Awhile back, I started a conversation with Vega of The Bulls Pen about the current and future state of Bulls basketball. After I posted the first segment, the always-opinionated and thorough Vega asked if we could hold off on the next segment until after the spring signing period ended so he could take whatever happened there into account. I agreed, so after a bit of a delay, here is Part 2 of our talk. Hope you enjoy it.
VOODOO 5: You mentioned on the board that you thought Showtime Haynes was going to be the key to next year's team, as presumably Anthony Crater's backup. Can you elaborate on that?
VEGA: I really like Showtime Haynes potential as a shooter and playmaker. I wasn't too high on him at first, but once I learned more about him I started liking him more and more. I'm a firm believer that you are only as good as your point guard, and I think we have three legit prospects there with Showtime, Crater, and Dority. Haynes is believed to be the best shooter and the most athletic of the three, so I see him being more of a threat to opposing teams then his other mates. However, I really like all three and think we will be solid there for the next few years.
VOODOO 5: Is Waverly Austin going to redshirt? He seems kind of like Fitzpatrick, and there are enough big men on the team that they may not need him.
VEGA: From what I know Austin is very much a project. I'm hearing it may take him two years before he is really able to contribute to this program. The guy comes across as being soft right now and after watching Famous last season, I'm worried about what Austin actually can bring to USF. Yes, he should and needs to redshirt. Austin has a very weak upper body and will get chewed up by the BIG EAST if he steps on the court next season. What I do like about him is his athleticism. He gets up and down the floor as well as Jarrid Famous, which is the only thing I like about him, too.
After the jump, there's a lot of talk about Stan Heath and the direction of the program.
VOODOO 5: We've disagreed on whether or not Heath is doing the best he can on the recruiting trail, and that's where I want to really explore. I've been more forgiving in the short term, because the basketball budget is still low, the facilities were terrible, and last summer Heath had to try and sell a team that went 9-22 (in 2008-09). Should I be more critical?
VEGA: I don't know if being more critical is the word or phase to use. I say that there is concern as to why USF can't do a little better on the recruiting trail. Yes we need to upgrade the facilities, and yes we lack a winning tradition, but those are excuses for the fans as to why the recruiting isn't better. Every team doesn't have great facilities or a strong basketball tradition, but yet they manage to get enough talent to where they are more then just competitive against the big boys. March Madness shows us that there are programs out there doing it the right way and it's a winning formula. We are obviously missing a selling point to these prospects, and facilities is not it.
Also I think Heath is losing ground in the state for recruits that can clearly help USF. People will say, "Well, USF can't recruit with Florida, FSU, and Miami." Whether or not that's true is still no excuse why we get beat out by mid-majors and cold-weather schools up north not named UConn.
Another thing is that Heath is not mining the state of Florida as he should be. For instance, we were struggling to recruit Cleveland Melvin (a 6'8", 210-pound forward) for the second time when we had a very similar player right here in the state named Cady Lalanne (a 6'8", 215-pound forward). Lalanne visited USF unofficially and wanted to come here, but Heath stopped recruiting him and poured all his energy into Melvin, who himself said he would go to UConn if they offered… and that's what happened. Meanwhile Lalanne got heavy attention from Georgia, Ole Miss, and USC. He signed with Georgia, and I have a hard time believing that a guy good enough to play in the SEC couldn't help USF. I will be closely following Lalanne's career.
VOODOO 5: I remember you mentioned playing time as a selling point on the board, but I'm not sure that works in basketball as well as it works in football. The top programs can sometimes offer more early playing time than lesser ones because their best players are leaving early to go to the NBA. And successful teams in most other places are loaded with experience. (I personally think the whole recruiting/college career model in D-I basketball is completely broken, but that's beside the point.) I think you also mentioned the weather as a selling point, but they still have to travel up north during the winter for BIG EAST road games so that is mitigated some. What do you think USF can offer that no one else can? Should we be pushing the conference more? The visibility? Something else?
VEGA: I actually think Heath is selling the conference, the area, and just promises to prospects. What really hurts USF is its poor home attendance and the style of play. Following recruiting over the years as I have, the three things that recruits bring up the most are college atmosphere, style of play, and getting to the next level. We are failing in those three key categories right now. What I think Heath has to do is recruit the home state better and quicken the tempo to attract the athletes he loves. I believe doing those two things will go a long ways into helping create a better atmosphere for home games. I also think that the athletic department needs to do a better job of marketing, and Coach Heath has to take part of that. He can't just be a head basketball coach at USF, he has to be a seller and a promoter too.
VOODOO 5: That's a good point about Heath. I like his calm demeanor during the game because it rubs off on the team - they don't run around like idiots and do dumb things on the court. But it does seem like USF needs a bit of a showman because they have to sell kids on the program. It was easier for Heath at Arkansas when he could walk into Walton Arena and show off the championship banners and trophies. Does he have that kind of salesman personality in him?
VEGA: That's a good question. Heath is no Bruce Pearl (ed. note: it would be fun if Heath wore loud suits to games like Pearl does) or John Calipari personality-wise, but he is highly intelligent and can adopt or change when he wants to. My one true gripe about Stan is his stubbornness sometimes. He believes in doing things his way, even when his way shows that it might not be the best way or enough at times. Stan has the ability to get out there and campaign around the state like a politician, but I don't know if he will go the extra mile for the program. Heath is very likable, though, and I think people will gravitate to him if he opens up more.
VOODOO 5: Now that Dominique Jones is gone, might that force Heath into the spotlight some more? I think people considered Jones to be the face of the program, and without him, someone has to step in to keep USF basketball from becoming totally anonymous again. Unless someone totally surprises us, a player can't possibly be the lead dog next season.
VEGA: Heath has been down this road before at Arkansas when Ronnie Brewer led the way to March Madness, and like Jones he bolted after his junior year for the NBA. Arkansas was picked the following year to be around a .500 team and miss the postseason. Well, Heath coached them boys to another 20-win season and a NCAA Tournament berth. They were led by a freshman newcomer named Patrick Beverly, and I can see a similar scenario happening here. No, I don't see any of the new players being the dominate offensive player that Jones was, but I think as a unit we will be OK. In fact I think we CAN BE better this coming season. Many fans worry how will USF replace Jones' offense and predict USF to fall back to a meaningless level. On the other hand, I see areas on our team where we will be better such as rebounding, perimeter and post defense, outside shooting, and in transition play. Being able to defend and rebound determines winners and losers -- not necessarily having a high-profile scorer.
VOODOO 5: Do you think the Florida high school talent level is higher than everyone figures it is? I just assume it's not very high because otherwise the Florida schools would be loaded up with homegrown talent like we all are in football. I think the last big-time or even medium-time recruit USF got from around the area was B.B. Waldon.
VEGA: The talent in Florida is okay to better depending on the year. We can't have a roster full of Florida kids, but there are some out there can really help us and we aren't getting them for various reasons. Losing Keith Clanton (UCF), Freddie Riley (UMass), and Ramon Galloway (South Carolina) hurt USF. The good players that aren't going to a top-25 type school need to be signed by the Bulls, or we at least need to pluck one or two out of the bunch. What USF needs to do better with is taking advantages of the Florida prep schools and junior colleges. There's talent there for sure and hopefully we are starting to figure that out.
Believe it or not, this conversation still isn't done. In what I assume will be the last segment, we'll talk about scheduling, the upcoming trip to Brazil, and Vega will explain why he thinks the Bulls might actually be better off without Dominique Jones. Stay tuned.