Thursday, November 23, 2017

Members of USF's best basketball team out to recapture the magic


TAMPA — They gravitated to the courtside seats and lower rows, not sure what they were about to witness.

These few dozen USF basketball boosters had been lured to the Sun Dome on Thursday night by invitation. Joining them were current players, who sat in courtside chairs on the opposite side of the floor. Bulls coaches loitered near the bench.

Then, familiar figures emerged from an arena tunnel, and the cork suddenly was popped on a human time capsule.

Nostalgia, glory and camaraderie spilled out. So, too, did Toarlyn Fitzpatrick's silky jumper, Anthony Collins' dexterous handles, Ron Anderson Jr.'s outlet throws. All had been preserved.

"It's kind of amazing," Fitzpatrick said.

The 2012 Bulls — or at least a big chunk of their bracket-busting nucleus — were back. And not for one night only.

After Thursday's meet and greet comes survive and advance. Five years after their mesmerizing NCAA Tournament run ended just shy of the Sweet 16, several of the 2012 Bulls and a few of their more grizzled peers are trying to replicate that magic in The Basketball Tournament.


The 64-team, single-elimination event in its fourth year comes with a $2 million winner-take-all prize. Teams consist primarily of former collegians and overseas pros, many from the same school or geographic region. Several former NBA players are participating. Greg Oden, the NBA's 2007 No. 1 overall draft pick, is on a team made up mostly of former Ohio State players. Boeheim's Army, featuring several former Syracuse players — including All-ACC first-teamer C.J. Fair and McDonald's All-American Eric Devendorf — also is entered.

All 10 guys on the Tampa Bulls roster — many of them play professionally overseas — played for USF. Half were members of the '12 squad that finished 22-14 and recorded the school's only two NCAA Tournament victories.

The rest of the roster includes guard Dominique Jones — the No. 5 scorer in school history and a veteran of 80 games with the Dallas Mavericks — and former Robinson High star Terrence Leather. Anthony Brammer and Mike Brown, video assistants for then-USF coach Stan Heath in 2012, serve as coach and general manager, respectively.

"Some people's games grew; some people have gotten older. The good thing about it is, everyone knows their role," said Collins, a freshman point guard on the 2012 team who found his offensive groove (averaging 14 points per game) in three NCAA Tournament games.

"This is not about anything selfish like a professional contract. It doesn't matter who scores 40 points. Our main objective is to win at the end of the day. That's what it's all about, and everybody knows that."

Such was the prevailing sentiment a half-decade ago. Buoyed by selflessness and a suffocating defense, the '12 Bulls won 12 Big East games — equaling USF's combined league win total of the previous two seasons — to squeak into the 68-team NCAA field as an at-large pick.

The regular season's highlight: a 58-51 triumph at Louisville on senior night. It was one of 26 games in which USF allowed fewer than 60 points.

"That was the game that really got us into the NCAA Tournament," Heath, now a Boston College assistant, said by phone Thursday. "They were very feisty; they were tough. Everything was a battle, and we actually kind of skewed practice to where we brought out the competition level."

Yet the competition ended at scoring acclaim. Offensively, no one averaged in double figures, but five averaged between 8 and 9.5 points.

"As much as they were incredible on the defensive end, they really were some talented offensive players," Heath said. "But they bought into what we needed to do to be successful."

It's that type of balance and continuity that Fitzpatrick and Anderson were trying to rekindle when they brainstormed the idea with Brown last year about forming a squad for The Basketball Tournament. The group practiced all week in Tampa and was set to fly out Friday for today's 10:45 a.m. opener against Seven City Grain (Va.) in Charlotte, N.C.

"They wanted the core of guys from that ('12) team," Brammer said. "All these guys have played together, played open gyms together, but just to jump-start that chemistry again, it's been getting better and better."

And it could parlay into one more shining moment.

"That's a really talented team," Heath said. "The guy we really don't talk about is Dominique Jones, who's arguably one of the most talented players to come through (USF). You add those guys with that mentality, and now you've got a prolific scorer — anything can happen with that group."

Contact Joey Knight at Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.


Updated: 14 minutes ago
Irish, Gamecocks potentially await USF women this weekend

Irish, Gamecocks potentially await USF women this weekend

The extended Thanksgiving weekend is upon us, with Christmas on deck. A season of bountiful dining, though some are wondering if Jose Fernandez has bitten off a bit more than he can chew.One thing's certain: There's not a cream puff or cupcake to be ...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Days after a high fever, Jon Mott wins his fifth Times Turkey Trot 10K

Days after a high fever, Jon Mott wins his fifth Times Turkey Trot 10K

CLEARWATER — On Tuesday, Jon Mott had a 103-degree fever. That was not enough to keep him from maintaining his dominance Thursday at the 39th Tampa Bay Times Turkey Trot.The former Northeast standout added to his record with his fifth title in the ev...
Updated: 6 hours ago
New Weeki Wachee basketball coach transitions from years on college sidelines

New Weeki Wachee basketball coach transitions from years on college sidelines

WEEKI WACHEE — Mark Lee was looking for an accomplished coach to take over Weeki Wachee High’s boys basketball team. Not only did he find what he was searching for, but he may have gone above and beyond with the hiring of Rick Scruggs.The 30-year vet...
Published: 11/23/17

Koetter says Bucs not distracted by Jameis Winston’s off-field issue

The Bucs are 1-0 since news broke last Friday of Jameis Winston being accused by an Uber driver of groping her during a ride in March of 2016.That's really all the evidence coach Dirk Koetter needs to say the issue has not been a distraction to the t...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Presenting the 2017 Sports Turkey of the Year

Presenting the 2017 Sports Turkey of the Year

Happy Turkey Day!Today is a day of tradition.The Macy’s parade. Turkey and stuffing. The Lions and Cowboys.And our annual "Turkey of the Year.’’It’s a tradition started by my former colleague at the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the brilliant columnist P...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Nikita Kucherov really does admire Patrick Kane

Nikita Kucherov really does admire Patrick Kane

TAMPA — Lightning wing Nikita Kucherov has watched plenty of film on Blackhawks star Patrick Kane.Kucherov marveled how the 2015-16 league MVP uses deception to "hide" from defenders. He noticed how patient Kane was with the puck, how well he passed ...
Published: 11/22/17
Lightning beats Blackhawks in OT

Lightning beats Blackhawks in OT

TAMPA — The Lightning entered Wednesday’s game against the Blackhawks determined to avoid its first losing streak of the season. And it did in dramatic fashion, with Brayden Point’s power-play goal in overtime lifting it to a 3-2 victory. "A big boun...
Published: 11/22/17

Joe Smith’s takeaways from Wednesday’s Lightning-Blackhawks game

Every Lightning-Blackhawks game at Amalie Arena has a good representation of red in the stands. And Wednesday’s matchup was no exception, with a large contingent of transplants and travelers. "It feels like half the city of Chicago is traveling down ...
Published: 11/22/17

Thursday’s sports on TV/radio

TodayCollege footballMississippi at Mississippi State7:30 p.m.ESPNCollege basketballMissouri vs. Long Beach State11:30 a.m.ESPN2Tennessee vs. Villanova12:30 p.m.ESPNSt. John’s vs. Oregon State2 p.m.ESPNUPortland vs. North Carolina2:30 p.m.ESPNNorth C...
Published: 11/22/17