family when he was 10, Antigua has encountered one trial after another.
From becoming the first of his family to attend and graduate college, to surviving an errant bullet wound to the head in a Halloween prank gone wrong when he was 15, the 6-foot-7 Antigua has stood tall time and time again in the face of hardships.
However, his tenure as coach of the Bulls has seen more misfortune than maybe even the embattled third-year coach can overcome.
After two years of finishing at the bottom of the AAC, coupled with an inability to build a competitive roster, Antigua will likely be coaching for his job this season.
“(Fans) should be excited about the chemistry we have, about the chip on the shoulder that this team has,” Antigua said. “You know, it’s something similar to my upbringing and my background, when maybe not a lot of people think that you can do something and you roll up your sleeves and you go to work. You put the time in and your prepare and you see where the chips lie after that.”
There were no expectations for Year 1 in 2014, when Antigua was left with a stripped-down roster after all but five scholarship players left the program due to the firing of former coach Stan Heath.
He used his recruiting expertise from his days as an assistant coach at Kentucky to lure in several transfer players to add some sorely-needed veteran talent to one of the youngest teams in the NCAA.
Some, such as Angel Nunez and Jaleel Cousins turned into consistent starters in their brief stints with USF. A few faltered in their decisions and never came to Tampa.
One of the more heralded transfers, five-star guard Roddy Peters, sat out an entire season after transferring to USF only to play an injury-limited season in 2015-16 before transferring out of the program.
Antigua even lost out on players he inherited, with former starters Anthony Collins and Chris Perry leaving the program.
And when it comes to getting freshmen on campus, Antigua has excelled in garnering commitments, but not getting those players into uniform.
But no matter the road blocks, the Bulls’ 17-48 record in Antigua’s two years as coach is an unacceptable mark.
“I learned that the second year is a lot harder than the first year,” Antigua said. “And it’s part of the process and growing. Sometimes there are things in your control and there are things that are out of your control and what I try to teach our kids is that you do the best that you can with the things you can control and you come every day to work, you come every day to try to do the right things and put yourself in the best position to have success on and off the court.”
The pinnacle of USF’s struggles under Antigua came this summer when the school announced it was under investigation for academic fraud.
Orlando’s brother, Oliver, resigned nearly immediately and the top half of the recruiting class — four-star and ESPN top-100 player Troy Baxter and Andres Feliz — pulled their commitments from the school.
Even if Antigua survives the findings of the NCAA’s investigation, he’ll be hard-pressed to field a roster any better than last season.
One of the few bright spots of the upcoming season, talented scorer Jahmal McMurray (15.2 points per game), is suspended for the first month of the season due to undisclosed violations of team policy.
USF, which finished 10th out of 11 AAC teams, was picked to finish in the same position for the 2016-17 season in the conference’s annual preseason coaches’ poll, even before the news of McMurray’s suspension.
While it remains clear that Antigua and the Bulls are fighting an uphill battle once again coming into the season, the time for excuses is over.