The 2021-2022 American Athletic Conference men’s and women’s basketball media days kicked off today to mark the beginning of the season as tip off is less than a month away.
USF men’s basketball has been slated to finish 9th in the preseason coaches poll, tied with Tulane at 25 points. Reigning conference tournament champion Houston received the highest number of first place votes with eight and is projected to finish first. Memphis received three first place votes to finish second, and coming in last was East Carolina.
No USF men’s basketball player was selected for either the preseason first-team or second-team all-conference team. The preseason Player of the Year is Wichita State’s Tyson Etienne, and Memphis’ Jalen Duren was elected preseason Rookie of the Year.
With a bevy of new faces inside the Muma Center for men’s basketball, it is understandable to not place high expectations on this team that finished the regular season 8-12, and 3-9 in the conference. USF did defeat Temple in the first round of the AAC tournament last year 73-71, but then blew a 12 point lead in the second half to Wichita State to lose 68-67 to end their season.
Returning players for the Bulls include sophomore guard Caleb Murphy (502 minutes, 8.3 points per game, 2.9 assists per game), junior guard Jamir Chaplin (361 minutes, 5.3 ppg, .05 apg), and junior center Russel Tchewa (260 minutes, 3.3 ppg, 0.1 apg). USF lost nine players to the transfer portal this off-season and Head Coach Brian Gregory brought in seven players from the transfer portal, and one high school freshman to re-shape their roster. Those inbound transfers include Sam Hines Jr (University of Denver), D.J. Patrick (JuCo Triton College), Javon Greene (George Mason), Jake Boggs (UNC-Wilmington) Serell Smith Jr (Maryland/ETSU), Bayron Matos (New Mexico), Corey Walker Jr (Tennessee), and Jalyn McCreary (South Carolina). The lone high school recruit this cycle was Windermere Prep’s Trey Moss.
In addition to an overhauled player roster, the coaching staff will also have some new faces, with new assistant coaches Louis Rowe and Jason Slay joining the Bulls from James Madison and Youngstown State respectively. With all these fresh bodies to work with and the gelling process of relationship building, Brian Gregory stated during media days that he feels they ‘are a better shooting team’ and is working on defending and rebounding to help facilitate the ‘coming together’ process.
The season tips off for USF men’s basketball in 19 days as they welcome Voorhees College in an exhibition game at home on November 1st. The regular season will start for the Bulls on November 9th against Bethune-Cookman in the Yuengling Center.
On the other side of the expectation’s coin, USF women’s basketball was the highlighted school during media days, rounding out as the unanimous coach’s choice as the favorite to win the AAC with 10 votes in first place. Since head coach Jose Fernandez cannot vote for his own school, he threw away his vote towards rival C. to finish second. Houston, who upset USF late in the season last year, was picked to finish third.
The accolades continue in the pre-season first-team and second-team selections, of which five of the 11 recipients were from USF. First-team selections include senior forward Bethy Mununga (9.6 points per game, 12.9 rebounds per game), sophomore guard Elena Tsineke (13.6 ppg, 2.2 rpg), and redshirt senior forward Dulcy Fankam Mendjaideu (14.1 ppg, 10.6 rpg), who transferred to USF from Memphis. Second-team selections from USF are junior point guard Syndi Harvey (11.7 ppg, 2.9 rpg) and junior point guard Elisa Pinzan (10.3 ppg, 3.3 rpg). Rounding out the pre-season awards was Mia Davis from Temple, who was selected as the Player of the Year.
Last season, the Bulls finished the year 15-3 with the only loses coming from Baylor, who was pre-season top 5, Houston, and C. who defeated the USF on the last day of the regular season after the regular season title had been clinched. The Bulls powered through the AAC tournament, winning their first AAC women’s basketball conference championship in progrum history. After getting snubbed a higher seed in the NCAA Tournament, the Bulls took care of business against Washington State, but were upended by no. 1 seed NC State in the second round.
The offseason for Coach Jose Fernandez was a whirlwind of positivity that started in April. On April 7th, seniors Shae Leverett and Bethy Mununga announced they would return to USF thanks to an extra year of eligibility granted by the NCAA for covid-related issues, bringing back two pivotal pieces of the team. The next day, Mayor Jane Castor announced that April 8th would be USF women’s basketball day to commemorate the 2021 AAC championship.
Transfer season began for women’s basketball a few weeks later, and the Bulls landed highly touted JuCo standout Odeth Betancourt from Panola College. Days later, a sought after forward from a conference mate. Dulcy Fankam Mendjaideu from Memphis, announced she would be taking her talents to the Bay. Dulcy was one of the few bright spots for Memphis and her performance against USF on December 16th getting a double-double single handily kept the Tigers in the game.
Next they welcomed Patience Williams, who transferred to USF after racking up awards and recognition at JuCo Florida Southwestern State. The last piece of the transfer portal came when another Memphis player decided to come to USF, with Aeriel Wilson joining the Bulls. These four new faces, along with high school recruit Bella Weary, are joining an ultra-talented international roster.
A few players did depart the program in the off-season, including Jade Blagrove (transfer), Kristyna Brabencova (pro ball in Europe), Angelee Rodriguez (transfer), and Beatriz Jordao (transfer).
In all, USF women’s basketball is returning 90% of their production from their conference championship winning team last season. Coach Fernandez spoke today and mentioned that he has an experienced and talented group of players and joked (or maybe didn’t) that despite them only completing 12 of the 30 practices that his team ‘could play right now’.
USF women’s basketball will start the season at home in the Yuengling Center against University of Texas Rio Grande Valley on November 9th.