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The soul of USF men’s basketball

Laquincy Rideau is the soul of the Bulls, according to coach Brian Gregory. ORACLE PHOTO/BRIAN HATTAB

It’s hard to imagine someone who initially played both baseball and football to be referred to as the soul of a college basketball team.

But that’s what coach Brian Gregory said about senior guard Laquincy Rideau.

“He’s the soul of our team,” Gregory said. “He wears and plays with his emotions on his sleeve.”

Rideau, who’s been with the Bulls for just over two years, has established himself as a key leader of the team.

Before he found basketball, though, Rideau was lining up to play football. And before that, he tried his hand at baseball.

Rideau’s father, Greg, pitched for the Cleveland Indians’ organization in 1992. He tried to convince his son to follow in his footsteps.

“He tried to get me to play baseball,” Rideau said. “I was like a third baseman or a right outfielder and I was just picking the flowers off the ground. I was just bored.”

The first sport he loved was football, but he discovered basketball shortly thereafter and was drawn to it.

“Football was like my main sport,” Rideau said. “Then I just embraced basketball because it was more fun … just more of an active game.”

From there, the game of basketball became a part of him.

When Gregory set out to recruit players in 2017, his first season with USF, it came down to the last minute because of how unattractive USF was at the time. The Bulls were coming off back-to-back sub-10 win seasons and the program was considered a mess.

Gregory was seeking out players with mental and physical acuity. 

“We didn’t just need toughness because I like tough kids that can play, we needed mental toughness, too,” Gregory said. “We knew the hole we were in and we needed to scrap, claw and dig ourselves out of it.”

Rideau, who was playing for Gardner-Webb at the time, happened to fit the criteria.

“It didn’t take long for us, when he came up here in the summer, that he had a chance in our system … and he could be a special player for us,” Gregory said.

While USF was sold on the transfer, Rideau wasn’t initially convinced.

“When I saw the record I thought, ‘There’s no way I’m coming here.’”

But with his family in West Palm Beach, just a short drive away from USF, Rideau committed to becoming a Bull.

“I wasn’t doing this just for me,” he said. “I was doing it for my family so they could also just drive up here and see me play.”

Last season, Rideau became the first player in AAC history to lead in steals (101) and assists (189) in a single season, his first year eligible at USF after sitting out due to NCAA transfer rules the year prior.

It’s hard to imagine a player like Rideau needing to work on much more, given how he played last season.

But after entering his name in the 2019 NBA Draft, he discovered there is much more to learn before making it in the pros.

Initially, it was a learning experience — he went to see what they expect in the NBA.

Rideau tweeted an announcement April 22 confirming he was entering his name in the draft. The NBA Draft was June 20, just under two months later.

“I wish I had approached it a lot different,” Rideau said. “Like didn’t wait until the last minute.”

Despite not having much time to prepare and ultimately withdrawing his name from the draft May 28, it was a valuable experience for Rideau. He’s now confident in what he needs to work on.

“My body weight, that’s my main concern right now, just get my weight down,” Rideau said. “Just taking care of the ball, assist-to-turnover ratio and shooting more consistent.”

Gregory highlighted three areas for Rideau to improve — shooting from close range, shooting at the free-throw line and, like Rideau noted, his assist-to-turnover ratio.

“He’s just a small amount off in those three areas,” Gregory said.

If Rideau focuses on these aspects of his game, the results could speak for themselves, according to Gregory.

“Now you’re talking about one of the elite point guards in the country,” Gregory said.

Focusing on all tangible parts of the game is the task for Rideau.

But he also finds himself with the intangible job of being a leader. As one of two seniors — the other being forward Antun Maricevic — Rideau is the guy the other players look to.

Junior guard David Collins knows the impact Rideau has on the court.

“[Rideau] is one of those guys we depend on,” Collins said. “We play based on his tempo. He plays hard and gritty. It sets the tone for us offensively and defensively.”

Although Rideau has only played with the Bulls for two years, he has found himself in a leadership role that works well with the rest of the team, according to Gregory.

“He’s an unbelievable competitor and that kind of filters through the rest of our players,” Gregory said. “He doesn’t take non-competitiveness from his teammates very well, which is good. … He’s earned the respect of our guys.”

Building chemistry with his teammates was key to earning respect. Rideau is an avid NBA 2K player and spends his free time playing with his teammates.

When Collins was asked who wins between him and Rideau, Collins gave a swift response.

“Nah, I be beating him,” Collins said.

Rideau disagreed entirely.

“Listen, do not believe that,” Rideau said.

Now, just two years after arriving at USF, Rideau is entering his last season as a college basketball player. Having already seen what it takes for him to make it to the next level, he said he wants to make his last season count.

“I want to grow as a player and be the best person I can be,” Rideau said.

“That’s the main goal.”