An early look at USF men’s basketball

Sophomore David Collins will step into a leadership role this season for USF. He averaged 10 points per game last season. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE/GOUSFBULLS 

Coach Brian Gregory and the Bulls are looking to build on a foundation set last season and will rely on a young team with an international flavor as the team prepares for a hopeful and successful season.

The Bulls leaned heavily on the leadership and scoring ability of three graduate transfers last season. Stephan Jiggetts (12.5 ppg), Payton Banks (11.4 ppg) and Terrence Samuel (6.6 ppg) have all left the program, and with them, took 31 combined points per game, nearly half of the teams per game scoring average last season.  The Bulls averaged 63 points per contest a season ago.

The only returning player to average double figures in scoring is sophomore guard David Collins.

Collins hopes to build on his 10 point and 2.5 assist per game average from last year and expand his leadership role for the Bulls, which has a roster of five freshmen and three sophomores. The confidence in one another grows with every offseason workout.

“Everybody can speak. Everyone has a say,” Collins said. “ We all have great chemistry and we are still building upon it.

Collins shot 50 percent from the field last season and was named to the AAC All-Rookie team. Gregory wants Collins to be more assertive, make more plays and take more shots.

“David [Collins] had a tremendous freshman year,” Gregory said. “We need him to take it another level as a sophomore. He is not allowed to pass up an open shot.”

Gregory is also looking forward to the process and challenge of molding a young team into a winning program.

“I like where we are at in the building process heading into this year,” Gregory said. “A lot of good things are happening with this program. As a program we look at a lot of different things off the court and on the court to make sure we are making the progress we want to make.”

The Bulls went 10-22 (3-15 in the AAC) last season in Gregory’s first year as head coach.

“I do like the effort our guys play with,” Gregory said. “I think it one of our greatest strengths. We have a hard working group.”

In the offseason, the Bulls have focused on limiting non-physical mistakes.

“We needed to become mentally tougher to be able to bounce back and continue the process we are on. I thought our guys have really embraced and done a good job in that.”

Redshirt senior T.J Lang will suit up for the Bulls after sitting out last season due to NCAA transfer rules. Lang played three seasons at Auburn, starting 44 games in his first three seasons in the SEC. The senior guard was relegated to practice participation last year.

“Last year I used to go to sleep praying and dreaming, wishing I could just play now,” Lang said. “This year is a dream come true.”

The Bulls have five international players on their roster. Madut Akec and Mayan Kiir (Sudan),  Nikola Scekic (Serbia), Antun Maricevic (Croatia) and Alexis Yetna (France).

“All of our international players came to the States and went either to high school or junior college,” Gregory said. “We are an international university with great diversity on campus, and we sell that.”

Only 7’2” senior center Scekic has played for the Bulls. He averaged  2.3 points and 2.6 rebounds per game in 29 starts last season.

Yetna, (6’8” sophomore forward), won a bronze medal for France at the U20 FIBA European Championship in 2017.

Last season at Victory Rock Prep in Bradenton, Florida, Akec averaged 19.3 points and 10 rebounds as a senior.

Junior forward Maricevic transferred to USF from Casper College in Wyoming. The 6’10” forward scored 15.5 points and grabbed 7.8 rebounds per game as sophomore while shooting 67 percent from the field and 83 percent from the free-throw line.

“Everybody in our program we brought in,” Gregory said. “Which is hard to do in year number two. At the same time, no one in our program has been here more than fifteen months.”

Collins looks to build on his freshman campaign, and the depth of the team is a strength he considers an important factor this season. Though he’s just a sophomore, he is tasked with leading the Bulls.

“As a program we have made a big culture shift,” Collins said. “We have 13 players going at it in practice. Iron sharpens iron.”

The Bulls open the season at home November 6th at the Yuengling Center against Alabama A&M.