Bulls Welcome Youth Movement

Here is a preview from the USF Sports Info Department. Read on to find out what the Bulls team is made of as the start of the season nears.

The USF men's basketball program, which began play with the 1971-72 campaign, is easily the youngest program in the BIG EAST in terms of seasons played.

The Bulls will take that to another level in 2005-06, as the squad prepares for its historic first season in the ultra-competitive and highly regarded league.

Of the 11 players on the roster able to compete this fall, six are in their first year with the squad and another redshirted last season. The Bulls return just one true starter (Solomon Jones) and senior James Holmes is the only student-athelete currently in the program with more than one letter.

"An experienced team would be ideal as we enter a conference the caliber of the BIG EAST," head coach Robert McCullum said. "Having said that, we do have three players back who did see significant time last year and Melvin Buckley played two seasons in the Big Ten. There is some experience there."

While the veterans may not have the extended tenure other programs enjoy, the group has had a taste of success. Winning three of the final four games in 2004-05 and advancing to the conference tournament semifinals for the first time in school history, gave the players a foundation of success to build on.

With the graduation of four seniors and two other significant contributors, opportunities are available throughout the lineup for the newcomers to make an impact this year.

USF's roster features six true guards (two players are also listed as G/F) and consists of three returnees and a trio of newcomers.

The most experienced position on the team still only owns just four total letters as a group. Senior James Holmes, junior Chris Capko and sophomore Collin Dennis all made contributions at various points in 2004-05, with Holmes and Dennis both earning multiple starting assignments.

Holmes is the team's most experienced player with 41 career appearances. He averaged 6.0 points per game last season and played a key role in the team's victory over Cincinnati in the C-USA Tournament.

Capko appeared in 18 games after becoming eligible second semester. A transfer from Florida, he made all of his appearances as a reserve.

Dennis reached double figures in points on six occasions and started seven of the 27 games in which he played. He is the team's leading returning scorer (6.6 ppg.), an honor he shares with senior Solomon Jones.

"I like our depth at guard and think it could be the strength of our team," McCullum said. "It's easily the deepest group we have had since I have been here."

USF's depth is bolstered by newcomers David Sills and Chris Howard. Sills joins the team from the junior college ranks, while Howard arrives after a standout prep career in the Washington DC area.

"David is a versatile guard who adds a dimension to the team we haven't had and Chris plays the game with great poise and has a presense on the floor you like to see in a point guard."

Senior Bradley Mosley is the final guard on the roster, but will not see action as he continues his battle with cancer.

USF's corps of fowards has only one returnee and that's redshirt junior Melvin Buckley, who watched from the sidelines after transferring from Purdue last summer.

Buckley averaged 5.4 points and 2.5 rebounds for the Boilermakers as a sophomore in 2003-04, playing nearly 20 minutes per appearance. He took advantage of his redshirt campaign by developing his skills and bulking up in the wieght room is expected to make an immediate impact at both ends of the court.

"We have some versatility at forward, having players that can play either position," McCullum said. "Melvin's added strength enables him to play both at both forward spots."

Junior college transfers Melvyn Richardson and McHugh Mattis add depth at the position, with both players bringing different strengths to the court.

Richardson (6-7, 235) comes to USF after a pair of successful seasons at Lon Morris College (Jacksonville, Texas), a program that produced six NCAA Division I players last year.

"Melvyn brings much-needed size and experience to our front line," McCullum said. "We expect him to provide immediate scoring inside."

Mattis (6-6, 190), while he doesn't have the size of Richardson, adds an athletic element to the roster. He starred at nearby St. Petersburg College, helping the Titans to a league title after averaging 14.8 points and 6.8 rebounds.

"McHugh may be the most athletic player on our roster," McCullum said. "He is very versatile, especially on the defensive end, where he can effectively defend each of the three perimeter positions."

Another area product also adds depth at the position. Freshman Zaronn Cann, who can play either forward position, recently concluded his prep career at Brandon High School.

"When fully recovered from a knee injury suffered in high school, Zaronn will create matchup problems for opponents," McCullum explained. "His ability to post up, as well as shoot from the perimeter, makes him a dangerous weapon offensively."

Aris Williams (6-9, 235), a transfer from Valparaiso, will sit out the 2005-06 campaign and will have three seasons of eligibility next fall.

The Bulls list two true centers on their roster, senior Solomon Jones and freshman Frane Markusovic.

Jones checks in at 6-10, 230 pounds and Markusovic already has a solid frame at 6-10, 230 pounds as a freshman.

Jones averaged 6.6 points and 6.2 rebounds per game as a junior and is the team's top returning scorer along with Dennis. He finished among the league leaders in blocked shots (64) and will be counted on again in 2005-06 to be a defensive presence in the middle for USF.

"We expect all of Solomon's numbers to go up," McCullum said. "After making over 50 percent of his shots last season, he is capable of becoming the 'go-to' guy for inside scoring, similar to Terrence Leather's role last year."

Critical to Jones' level of contribution will be his ability to stay out of foul trouble, something that plagued him in his first season with the team.

Markusovic arrives in Tampa after a stop at prep school and possesses the raw talent needed to contribute on the floor. The key to his success will be the transition time needed to adjust to the collegiate level.

"Frane is comfortable playing with his back to the basket or facing it," McCullum said. "He is also a very good shooter."

Including the 13-game non-league schedule, the Bulls will face a total of 11 teams with postseason experience in 2004-05 and that number could increase based on the squad's regular season tournament matchups at Missouri State and Hawaii.

"This schedule is easily the most challenging we have had during my tenure at USF," McCullum said. "To have two NCAA-potential programs in Michigan (2004 NIT Champions) and UAB (back-to-back NCAA appearances) makes for an outstanding non-conference schedule at home. We will be extremely well-prepared for BIG EAST play when January arrives."

The 16-game BIG EAST slate features home contests with West Virginia, St. John's, Villanova, DePaul, Seton Hall, Rutgers, Connecticut and Georgetown. The Bulls will make road trips to Syracuse, Georgetown, Seton Hall, Cincinnati, Louisville, Notre Dame, Providence and Rutgers. Seton Hall, Villanova and Notre Dame will all be first-time opponents for USF.

The Bulls will tip-off their historic move into the elite conference with a home matchup against a WVU squad that advanced to the NCAA Elite Eight last year after claiming the runner-up position in the BIG EAST.

"The strength of any conference is its balance and that is especially true with the BIG EAST," McCullum said. "To open against a team like West Virginia, a program that played as well as any in the nation last March, is obviously a big challenge. It also provides an early opportunity for our fans to see us compete against a top-25 program."

"With the quality of the programs in the BIG EAST, we are going to be able to feature an outstanding home schedule every year at the Sun Dome," McCullum said.

The schedule makers provided USF with an evenly distributed schedule. USF's longest conference home stand is only two games, but back-to-back contests are also the longest duration the team will be away from Tampa.

USF's longest overall home streak is three games, which begins with non-league action versus Bethune-Cookman (Dec. 28) and concludes with the BIG EAST opener against WVU. The Bulls also face UAB on Dec. 30.

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