No team in America has come as far against such odds as South Florida.
Dick Vitale, the former coach turned TV analyst, once said it was "the toughest coaching job in America", one that Stan Heath took on and now seems to have conquered.
Led by Dominique Jones, a muscular, slashing guard capable of going off at any moment, the Bulls have already become a .500 team in the Big East and an NIT participant, just short of being an NCAA team.
After winning 10 conference games in three years, they won 10 this year, if you count the Big East Conference tournament game they won over DePaul.
Now it's true that to become a 20-game winner this past year, USF played a weak schedule, ranked No. 252 in the nation, but they are planning to toughen it up next year with Auburn and VCU and a tournament that includes BYU and Texas Tech.
What's more, there is a facilities upgrade in progress, ground having been broken on a practice facility and plans in place to upgrade their home court, the Sun Dome.
There is also talk of a contract extension for Heath, who came to South Florida after being fired at Arkansas. He has two years left on his contract.
FINAL RECORD: 20-13, 9-9, t-9th in the Big East.
WHAT WENT RIGHT: Things began taking hold for Coach Stan Heath as he completed his third year at South Florida. G Dominique Jones became not only a Big East star but a national one as a junior, the only player in America to average 21.0 points, 6.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists a game. In one game, against Providence, he hit for 46 points, 10 rebounds and 8 assists, narrowly missing a triple-double. But he had help, especially after Augustus Gilchrist came back from an injury. Toss in a strong first year from transfer Jarrid Famous and a solid season from PG Chris Howard and you had a team that was bordering upon being an NCAA team.
WHAT WENT WRONG: If anything held South Florida back it was an injury to Augustus Gilchrist, who missed 15 games with an ankle sprain. South Florida won eight of those games but really couldn't develop as the team it could have been during that time. In fact, during that spell there was a three-point loss to Central Michigan and a one-point loss to Notre Dame, two games that might have put the Bulls into the NCAA Tournament.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's a big step for our program," he said. "We haven't done anything over the years. We were an afterthought in basketball when we joined the Big East, but I think we changed some minds this year. We earned some respect. We far exceeded expectations." - South Florida Coach Stan Heath, quoted in the Tampa Tribune.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THE GOOD NEWS: As the season ended, no one knew for sure whether the news on Dominique Jones would be good or bad. The star guard was considering NBA possibilities but it seemed as though he were leaning to return to South Florida for his senior season and a chance to play in the NCAA Tournament. If that were the case, the Bulls would be considered a contender next year with Augustus Gilchrist healthy and scoring and rebounding and 6-11 C Jarrid Famous back for a senior season to improve on his 10.5 scoring and 7.5 rebounding.
THE BAD NEWS: The toughest loss the Bulls will have to deal with next year is PG Chris Howard, who came of age as the season went on. Howard's scoring jumped from 7.7 to 10.4 and his assist/turnover ratio went from 1.83 to 2.25 in his senior year. His ability to score and not turn the ball over helped the offense reach its potential. Of course, if Jones should decide to jump to the NBA, the entire picture would change.
KEY RETURNEES: As of the NIT, Dominique Jones was leaning toward returning to South Florida, which would give them one of the nation's most dynamic players. With Augustus Gilchrist, a 6-10 forward who can shoot outside, also back and presumed healthy next year, the Bulls would have a scoring punch that could be counted on for 40 or more points a game. Add in C Jarrid Famous, a transfer who had a huge impact as an inside scorer and rebounder, and South Florida appears loaded next year.
--G Dominique Jones was a Wooden Finalist, an All-Big East performer and the Big East scoring champion.
--Coach Stan Heath is a finalist for the Ben Jobe Award, presented the top minority coach in college basketball.
--The Bulls have signed two players for next season. PG LaVonte Dority is a six-footer from Chicago who averaged 20 points and 6 assists a game and C Waverly Austin is 6-10 and averaged 16.2 points and 7.9 rebounds at God's Academy in north Texas.