BullsInsider.com managing editor and basketball reporter Russ Wood answers questions from USF fans in the mailbag. This format allows for a more expansive answer than a message board post. For the first time Russ included questions from Twitter.
On to this week’s inquiries.
Brybull1970 asks: Is [Michael] Kelly’s belief that Gregory will finally field a winning conference team once UCF, Cincinnati and Houston leave?
I have many talents but I do not have the ability to get inside someone’s head to know what they believe or do not believe. What I do know is that Michael Kelly realizes that Brian Gregory and his staff needs to continue to develop players and needs to recruit players that can help USF win. Over the years we have seen the USF development piece lead to improved performances from players. This past season Russel Tchewa, Corey Walker Jr. Jamir Chaplin and Caleb Murphy improved during the season.
@JosephG00583385 asked on Twitter: I’m interest in Caleb and Tchewa, my 2 fav. Players, hopefully they stay. Thoughts on those 2 guys would be interesting.
RW: Caleb Murphy declared for the NBA Draft and on April 4 he entered the transfer portal. USF recruited Memphis guard Tyler Harris to fill that void so Murphy’s time at USF is over. Last season Tchewa was a bright spot in an excruciating season. He started 27 of the 29 games he appeared in and got better as the season moved on. In four of the Bulls’ last five games of the season Tchewa had an ORtg of 105 or higher.
USFMike asks: Do you expect anyone to make the step up and be an all- conference performer?
RW: I am hopeful that Ryan Conwell will be selected to the American Athletic Conference All-Freshman team. He had a terrific senior season at Pike High School (Indianapolis, IN) including being named the Marion County Player of the Year by a vote of the county’s coaches. He has the makings of an impact freshman. Hopefully at least one of the players has the kind of season that gets them selected to the All-Conference team. I think the last players to receive that honor were David Collins and Laquincy Rideau in 2019. The fact that someone asked this question is a good sign.
@fabbull asks on Twitter: What do you think is the biggest area of need for the basketball team to become successful & to keep their players home? Seems this coach has not had success with either! USF needs to win & get better recruits?
RW: No doubt USF needs to win more games. I think USF has recruited well recently. Gregory’s first recruiting class included David Collins and Justin Brown. When they graduated Collins was ranked No. 7 in program history in scoring, No. 4 in steals and first in both free throws made and attempted. Brown was ranked No. 4 all-time in free throws made and attempted. Brown and Collins also rank in the top-10 in games played at USF. Laquincy Rideau is No. 6 all-time in steals. Collins and Rideau earned all-conference honors. Alexis Yetna was named American Athletic Conference Freshman of the Year in 2019. Caleb Murphy was selected for the American Athletic Conference All-Freshman Team in 2021.
The 2022-23 USF roster will have players who started, or played starter minutes, at Memphis (Harris) and Kansas State (Selton Miguel) plus players from Tennessee (Corey Walker Jr.) and Texas Tech (Russel Tchewa) who will be expected to be significant contributors.
I’m not sure USF has recruited better. There is always room for improvement. Hopefully USF boosters can get together and launch a NIL (Name, Image and Likeness) collective to support Bulls student-athletes.
As for keeping players home, welcome to roster management in the era of the one-time exception for immediate transfer eligibility. In 2021 USF had a near unique situation that resulted in mass transfers out of the program. This season USF MBB lost two players to the portal. The USF WBB program lost six players to the portal. I don’t recall seeing anything about that on Twitter however.
RoyMVPDaniel asks: On paper it would appear to be another .500 or below season coming up. IF that does indeed happen, in your opinion what kind of improvements in performance not much record wise, must be shown to give the administration confidence that CBG and staff deserves to continue on?
RW: I cannot concede that another season below .500 is a given. Don’t get me wrong. I understand the fan frustration and I’m not settling for mediocrity or whatever other phrase the angry people will throw out when they read this. Brian Gregory did lead the program from 10-wins in his first season to 24-wins in his second season (19-wins during the regular season that included wins over Wichita State, Connecticut and Memphis and came thisclose to defeating Georgetown in OT on a neutral short.
Right now we don’t know what the schedule looks like other than USF will play a return game at Auburn and two games in the Sunshine Slam in Daytona Beach on Nov. 21 and 22 along with Georgia, Saint Joseph’s and UAB. So maybe USF finishes out the non-con slate with ten low- to mid-major games.
So, the table is set, for the men’s basketball program at USF to begin to make that climb to consistently be in the top third of its conference.
@ClaytonHeitler asks on Twitter: Would love to know your opinion regarding CBG? I love the guy, just had some unlucky circumstances. Thoughts on how you feel about him on is coaching / recruiting.
RW: I like Gregory and hope his team can have the type of improvement next season that we saw in his second season in Tampa. You bring up a good point on the unlucky circumstances. Having your most important player (Yetna) go down with a season ending injury four days before the 2019-20 season opener is bad luck. Add to that Mayan Kiir, Yetna’s backup, left the program. That same season, Zack Dawson gets into a groove scoring double figures in three of four games but goes down with an injury that causes him to miss two weeks. He was never the same when he returned. Dawson was making 42 percent of his threes when he suffered the injury. He only made 2-of-13 three-pointers when he returned to the court.
I liked that he changed up his offense a bit last season by incorporating one of the plays from the Princeton Offense. I think he has recruited well, obviously, if you don’t have the No. 1 recruiting class in the country you can always do better. I like the mixture of high school recruits and transfer portal additions USF has coming in for next season. I’ll also add that I don’t think USF is done recruiting in this cycle.
USF_Dave asks: One question, two parts: will Tyler Harris fit into CBG’s defensive system, and will CBG allow Harris to play his game or will Harris be forced to play a role that he hasn’t played before?
RW: Not only do I think Harris will fit into Gregory’s defensive system but I think that the combination of Harris and Selton Miguel in the backcourt gives USF an opportunity to press and trap more than we’ve typically seen. When he is defending the ball, Harris will test the ballhandler’s focus and discipline. Gregory knows what Harris is good at doing, he had three seasons of coaching against Memphis while Harris was on the team plus hours of scout video of Harris to watch. Harris will play more point guard than he has played since his freshman season with Memphis-Harris earned a spot on the American Athletic Conference’s All-Freshman Team that season. He gives USF a player who will make defenses extend and that opens up passing lanes for post feeds as well as for players to drive into the paint to score or drop it off.
@pethannnnn asks on Twitter: what would be considered a season of progress that allows BG to keep his job? Always appreciate reading your work thanks for the coverage.
RW: First, thank you for the compliment.
Only USF Vice President/ Director of Athletics Michael Kelly knows the answer to your question. In a March radio interview when was asked about the state of the USF men’s basketball program Kelly said “I believe in patience and the way that we do things the right way in that program. And clearly we’ve got to continue to develop players. We’ve got to continue to recruit players that can help us win. ”
So, hopefully USF fans will see improvement in the upcoming men’s basketball season.
LakeBull asks: Any thoughts on returning players you expect to show most improvement?
RW: I’ll give you two players: Tchewa and Walker.
Tchewa really came on in the second half of the season and played at a high level late in the season. He had two double-doubles and averaged 12.4 points and 7.6 rebounds in the last five games of the season. He has also turned into one of the best ball screen defender of any big man in The American and maybe even in the Nation.
I have been told that Walker Jr. is leaner and that, outside of a couple of days, he is spending the entire offseason in Tampa putting in work in the weight room and the gym. Walker battled injuries and an illness during the season. He fought through that adversity and played some of his best basketball late in the season including a 12 point, nine rebound double-double against Memphis. Walker also blocked four shots in that game.
USF94 asks: What do you think are the top 3 things the new Director of Basketball Operations will be evaluating?
RW: I think you are referring to Lee Butler, who was hired to fill the newly created role of Senior Associate Athletics Director for Student-Athlete Success in USF Athletics. For those who didn’t see my Apr. 6 article on Butler, he played at Miami and was the assistant commissioner for basketball for the ACC. Overall student-athlete success and sport admin for men’s and women’s basketball will be his primary responsibility. His first day on the job was actually May 2.
I think it will be less about evaluating and more about providing more focus, administrative support and resources to MBB and WBB and all the departments that face the student-athlete directly.
USF has never had someone with Butler’s background thinking every day about what can make basketball better. Kelly has hired a basketball administrator, a basketball academic person, an Associate AD for marketing that have all played college basketball. That was all very intentional and strategic on his end. Basketball needs to be a big deal and USF is demonstrating that with those hires. Hopefully USF can develop and provide more resources for basketball.