To the casual USF fan, the 2017 men’s basketball roster doesn’t feature many familiar faces.
With 10 newcomers and a new head coach, USF might as well be a brand-new team ahead of the 2017-18 season that begins in the Sun Dome on Nov. 10.
Of the six players returning for the 2017-18 season, only two — Tulio Da Silva and Troy Holston — played more than 30 total minutes in the Bulls’ 8-23 season last year where they finished last in the AAC.
To make things even more of an uphill climb for new coach Brian Gregory, USF will be without one of its two returning players who logged significant minutes in 2016 at the beginning of the season.
USF released in a statement Thursday that Holston, a redshirt junior guard, is out indefinitely after having surgery on his left knee last month. Holston, who missed the entire 2015-16 season with a torn left ACL, started 19 of the Bulls’ 31 games in 2016-17 and led the team in three-pointers with 54. Four of the games he didn’t start were due to issues with the same left knee.
“Disappointments like this are never easy,” Gregory said in the statement about Holston. “However, the surgery was a success and Troy, like we anticipated, is attacking his daily rehab with great intensity. Troy had a tremendous spring and summer, preparing for what we believed was going to be a special junior campaign.
“I am positive that he will make a full recovery and come back stronger and better than ever.”
The statement didn’t specify if Holston’s left knee was torn again, nor did it specify a timetable for a potential return.
Without Holston, the Bulls’ only returning starter is redshirt sophomore forward Tulio Da Silva, who averaged 9.8 points a game and a team high of 6.8 rebounds last season.
Though Silva will be the only Bull with substantial minutes in a USF uniform to start the season, Gregory brought in experience from the outside, including three graduate transfers — players who are able to transfer and play without sitting out a year after they graduate.
“We do have some game experience,” Gregory said. “We just don’t have it together.”
The trio of graduate transfers includes Stephan Jiggetts, Terrence Samuel and Payton Banks.
Both Samuel and Banks played for Penn State last season, but had their scholarships pulled by Penn State coach Pat Chambers, according to the Centre Daily Times.
At Penn State, Banks, a 6-foot-6 winger, regularly started and regularly averaged 10.4 points per game while making 73 three pointers on 202 attempts. Samuel, a 6-foot-3 guard who played less than Banks, averaged 3.9 points per game.
Meanwhile, Jiggetts, a 6-foot-1 guard, averaged 13.5 points per game, 4.2 assists and 2.8 rebounds last season for Fairleigh Dickinson University, a division one school in Teaneck, New Jersey.
“Our goal in the spring was to stabilize the program,” Gregory said after a practice last week. “You do that with older guys.”
Before a practice last week, Gregory mentioned that either Jiggetts or freshman David Collins would likely be running the point next season.
“Right now, Stephan Jiggetts and David Collins are playing a lot with the ball in their hand,” Gregory said when asked what the backcourt has looked like so far. “But our offense allows our off-guards, two-guards, three-men, our swing players to handle the ball as well.”
To go along with six transfer players, four freshmen are on the USF roster and will be playing numerous minutes right off the bat, according to Gregory.
“David (Collins), Justin (Brown) and ‘Lex (Alexis Yetna) are all gonna have to contribute, and all are gonna have to play at times not as freshmen,” Gregory said. “The biggest challenge with freshmen, there’s two of ‘em: The first one is defensively. Most times with freshmen, you have to have an all-points-bulletin on campus to find someone they can guard. That’s just the way it is, you can search for days and not find anybody.
“The second challenge for freshmen is being able to sustain that type of effort day-in and day-out, because in the past they’ve been able to have an off-day and still be the best player on the court. That’s no longer the case, and they have to realize that.”
Known for his rigorous practices prior to coming to USF, Gregory has continued that same tradition through the first weeks of practices at USF.
“My four years in college, I’ve never witnessed practices like this,” Banks said referring to how hard Gregory makes them work. “If I’m doing something wrong, he’ll go out there and show me how to do it, not just tell me. It helps out a lot, especially with the freshman.”
The Bulls will start their season on Nov. 4 against Florida Atlantic and will play 15 home games between then and the last regular season game on March 4.
Until then, the new Bulls will be working to make sure their names are known by seasons end — in a good way.