Another season of USF basketball tipped off last week.
While both teams went undefeated, it seems they are defining their identities.
The men’s program is looking to establish itself under coach Amir Abdur-Rahim after five years of mediocre play during the Brian Gregory era.
As for the women’s team, they’ll need to figure out a different pathway to maintain its success.
Here are some first impressions of both programs.
Abdur-Rahim entered his locker room following a convincing 96-52 debut win over South Carolina State on Tuesday.
He was met with thunderous applause from his team. They sprayed water over one another.
“This ain’t the same old South Florida,” he exclaimed to his team.
Since stepping on campus, Abdur-Rahim has been adamant about giving the USF community a competitive brand of basketball it can be proud of. The Bulls have a 54-47 record at home over the last six seasons.
Thursday’s performance could go a long way in bringing his vision to reality.
The team’s success was defined by an up-tempo style of play centered around ball movement. The team had 24 assists on 34 field goals.
Abdur-Rahim said the Bulls have multiple players they can run the offense through but this balanced scoring effort was a “testament to their buy-in.”
Their defensive effort complemented this style of play. USF forced 21 turnovers and scored 27 points from those opportunities. It also had 20 fast break points.
Junior forward Sam Hines, who scored 12 points, said the trust from the coaching staff has benefitted the team.
“One thing I appreciate is just clarity,” Hines said. “So we just have been held accountable, which is why you see differences in us.”
The Bulls had five players who scored in double-digits against the Bulldogs.
Newcomer and senior guard Chris Youngblood had a team-high 19 points in his USF debut. Junior guard Selton Miguel was second on the team with 18 points.
However, the main standout was freshman point guard Jayden Reid.
Reid had a double-double with 11 points and 10 assists in just 23 minutes off the bench. He also added five steals and rebounds each.
Hines is one of three returners from last year’s roster. He has had a first-hand account of Reid’s passing talent.
“I knew Jaden was special but today made it even more apparent,” Hines said.“He’s a special point guard.”
Players like Reid could potentially play a huge role in the team’s success going forward.
The Bulls (2-0) won their first two games but it wasn’t as smooth sailing as it had been in years past.
USF led by as many as 24 points in their season-opening 76-61 win against UT Arlington on Tuesday. However, that lead dwindled to single digits at one point in the fourth quarter.
USF’s offense went cold for minutes at a time against Stetson on Thursday despite starting strong in the opening quarter.
The Bulls were projected to win the American Athletic Conference for the fourth straight season. Bulls coach Jose Fernandez said the team has a long way to re-establish their identity.
“We’ve got a lot of guys that have not been put in these positions or played these types of minutes and it showed,” he said after the win against Stetson.
The Bulls are a younger and less experienced team than in years past. Five new players joined the team, and three of the starters on opening night were younger classmen.
Fernandez said he is still tinkering with lineups to see how players mesh on the court.
“I’m gonna have to find a way to control tempo…because this ain’t gonna get us to where we want to get,” he said.
The team will be without its junior guard – and preseason all-conference first-team selection – Sammie Puisis for the foreseeable future.
Fernandez said Puisis was the “calming factor” in the lineup and the team has been challenged to adjust.
Over the past two games, multiple players have stepped up.
Sophomore forward Daniela Gonzalez contributed on both ends of the floor against UT Arlington. Gonzalez had a career-high 16 points on six of six shooting from the field. She also contributed three blocks and two steals.
Freshman guard Vittoria Blasigh also scored 15 points off the bench in her collegiate debut.
Carla Brito had a double-double with 20 points and 11 rebounds off the bench against Stetson.
Fernandez said her efficiency was reminiscent of her play from last season. Brito was a conference All-Rookie selection in the 2022-23 season.
“She was efficient, she took good shots,” Fernandez said. “She didn’t force bad, contested shots… hopefully, this is the type of game that [makes] her better.”
All three players could find greater roles as the season progresses. But the question of who will be the consistent presence in the lineup remains to be answered.