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Gregory sees potential in new players, old faces as USF holds first official practice

Coach Brian Gregory is entering his fifth season at the helm of the USF men’s basketball program. USF ATHLETICS PHOTO

The USF men’s basketball team held its first official practice of the season Tuesday afternoon, featuring four returning players from last season and a plethora of new faces.

Sophomore Caleb Murphy, juniors Jamir Chaplin and Russel Tchewa and senior Mark Calleja are the only members of the team who have played at USF before. The others, including nine transfers and one freshman, are new to the Bulls.

“We’ve had a good summer, [a] good preseason with our new guys and our returning guys,” coach Brian Gregory said in a press conference Tuesday. “I think this is a new age when it comes to college basketball. You’re seeing it in college football quite a bit with the impact of the transfer market and guys that are able to come into a new place and make an immediate impact.

“I think you’re going to see it. Maybe even more pronounced in college basketball just due to the fact of the sheer number of how many guys have taken advantage of the perfect storm that was created with the additional year of eligibility, and then the immediate eligibility rule being in play.”

A whopping 1,755 players have entered the transfer portal in 2021 to date, according to Verbal Commits, compared to 1,012 in 2020 and 988 in 2019.

The incoming transfers include freshmen Lamont Evans and Corey Walker Jr., sophomores Bayron Matos, Sam Hines Jr., DJ Patrick and Jalyn McCreary, juniors Jake Boggs and Serrel Smith Jr., and senior Javon Greene.

All of the transfers are immediately eligible to play except Smith Jr. who is transferring for the second time in his collegiate career. The 6-foot-4-inch guard played 61 games at Maryland his freshman and sophomore seasons before transferring to East Tennessee State University for his junior year where he had the best statistical campaign of his career, averaging seven points and 2.3 rebounds per game in 25 appearances and 17 starts.

Because he has transferred twice, USF Athletics had to submit a waiver for him to play this season.

“The waiver has been put in because he falls under a second transfer,” Gregory said. “Obviously there were some situations that occurred at his last school. … We’ve put [the waiver] in, and we’re just waiting word on that one.”

The most seasoned transfer added to the program likely is Greene, who played four seasons and appeared in 119 games at George Mason.

Greene averaged 11.5 points, 5.0 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.8 steals per game in his most recent campaign with the Patriots. He also shot 42.3% from the field and 37.5% from three-point range in 28.6 minutes per game.

“When you look at his body of work over the four years [at George Mason], over 1,000 points, over 500 rebounds, over 300 assists and over 100 steals, if he had those numbers here at South Florida he would go down as one of the greatest players that’s ever played here,” Gregory said.

“He had a tremendous career at George Mason. Plus he’s played in over 100 college basketball games, so that makes a big difference too. There’s no doubt that he’s going to be able to make an immediate impact in our program [with] his ability to score the ball, shoot the ball, and he’s a high-quality guard when it comes to decision making and so forth.”

Freshman guard Trey Moss out of Windermere High School is the only player on the team that has yet to log a minute of collegiate play, but learning behind someone like Murphy can benefit him, according to Gregory.

“He’s got a bright future in front of him,” Gregory said of Moss. “He’s learning from a guy who obviously knows the position and knows our system, so he’s making good strides as well.”

Despite the massive influx of new players, Gregory is comfortable leaning on the guys he has returning.

Murphy played in 21 games and averaged 8.3 points and 2.9 assists last season in his first year with the program, and Chaplin put up 5.3 points per contest in 16.4 minutes per game over 22 appearances.

“No one three years ago foresaw that this was going to occur, with the combination of COVID and the extra year of eligibility and the transfer thing,” Gregory said. “You’ve got to adapt and adjust, but with that, it’s a pretty good place to start with Murphy and Chaplin. … [Tchewa] played in every game for us last year as well.”

The Bulls will open the season against Bethune-Cookman University at home Nov. 9. The time has yet to be announced.