Basketball hosts social before new season tips off

The social featured speeches from men’s and women’s basketball coaches Amir Abdur-Rahim and Jose Fernandez. ORACLE PHOTO/NOAH VINSKY

It’s a tale of two seasons for the men’s and women’s basketball programs – the former attempts to rebuild while the latter aims to build on its success.

Alumni, coaches and players gathered at the JW Marriott Hotel in Downtown Tampa on Wednesday evening for the 2023-24 Basketball Tip-Off Social. 

The two-hour event featured food, drinks and speeches from the men’s and women’s head coaches. It was hosted by USF play-by-play caller Jim Lighthall, who has been the voice of the Bulls for over 25 years. 

Women’s basketball coach Jose Fernandez, entering his 23rd season, is one of the longest-tenured head coaches at USF. The Bulls are once again projected to finish first in the American as Fernandez aims to extend his streak of success. 

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“That is a standard, and I think the Tampa Bay community and fans recognize that as well. We look forward to continuing the tradition and the success we’ve had,” Fernandez said. 

The Bulls have made the NCAA tournament nine times under Fernandez. They won the AAC regular season championship last year, tying the program record for most wins in a season with 27. 

As the women’s squad works to continue their decade-long success, men’s basketball coach Amir Abdur-Rahim is ushering in a new era. He expressed how proud he was of his team as it attempts to rebuild a program that hasn’t had a winning season since 2018. 

Abdur-Rahim was hired as head coach on March 29 and has since rebuilt the roster and coaching staff, bringing in 12 new players. Only three players from last year’s roster remain – senior guard Selton Miguel and junior forwards Sam Hines Jr. and Corey Walker Jr. 

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Abdur-Rahim said he recognized the adversity the trio has endured to adjust to the new culture he’s instilling.

But they’ve met us at every step of the way,” Abdur-Rahim said. 

The men’s team is coming off four consecutive losing seasons, which ultimately led to the firing of former coach Brian Gregory. 

Both coaches emphasized the importance of getting more USF students involved with the programs and packing the Yuengling Center. 

“We need people to not just buy tickets, but to show up and create a great environment for our student-athletes and a tough environment for people to play in,” Fernandez said. 

Since his hiring, Abdur-Rahim has made campus involvement a priority. He’s frequently posted videos on X, the social media site formerly known as Twitter, of himself engaging with students across campus.

Abdur-Rahim said the team will be out on campus and in the community to produce excitement around their program. 

“Don’t be surprised when you see me on campus on game day inviting the students out,” he said. 

Fernandez said that his team is ready to tip off the season as they attempt to make their fourth consecutive NCAA tournament.

“I’m going to try to keep the ship headed forward and control what we can control, stay injury-free and we’ll be ready,” he said. 

USF men’s basketball will tip off its first exhibition against Edward Waters on Nov. 2 at 7 p.m. Women’s basketball will tip off its first regular season game against UT Arlington on Nov. 6 at 7 p.m. Both games will be broadcast on ESPN+ and BullsUnlimited.