Before we move on to who's coming in next year, let's quickly touch on this year's seniors. Chris Howard came back from a torn ACL in 2005 and was a rock on all three of Stan Heath's teams. This past year he started all 33 games for the Bulls and had career highs in points per game (10.3), shooting percentage, and rebounds, and committed less than two turnovers a game despite playing nearly 36 minutes per contest. An underrated loss.
Mike Mercer only played one full season for the Bulls after transferring from Georgia and briefly being dismissed from the team. But his contribution during BIG EAST play was vital as he played the small forward role in Heath's small lineup. During conference play he averaged 13.1 points and 6.1 rebounds per game, and because of Gus Gilchrist's injury, to me he was the most important player to USF basketball this season after Dominique Jones. (We'll find out eventually if Ken agrees.)
Alex Rivas didn't see the court until January while he recovered from something called bilateral tibial surgical revision. He played with metal rods in both of his legs and even though he wasn't a rotation regular, he gave the team some quality minutes when they were needed, especially on the defensive end. An unsung hero of the Georgetown game as he really slowed down Greg Monroe.
OK, we all like goofing on Ryan Kardok, calling him our victory cigar, and saying if he ends up in the game, then things have gone terribly wrong. The former walk-on didn't get many minutes and only took 17 shots, but he made one huge play that you've probably forgotten about. Go back and look at the game-tying 3 that Toarlyn Fitzpatrick made against Providence, the play that may be the one that we look back at later and say that it started the program's turnaround. You know who dove on the floor to steal the inbounds pass and start it all? It was Kardok.
Now on to next year…
Obviously Dominique Jones's NBA decision is the big story in the short term. There hasn't been any major news about his status lately. As expected, he applied to enter the draft but hasn't hired an agent. And we haven't seen any swings in draft projections that would affect his decision. In my mind it's still up in the air whether he comes back or not, which is why our DoJo-Go-Pro-O-Meter is set at 51%.
Heath has five scholarships to hand out for next year. Four of them have already been claimed by:
-- Hugh Robertson, a 6'5" guard who Ken previewed back in February.
-- Waverly Austin, a 6'10" center prospect from the Heat Academy in Virginia. According to what I could glean off the Internet, Austin is up to 250 pounds but can still run the floor and use his athleticism at both ends. He sounds like a cross between Jarrid Famous and Toarlyn Fitzpatrick, and he might redshirt since there are already several options in front of him on the front line.
-- Lavonte Dority, a 6'1" point guard and so far the top player in this year's recruiting class. It may be time for us to start paying for some services because there aren't too many free scouting reports out there on Dority, either. But here's one from IllinoisHSBasketball.com:
Dority is a very smart player, a great passer, and makes very smart decisions... He is very explosive and almost unstoppable when taking the ball to the hoop (though he draws a lot of charges when he drops his head or shoulder), and is great at finishing with both hands and at getting to the free-throw line (he was a combined 17-23 from the line against New Treir and TF North). He is a stellar ball handler, and makes up for his underwhelming quickness by having some crafty crossovers in his arsenal. The form on his outside shot is good but he doesn’t have a very quick release and needs a decent amount of time to get it off. His three point shot and mid-range game are inconsistent, but if he can start to hit those with consistency he could be scary-good offensively... Lavonte has a very quick release in the mid range and is great at getting off quick jumpers after a crossover or between the legs dribble. Dority is great in transition and is the ideal guard to lead a fast break. He sees the floor very well and makes sound decisions but does not defer to his teammates when he doesn’t have to.
Sounds like a DoJo starter kit. I'm not complaining.
In addition, transfer Ron Anderson from Kansas State becomes eligible. He got caught in a minutes squeeze as the Wildcats brought in some blue-chip talent, and left after the 2009 season. At 6'8" and 250 lbs., Anderson could be the grown-ass man USF desperately needs down low, and he has two years of experience against Big 12 competition and lots of upside.
With this group of players, we may see a different offense out of the Bulls next year. The balance of experience will shift to the frontcourt (Anthony Crater would be the only returning guard if DoJo goes to the NBA) and I think we may see a more inside-outside game set up, where the ball runs through Anderson, Gilchrist, or a hopefully improved Fitzpatrick, then back out to three-point shooters or slashers.
I think there's going to be a Part 3 pretty soon about the direction of the program, including some talk about what the Bulls do if Jones leaves for the NBA. I've sent out for help with this topic to get a different perspective, and I'll also ask about where Heath is most likely to invest his one remaining scholarship for next season. Stay tuned.