Robert McCullum: Q&A Part I

South Florida Coach Robert McCullum sits down for a talk with In the first part of our interview he addresses the early successes and disappointments during his short tenure as head coach, also all the adversity the players have gone through and even his own mistakes in recruiting. Read on for the rest of this exclusive interview with Coach McCullum. Since arriving at USF, what have been some achievements and disappointments?

Coach Robert McCullum:I feel that we have improved the image of the program, I think that is extremely important. How we are perceived on and off the court is very important. People are more likely to support or invest in a program that they feel represents them correctly. Without question we have done that.

Academically I think the guys have certainly laid the kind of foundation that we need for academic success. Of course that is an ongoing process and there is much more to be done. I think the emphasis that we have placed on that has paid off by us winning the academic award for the ‘03-‘04 season in Conference USA for the highest cumulative GPA.

I think those are positive steps we have achieved, but there are some disappointments. We have had so many setbacks in terms of changes. Anytime there is a change in leadership at the top, there is going to be a difficult transition period. We went through a tough transition in ‘03-‘04, having to dismiss kids and having kids quit the program. However, these are all things that are not uncommon with this type of change. I feel we were better off because of that, in changing the attitude that existed. I think we came back in ‘04-‘05 and we began to see how the team was growing as one.

We have had so many setbacks, but it all began with Bradley Mosley being diagnosed with kidney cancer. About the 4th or 5th day of practice in the fall of ‘04 we found out, and it hit all of us extremely hard. We went through a stretch where we got over the initial shock and Bradley was a real source of strength for our team and the team was a source of strength for him, because we gave him hope he could come back. On the floor he was also missed greatly.

Then Marius Prekevicius injury in late December caused him to miss the first four conference games. He was our best three-point shooter, and we went one and three without him. With a one, two and six point loss, but I think we finished as strong as any USF team in quite some time. Then as we prepare for the '05-'06 season we got word from Marius, a week before class started that he wasn't coming back. That was very difficult. He was a guy we were really counting on and he had a great summer over-seas.

Then Bradley's health began to deteriorate and we had his funeral about ten days prior to the start of the season. Then after a controlled scrimmage against FSU we find out two days later Chris Howard tears his ACL.

It just seemed from the time we get the call from Marius Prekevicius it was all down hill. We also had to dismiss David Sills a couple weeks before Howard's injury, but the Chris Howard injury was really extremely crushing, also not having Zaronn Cann, because they were two freshmen that we were counting on. Now as we go through our Big East schedule I'm even more convinced they will have very successful careers.

USFN: How do you feel the player's have handled these constant setbacks?

CRM: I think they have done a tremendous job. They are young men, from 18 to 22 years old and they are dealing with so many things they have never had to deal with before. Adversity is something that cannot be prevented and in the end it makes all of us stronger. However, during the process, dealing with it is extremely difficult. Just having to deal with the kind of season we are going through right now, I hate it for Solomon Jones and James Holmes. I hate that their careers are ending on such a note. Individually they have given all they can.

Overall with all things considered they have handled it as well as you can expect. Jones played with Bradley Mosley in community college. Then Holmes and Mosley were the first two kids we signed when I came here, they even visited together. So for James and Solomon they were the two that were closest to Bradley and the only two to actually play with him. Those two have gone through a lot and have handled everything extremely well.

USFN: How did you personally deal with all the change that took place after you became the coach at South Florida?

CRM: That is a situation where I did not come in saying I was going to get rid of guys, but when you see the reluctance of players to buy in, or not wanting to do it as a team, or not wanting to adhere to the academic guidelines or team policies. There may have been one or two that we actually dismissed and a couple others quit.

But that's not the only issue. You know, we made some recruiting mistakes. Montavious Waters was certainly a mistake. We were able to get through that year because Brian Swift had a great year.

USFN: Would you consider David Sills a mistake as well?

CRM: Yes, clearly that was a mistake. The problem with that was Chris Howard getting injured. Early on we knew Sills wouldn't play the point for us. We quickly saw he didn't have a point guard mentality. He was a guy that could score and we knew we were rolling the dice. Sometimes you have to be willing to take a chance, both of those were mistakes, but Sills hurt us more than Waters. Were it not for the Howard injury we probably wouldn't be having this conversation. It was still a mistake but long before he was dismissed, we had already come to the realization that Chris would have the starting spot. We wanted to play Howard 30 minutes a game and play Capko 10 minutes as his backup. That mistake was highlighted much more due to Chris Howard's injury.

Also losing Zaronn Cann hurt that recruiting class. Cann had the same knee injury his junior year of high school. After talking with doctors we felt it was ample time to recover. However, due to a lack of facilities and doctors to work with his rehab did not go well. He did not have everything we have here on campus to help him through his rehab. So unfortunately the ACL surgery did not take, and we had to do it all over again, but right now he is much further ahead in his schedule than he was the first time he had the surgery. To his credit he has also kept his weight down, unlike the first time he went through it.

While we are extremely disappointed right now because of the injuries we are also hopeful for these guys to come back healthy. I can also look at some of the pieces we have in place, like Kentrell Gransberry and tell things will be different. He will have a physical presence. This year, teams are pushing us around, but I can look at him in practice and tell without a doubt we will be able to match-up far better next year in the Big East. When I look at Gransberry and Cann you know we will have a better front line as far as a physical presence goes.

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