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The Tao of Brian Gregory

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The new Bulls head basketball coach inherits one of the toughest jobs around. But he’s not intimidated in the slightest; he’s a coaching lifer, and he’s been here before.

NCAA Basketball: ACC conference tournament-Georgia Tech vs Virginia Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Because Brian Gregory is a college basketball coach, he has strong opinions on the two things every college basketball coach has opinions on: coffee and Las Vegas. A bug was put in a writer’s ear that the Bulls new basketball coach appreciates a quality Dunkin’ Donuts coffee, and Gregory is happy for one brought to his interview, which is promptly exchanged for the stuff labeled verbally with a pejorative on offer in the Muma Center.

He’s a ball of energy that seems in constant motion whether caffeinated or not, but he also seems very comfortable in his own skin. The large cup of DD is held by a hand with a beaded bracelet on its wrist, a small crucifix as the clasp. As far as Vegas during the chaotic recruiting season, he’s a Marriott-by-the-Convention-Center guy. As a younger man maybe something closer to The Strip, but he’s older now, and he says there’s only been one problem with moving to Tampa so far.

“I gotta get my family down here. They’re finishing up school, moving down here in June.” Gregory’s daughters, Isabella aged 15 and Elyse, 12, both have attended volleyball camps at Georgia Tech with their head coach and USF’s only volleyball retired number, Michelle Collier. The two coached alongside each other for two years at Tech, and his missing his family doesn’t surprise her.

“He’s a great family guy,” Collier said. “His daughters are just great, and he was an awesome part of the team up here.” “USF is getting a guy that did it right here, and you can see that by what he left behind for Josh (Pastner) this season.”

Collier isn’t the only USF person Gregory knows, as he was an assistant at Michigan State with Stan Heath under Tom Izzo for years in East Lansing. The two remain great friends, and with Heath still living in Tampa, Gregory said he got an honest assessment when asking about the USF job.

“He talked about the challenges in recruiting with the history of the program. It’s not really a rebuild because (it was never built). And the dynamics have changed so dramatically.”

“The thing that has been built here, there was a kind of a characteristic: the good teams here, the teams that were successful, there were some common threads. It was Florida players playing, they played with a toughness and a kind of a chip on their shoulder a little bit. You look at some of the great teams even going back before Seth (Greenberg), you know what I mean? With Bobby (Paschal) there, that’s kind of how I envision what we’re going to do.”

“My philosophy is that there are issues that we need to address. But those are also in the rearview mirror, and that’s a lot smaller than the windshield. So we gotta know where we’re coming from and know those issues, but we’ve got to keep our eyes on the windshield.”

“Some of the challenges have to be flipped around and turned into something that makes this place special. And that’s one of my main jobs.”

Bringing in nine new players with various levels of eligibility left is a start in that process. While the players on the court are being finalized, all are expected to be on campus for the Summer “C” semester, and will have a chance to get acclimated to both the Muma Center and each other.

“I always say ‘you’ve got to get old and stay old’ in terms of your players. And hopefully we’re on the right track of getting that done. Having quality Florida players on our roster, playing with great toughness and intensity and energy, win or lose the fans walk out of the Sun Dome and say ‘man, that team plays their butt off.’ And guys that take great pride in wearing that uniform.”

The lack of Florida players on the roster has been the bane of many local hoop heads for years. Plenty of former USF players as well as area high school and AAU coaches often wonder why so few local kids have ended up playing for the Bulls since the Big East Era began.

“I do think if you look at it... about half your roster should be from the state of Florida, if not a little more, but here’s one of the problems with Florida: Florida high schools are starting to become a bit more transient-type state in terms of high school.”

He knows of whence he speaks, because his rosters at both Dayton and Georgia Tech were littered with players from Ohio and Atlanta, respectively.

“You have to look at my track record, and the track record of the programs that I’ve been associated with. When I was at Michigan State with Coach Izzo, did we get guys from out of state? Yes. Was the program built on the shoulders of Flint and Saginaw and then a little bit Detroit? No question about it.”

“When I went to Dayton, was that program built on the shoulders of Ohio kids? I couldn’t get a kid a Dayton when I started there. Chris Wright was the first kid from Dayton to commit to us. Now he was a great player, played in the NBA. Now all of a sudden it was ok to come to Dayton. He changed the whole program. And he changed it all the way through.”

“Now all of a sudden for the next three or four years, we get the best player in the Dayton area.”

“We are recruiting the state and the local area hard. And if there’s two equal players and one’s from Florida and one isn’t, well I tell you that if we had to choose, yeah. If it’s the best fit for you as a student-athlete, and it’s closer to home, you’re going to enjoy your career more. To be able to have your family and friends be part of your college career, if it’s the right fit, is the best thing for you. And that’s something we really, really sell.”

Florida has also become the home of many “prep-type” schools such as Montverde, IMG Academy, and Oldsmar Christian that put out players as talented as any in America. And Gregory says using that backyard advantage is a priority for his staff.

“We have to recruit those programs, because they get high-quality players. I respect those coaches there too, they do a great job with those guys. We’ve put an emphasis on creating better recruiting relationships with those programs, and a lot of other programs like that throughout the state.”

He also understands that a lot of success is momentum, but engaging the Tampa Bay area and getting them to believe in what USF basketball is and can be is a huge factor.

“You gotta build some momentum and some energy and some positiveness regarding the program. We’ve started that process.”

“We need to get the student fan base involved in our program. That means our student-athlete’s have to be engaged within the campus. When those pieces are put together, and you’re producing a product people can rally around and support, then the fan base starts showing up again and you get greater support.”

As far as those new players, he has a plan for what he’s looking for in a future Bull.

“Tangible skills and intangible skills, and we emphasize the intangible skills just as much. They have to have a competitive toughness. High basketball IQ. IQ is also knowing your role and executing your rule. Maybe he’s not a great shooter or a great passer, that doesn’t mean his IQ is bad, it means he needs to understand his role.”

“We have a system, but you do have to have flexibility in your system in terms of who you’re recruiting, who you have, and who you’re able to bring in. I do think that the competitive toughness and the basketball IQ and understanding in the game

“In terms of the tangible, I do like versatile, skilled players. And working hard and playing with great energy is a skill.”

But for Gregory, it’s about building a family on and off the court. And sometimes that helps when house-hunting.

“When I talked about intangibles, understanding your role and performing your role, mine is not to pick out the house or do any of that stuff,” he says with a wry smile. “I have three wonderful women that I live with that are in charge.” Those women found him a place in South Tampa, and he’s excited for them to be moving there full-time. And the appeal of the beauty of the Bay Area was tinted by the coaching-lifer that resides deep inside him.

“I was excited about the city and the water, because of course my mind goes right away to the recruiting.”

“We’ve had great recruiting success with very limited visits. And that’s because of how comfortable the recruits felt here. Not just on-campus and with the facility and all that, but in the city. When we went to the Columbia for dinner, it was unbelievable. At Ulele, just the friendliness of people and “Go Bulls” as you’re walking by... you wouldn’t know the team won seven games last year. But it goes back to what we were talking about. I think people are sincerely, sincerely pulling for us. That’s been tremendous.”

“People have been really really good to us and our program.”

And just as he did at Georgia Tech, he’s ingratiating himself with his fellow coaches already, despite the hectic Spring schedule for every college basketball coach.

“I miss not being able to go watch USF play baseball. I text with three coaches in the NCAA Tournament this weekend, the tennis teams and the golf team. Just wishing them luck. Every coach has reached out to me already, they’ve been great. We had some recruits at the Spring Game, they loved it. People were coming up to them. Just stuff like that we’re really starting to build as a department.”

But he’s a coaching lifer, and with that comes a lack of balance he’s trying to correct at age 50, with moderate success.

“I’ve gotten a little better at that, but not much. I do love to golf, I love golfing. I played Tampa Palms this weekend. I love the course, did not love my score. I don’t get to play much because with the job, it’s so encompassing if I do get free time, now it’s all family time. I have a 15-year-old and a 12-year-old so not a lot other than basketball, and try to work out every day, try to stay sharp, and try to be a good father and husband.”

Greogry is all about family. And rebuilding the family of USF men’s basketball is his next task. He seems well on his way.