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Three problem solvers in one spot

USF's three-man rotation at center has helped bring effective play to the post.

By PETE YOUNG, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 12, 2002


TAMPA -- Individually, they are flawed. One doesn't block shots, the second is kind of slow and the third doesn't score much.

As a unit, however, the three transform into a fearsome force.

"They're our three-headed monster," South Florida coach Seth Greenberg said of Will McDonald, Mike Bernard and Gerrick Morris, the players who patrol center for the Bulls. "If I could put them together, we'd have a lottery pick."

McDonald (the non-shot blocker), Bernard (not the fastest) and Morris (raw post moves) are ideal complementary parts. While none is the total package, as a group they possess the complete range of skills.

McDonald, a 6-foot-11, 250-pound junior, earned the starting job by shedding 15 pounds in the offseason, increasing his muscle mass and dropping his body fat from 21 percent to 11. He excels in up-tempo games, running the floor swiftly for putbacks and short jumpers.

"His ability to run the floor and finish has been terrific," Greenberg said.

McDonald averages 10.4 points and 4.1 rebounds in 19 minutes per game. He had a seven-game stretch of scoring in double figures snapped in USF's 74-54 win against Southern Miss on Tuesday. After playing a combined 178 minutes his first two seasons, McDonald already has played 269 this season.

"In the offseason, consciously, I said, "I'm going to get better,' " McDonald said. "Mainly, it's the weight thing. Plus, I'm getting the opportunity to play and show what I can do."

Bernard, a 6-11, 280-pound senior nicknamed "Shrek" by his teammates, has endured pure aggravation this season. He was forced to sit the first eight games by the NCAA for playing on a professional team (he was not paid) in his native England five years ago.

"It was really frustrating, and I was worried (about playing time when he returned) because Will and Gerrick were playing pretty well," said Bernard, who transferred last season from Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College. "Once I got used to being back out there, it all came back."

Bernard was gradually incorporated into the lineup after he became eligible Dec. 20 at Syracuse, and he has been a hulking, aggressive presence on both ends the past two games. He had three blocks against Southern Miss, including back-to-back rejections that brought the crowd alive.

"Mike is probably the most physically intimidating," Greenberg said of Bernard, averaging 4.2 points in nine minutes a game. "He has the best power game around the basket."

The spindly Morris, a 6-10, 210-pound sophomore, is a live-legged shot-blocking machine. He has 41 blocks; the rest of the team has 31.

"He can block shots every night, against anyone," McDonald said of Morris, who averages 2.9 blocks in 16 minutes.

Morris had back-to-back eight-block games in wins against Pittsburgh and Prairie View in November. He set the school and conference record with 11 against George Washington last season.

"He changes the game," Greenberg said. "He changes shots, he challenges shots and he disrupts things."

With their array of talents, Greenberg has tremendous flexibility in the pivot and is virtually assured of having at least one capable hand to call on.

"I said to Will after (the Southern Miss game), "You didn't seem to have the usual energy tonight,' " Greenberg said. "He said, "That's okay, I knew Mike had my back.' "

Since Bernard's return, they have combined to average 18.7 points and 8.8 rebounds heading into today's 2 p.m. game at DePaul. The "problem" is finding enough playing time for everyone. Morris, with his quick feet, also can play power forward against teams such as Memphis that have a big frontcourt. For the most part, though, Greenberg will play the hot hand or the best matchup.

"I don't think we can get them all enough minutes," Greenberg said. "But the good thing about it is, they are three of the most selfless, best teammates. Hopefully we can find the right mix and continue to get quality play out of the post."

Today: USF at DePaul

WHEN/WHERE: 2; Allstate Arena, Chicago.

TV/RADIO: Fox Sports Net; WQYK-AM 1010. RECORDS: USF 11-3, 2-0 C-USA; DePaul 7-6, 0-2.

COACHES: South Florida -- Seth Greenberg (85-76, sixth season; 190-146 overall). DePaul -- Pat Kennedy (65-72, fifth season, 391-263 overall).

KEY PLAYERS: South Florida -- Altron Jackson, F/G, 6-6 Sr. (18.7 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 2.4 spg); B.B. Waldon, PF, 6-8 Sr. (14.9 ppg, 9.4 rpg, 2.9 apg); Reggie Kohn, PG, 6-1 Jr. (9.0 ppg, 6.9 apg). DePaul -- Sam Hoskin, F/C, 6-9, Jr. (13.9 ppg, 7.7 rpg); Imari Sawyer, G, 6-2 So. (8.1 ppg, 6.7 apg); Andre Brown, F, 6-9 So. (13.5 ppg, 7.5 rpg).

NOTES: The Blue Demons have dropped C-USA games to Tulane (73-63) and at Saint Louis (92-74), and Greenberg described their situation as "Desperate; 0-3 would be disastrous for them." As in recent years, DePaul is stocked with former blue chip recruits and prone to wildly fluctuating results. The Blue Demons beat Missouri and Temple and lost to Ohio and Murray State. "We're trying to figure out which team's going to show up for DePaul, but you can't deny their talent," Greenberg said. Jackson, who leads C-USA in steals, might come off the bench for the third straight game, and Bulls freshman F Kelvin Brown is expected to return from a two-game suspension. Waldon is playing with a fractured cheekbone sustained Jan. 2 against Florida State. USF freshmen PG Brian Swift and SF Marlyn Bryant, and junior college transfer SF Greg Brittian have appeared better acclimated recently. Hoskin, a 260-pound JUCO transfer, and freshman Quemont Greer (9.3 ppg) have given the Blue Demons a boost. It seems senior F/C Lance Williams (9.2 ppg, 7.5 rpg) has been at DePaul for seven years. USF is 0-3 at DePaul since the advent of C-USA.

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