The calamity of the Steve ‘No Degree’ Masiello debacle and the ensuing media melee that engulfed USF's search for a new head basketball coach left Bulls Nation ruffled. Not to mention the scorn felt after UNLV’s Dave Rice dodged the position like a sixth grader with cooties. While USF’s sights may have been initially honed on the wrong Kentucky Wildcat, I believe Mark Harlan's first hire was nothing short of magnificent.
Orlando Antigua was not first on USF’s list, we know. Hell, we aren't even sure if Antigua was the fourth or fifth choice on the list USF paid a search firm more than $60k to formulate. Does any of this stuff actually matter? Harlan found a coach that embodies the passion, work ethic and drive required to resurrect a program that finished 12-20 just two-years removed from a NCAA Tournament appearance.
When former Kentucky assistant and Pittsburgh alumni Orlando Antigua decided to leave his cushy bench position with the Kentucky Wildcats under likely Hall of Fame head coach John Calipari, it was unknown if Antigua's remarkable recruiting success would continue at USF, or his knack for winning for that matter. Antigua’s innate traits allowed the first year head coach to recruit and add six new players to a roster that returned just five players from the 2013-14 squad. Antigua’s up-tempo style of play and demand for hard work led to Chris Perry’s massive weight makeover and the Bulls 5-3 record as they prepare for tonight’s contest against Georgia Southern at the Sun Dome. The Bulls are shooting 48.6% from the field, 32.1% from beyond the arc and 63.8% from the line. Last year’s squad finished the season at 43.4% (FG%), 25.8% (3P%) and 66.2% (FT%) respectively.
Senior shooting guard Corey Allen has really come on averaging 17.1 points per game compared to 9.0 points per game last season, including a 29 point night against Jacksonville. Allen is currently shooting 56.8% from the field, 46.4% from three and 77.4% from the line. Moreover, newcomer Nehemias Morillo has made a big splash with his knockdown shooting, bolstering the Bulls deep attack with his 38.9% shooting from three en route to adding 11.6 points per game. Furthermore, the leaner and meaner Chris Perry is contributing 12.6 points per game and Anthony Collins is back his old ways averaging 6.5 assists per game. In short, Bulls basketball is on the rise and Orlando Antigua is pushing the squad harder than ever. Bulls Nation should be stoked by the improvement Antigua has shown in just a short time in Tampa.
ESPN's Dick Vitale once described USF men's basketball as "the hardest job in America'' because of the facilities and the program's history, with only three NCAA tournament bids in 43 seasons." I for one believe Antigua brings all the characteristics needed to make South Florida Basketball a name all fans must consider every season when formulating NCAA tournament brackets.
"See the big guy with the just-right hair who sits between the famous coach and the soon-to-be famous players? You've probably never had much reason to think about that stretch of bench, those three or four seats that separate fame from fame, but what if you discovered that one of those seats held the best story of all?"
The man who spent six-years by the side the great John Calipari knows how to close. Not only is Antigua a role model for young men across the nation, he exudes the 'I've been to the ship' confidence of a humble, thoroughbred that simply cannot to be taught. Tune in to ESPN3 this evening at 7 PM to cheer on the Bulls against Georgia Southern.