Heath hopes changes will make Bulls relevant

October, 6, 2009
Stan Heath is pushing for B.J. Daniels to continue his newfound fame as quarterback at South Florida.

But he's not waiting for Daniels to return to the hardwood for the Bulls to make a football-like run in the Big East.

Daniels was a role player last season as a backup point guard and will likely serve in a similar capacity again. Heath has only kind words to say about Daniels and his 2-0 record (including a win at Florida State) since taking over for the injured Matt Grothe at quarterback.

Daniels isn't Charlie Ward, the former two-sport star at Florida State. He averaged 2.8 minutes, 0.5 points and 0.1 assists in 19 games for the Bulls last season.

But in Daniels' defense, he hasn't concentrated on basketball. He's not a program-changer at the point, but he does have a quick first step. He's more of a scorer than a point, and it's still to be determined what will happen with him after the football season, which now may extend deep into December or January with the Bulls' 5-0 start. Daniels leads the team in passing (602 yards with six touchdowns) and rushing (291 yards on 48 carries and three touchdowns).

If and when Daniels does return to hoops, what he may find is a South Florida team making some long-awaited noise. Heath is relying on a bevy of transfers to change the fortunes of a program that has fought for relevance in a crowded conference.

Ohio State transfer Anthony Crater will be eligible on Dec. 12 and is expected to gobble up a major portion of point guard minutes. Having Crater at the point allows Heath to move Dominique Jones off the ball more often, which could be a natural position for him.

Heath said Jones is already measuring up to players like Patrick Beverley and Sonny Weems from Heath's days at Arkansas.

"He's more consistent with his 3-point shot; he's added a very good mid-range game," Heath said. "I played him more as a point last year, but he'll be more of a wing and scorer and that will help him be more effective."

Jones, a 6-4 junior, averaged 18.1 points and 5.6 rebounds per game last season. He lit up Iona for 36 points. He should again be one of the more prolific scorers in the Big East. For the Bulls to be a factor, he must be. But they'll also have to get major contributions from 6-foot-10 journeyman Augustus Gilchrist (once appeared headed to Maryland and Virginia Tech), who averaged 10.2 points and 4.4 rebounds a game last season after becoming eligible after the fall semester.

Heath also brought back the maligned Mike Mercer, who didn't last at Georgia after playing 51 games there and then played in just four games for the Bulls last season before injuries and behavior got him tossed.

"I reinstated him this year. He graduated from school and in the summer we had a long talk and I felt like he did enough good things to warrant another chance," Heath said.

If Jones, Crater, Mercer, Gilchrist and the addition of 6-11 Westchester Community College (N.Y.) center Jarrid Famous can produce, the Bulls have a shot to be a pest in the Big East.

"Gilchrist is ready to step up, Jones is primed to have a really big year and Mercer is the extra guy that makes things happen," Heath said. "We'll add Crater to the lineup for the second semester to give us that speed point guard we haven't had. We'll have a good starting five with Famous. This is the year to move up; there is a little bit of a changing of the guard."

South Florida, which finished 9-22 last season (4-14 Big East), hasn't been to the postseason since an NIT appearance under Seth Greenberg in 2002. The last NCAA tournament berth came under Bobby Paschal in 1992.

The renewed optimism at USF is similar to what is going on at St. John's, a program that has struggled to survive in the 16-team Big East. The Red Storm see an opportunity to move up in the league and challenge for a single-digit finish. The same is true at South Florida.

"We had a hard time finishing games because of the lack of depth and inexperience," Heath said. "I definitely feel like we have a team that can win those games, and have a chance to get near that postseason."

The Bulls will need to make some noise in the nonconference schedule, potentially by winning on the road (at Conference USA's SMU), pulling off an upset against South Carolina or knocking off Davidson in the Charleston Classic. The Bulls also need to win some road games in the Big East. Virginia is the best "name" team in the home nonconference schedule, followed by Heath's former employer, Kent State (with which he surprisingly signed up for a home-and-home).

The Big East slate is daunting: The Bulls go to Louisville, Syracuse, Cincinnati, Georgetown, Notre Dame and Villanova for its most significant road games. Winning their share of home games against the likes of Notre Dame, West Virginia, Seton Hall, Pitt, St. John's, Cincinnati and Connecticut will be paramount to any kind of postseason bid.

• The NCAA Eligibility Center's decision to forbid deals on national letters of intent (first reported by the Sporting News) shouldn't come as a shock. But what it could mean, according to one major Division I head coach, is more scholarship aid letters signed than NLIs. The scholarship aid is not binding like the NLI.

No one should be na´ve to think that players don't sign with the coach more than the school. Xavier Henry signed with John Calipari and Memphis, and when Calipari left for Kentucky, Henry decided between Calipari at UK and Bill Self at Kansas, not Josh Pastner at Memphis. That's the reality. Kentucky and North Carolina, and at one point Indiana, may be the only schools where an elite player grows up in the state and says that's where he wants to play, regardless of the coach.

The NCAA hasn't been that tough on forbidding players from getting out of their NLIs after a coaching change (as exhibited by Henry's decision).

Taking out any potential side deals isn't likely to change the practice of looking at other options if a new coach is hired.

Andy Katz | email

ESPN Senior Writer



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