Orlando Antigua optimistic about reviving South Florida's struggling basketball program


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TAMPA, Florida — Two seasons removed from making its first NCAA tournament appearance in 20 years, South Florida is trying to revive its struggling basketball program again.

John Calipari protege Orlando Antigua was hired last spring after a 12-20 finish left the Bulls at the bottom of the American Athletic Conference.

Antigua has installed a fast-paced offense similar to one Calipari used to carry Kentucky to one national championship and three Final Four appearances during the five-year stretch the new USF coach was a top assistant with the Wildcats, who've thrived on talent he and former NBA player Rod Strickland helped recruit.

Strickland accompanied the 41-year-old Antigua to Tampa from Kentucky as an assistant. The up tempo style of play they brought in has been an easy sell to a roster that includes just three players — guards Corey Allen and Anthony Collins, and forward Chris Perry — who appeared in a Division I game last season.

"One, it's fun to coach. Kids love to play that way, you do want to increase possessions. Another aspect of it is teams are not used to competing against it every day, so there comes a point in the game when fatigue comes into play," said Antigua, who was assistant under Calipari one season at Memphis before following his mentor to Kentucky.

"If they're not a team that's accustomed to it every day, then you get some separation," the 31-year-old, who also coaches the Dominican Republic national team, added. "That's what we're hoping for."

The Bulls welcome the change after seven seasons under Stan Heath, who made the NCAAs two years ago with an offensively-challenged squad that excelled because it played stingy defense.

The success — a school-record 22 victories, including postseason wins over California and Temple, heightened expectations for a program that immediately fell back on hard times.

Over the past two seasons, the Bulls dropped 30 of 36 conference games while going 24-39 overall to squash the excitement generated by the breakthrough under Heath.

USF started 8-2 a year ago before stumbling badly in AAC play, finishing in 10th place with a 3-15 league record.

Antigua is not daunted by the challenge of getting the Bulls headed back in the right direction.

"It's fun ... something normal for me. I've kind of been an underdog my entire life, even as a player," the coach said. "It gives you a little extra incentive, a little extra motivation to get up every day."

Things to watch as the Bulls attempt to get on track under Antigua:

A.C.'s BACK: Collins, the star of USF's NCAA tournament run in 2012, returns after missing most of last season with a knee injury. Allen filled in at the point a year ago, however now he's back at shooting guard, giving the Bulls one of the most experienced backcourt tandems in the AAC.

SLIMMER PERRY: One of Antigua's first orders of business was convincing Perry, coming off a solid freshman season, that he could be an even better player if he shed weight and got into better condition. The 6-foot-8 sophomore is trimmed 24 pounds — from 266 to 242 — and says he's never felt better.

GROWING PAINS: The Bulls are one of the least experienced teams in the country after losing leading scorer and rebounder Victor Rudd to graduation and three other key players — center John Egbunu, Zach LeDay and guard Josh Heath, son of the former Bulls coach — who transferred to Florida, Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech, respectively.

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