We've been very forgiving of the Stan Heath era around here, because we knew just as well as Dick Vitale did that he took the toughest job in America when he arrived in 2007. Heath had no natural recruiting base, a team up the road that had won two national titles in a row, a conference that would eat his team alive every night, a campus full of students that had forgotten about his sport, a run-down arena, nowhere to practice, a roster full of players who just weren't good enough to compete in the Big East, and on and on. In 2010, when Heath and his staff squeezed 20 wins out of Dominique Jones, a few half-decent pieces, and not much else, it proved that he could have some success at USF, even when he didn't have that much to work with. Add in the Muma practice facility and the renovation of the Sun Dome, and you felt like he would finally get a chance to build a true program once all the pieces were in place.
Last May, Heath was part of a group from Athletics that visited our Dallas alumni chapter on the Around the Horns tour. (I didn't talk about this when it happened because I was still using a pseudonym and I didn't want to burn anyone anonymously.) He seemed very optimistic about this year's team, and honestly I had no idea where that optimism was coming from. This year? Really? Are you sure? I had faith in Heath, but I thought it was going to take another couple of years for him to get the basketball program going in the right direction.
Once we got to January, though, you could already see the program turning. Muma was open. The Sun Dome was being transformed. USF was finally holding its own on the recruiting trail and finding Big East-caliber prep talent, instead of having to cobble together a team of transfers and JUCOs. The 2012 class was pretty much done by the middle of the season. And on the court, they just kept winning games. It hasn't exactly been artistic and exciting, but it's worked. The Bulls moved up from "better" to "decent" to "pretty good" as the conference schedule moved along. Finally in the last two weeks of the regular season, we discovered that yes, this is a good team. Maybe even an NCAA Tournament-worthy team. This year. Not two years from now.
Stan Heath is doing something that's much bigger for USF than just winning basketball games. He's making the toughest job in America not so tough anymore. Naming him the Big East coach of the year is the least that he deserves for accomplishing that. Congratulations, Coach.