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Antigua doomed from the start

Former USF coach Orlando Antigua recruited exciting talent to Tampa, but was unable to turn that into a winning season in two-plus years on the job. ORACLE FILE PHOTO/JACKIE BENITEZ

Two days after USF football coach Charlie Strong ushered in a new era by watching the Bulls defeat South Carolina 46-39 in overtime in the Birmingham Bowl, former men’s basketball coach Orlando Antigua’s last game at the helm in Tampa was mercifully drawing to a close. 

USF Athletic Director Mark Harlan fired Antigua on Tuesday after two-plus seasons of abysmal basketball that resulted in a 23-55 record. 

Antigua, who was an instrumental recruiter at Kentucky, won over plenty of talented recruits at USF who either never made it to campus or quickly left. 

From the jump, Antigua was pitted against the odds as he began 2014 with merely three returners who saw playing time the previous season. As expected, USF stumbled to the bottom of the AAC with a 9-23 record.

The next season, USF followed up with a disappointing 8-25 campaign. Shortly after, highly-touted guard Roddy Peters was dismissed from the team and third-year starting forward Chris Perry transferred to Division-II Lincoln Memorial. 

Unlike USF football, which is centered in a hotbed of high school talent, attracting top-tier players to play their college basketball in Tampa has typically been an insurmountable obstacle for past Bulls coaches. 

In the 10 years preceding Antigua, Bulls coaches managed to garner the commitment of only one four-star player (John Egbunu in 2013) and most recruiting classes featured multiple two-star or unranked players, according to 

However, Antigua seemed to be reversing the trend as he earned the commitment of three 3-star players in a short 2014 recruiting class and one 4-star player in both the 2015 and 2016 classes.

He excelled at assembling talent, but not when it came to cultivating it. 

Even after spending two seasons at the bottom of the conference, the future still looked bright for Antigua, as he was positioned to welcome one of the best recruiting classes in recent history. 

Despite this, the death knell for Antigua’s Bulls came over the summer as reports surfaced that the NCAA was investigating the school for possible academic fraud. 

In the fallout, three-star player Andres Feliz and four-star and ESPN Top100 recruit Troy Baxter pulled their commitments to the school. 

Just over a month into the 2016 season, the Bulls were dealt a crippling blow as their most talented player and leading scorer, sophomore guard Jahmal McMurray, announced his decision to transfer from the school. 

Two weeks later, Harlan relieved Antigua from his position in favor of interim coach Murry Bartow. 

Though it was clear it was time for Antigua to go, the question remains whether it was the coach or the school at fault for the Bulls’ struggles. 

In the past 10 years, USF has had just two winning seasons, losing to N.C. State in the first round of the NIT in 2010 and Ohio in the third round of the NCAA Tournament in 2012. 

Aside from those two years, the program has essentially been an afterthought in the world of USF Athletics.

Even with the allure of playing in the Big East (2005-13) and coming to a school with new facilities in one of the more attractive destinations in the country, USF basketball struggled to offer up a competitive product.

Now, with USF in the AAC and several losing seasons behind them, Antigua’s ability to recruit top players to Tampa shouldn’t have been taken for granted. 

Though Antigua’s time with the Bulls is up, their toiling at the bottom of the conference is far from over.