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USF: What else can go wrong?

The Bulls - and there aren't many of them - enter today's game against Saint Louis having been decimated by injuries and departures.

PETE YOUNG
Published January 17, 2004

South Florida assistant Steve Henson was a four-year college standout who had a nine-year pro career, including two years overseas and NBA stints with Atlanta, Milwaukee, Portland, Detroit and Charlotte. He also has coached in college and the NBA.

You might be inclined to think Henson, 35, has seen it all in basketball.

"No. I've never seen anything quite like this," he said.

"This" would be the state of affairs for USF. Attrition has slashed the roster to seven healthy scholarship players. The "surviving seven" plus two walk-ons play at Saint Louis today.

"There was one time that was kind of like this, in Atlanta a couple years ago," Henson said, referring to when he was an assistant with the Hawks. "We went to the West Coast, a five-game trip. Lots of injuries, we suited up seven or eight a night."

How'd that go?

"Not very well as I remember," he said, smiling.

Bad coincidence: USF is entering a three-game road swing. The Bulls are determined to regroup, but the hits are coming in waves.

USF entered the season with 10 scholarship players, fewer than normal. In the past 10 days, Marlyn Bryant tore an ACL (for the second time in a year), the Bulls had their worst home defeat in history (85-40 to Louisville) and Jimmy Baxter quit.

Roster decimated, confidence sideswiped.

"Jimmy quitting was shocking to me," point guard Brian Swift said. "Seeing Marlyn, he's my friend and my roommate. It hurts. It's tough to see him go through this."

How thin are the Bulls? The sprained ankle of shooting guard James Holmes, who averages 3.6 points and is making 23.1 percent of his 3-point attempts, is a serious blow. He is doubtful today but could be ready for Tuesday at UAB.

"There might not be much more that can happen," first-year coach Robert McCullum said.

Extensive personnel turnover and bare rosters aren't uncommon with new coaching staffs. In Billy Donovan's first year at Florida previously unknown walk-ons Dan Williams and Joel Reinhart became fixtures.

McCullum is drawing on similar adverse situations. He recalled going 11-17 his first season as an assistant at Florida (1990-91). The next season the Gators reached the NIT semifinals.

His first season at Western Michigan began with six straight losses, and the Broncos finished 7-21. Two years later, they were 20-11 and garnered an NIT bid.

"You can't prevent adversity or difficult times from happening," McCullum said. "All we can do is try and deal with it as best we can. I firmly believe strength grows out of struggle.

"We're as enthusiastic, we're as confident as we were before any of these situations occurred."

Swift said he sometimes wonders where everyone went. Baxter was a senior and a fixture, and many promising teammates have departed the past two years.

Kelvin Brown was booted from the team two years ago and is starting for 12-3 Murray State. USF was stunned last year when Israeli guard Raphael Toren was denied eligibility by the NCAA. Freshman Yusuf Baker emerged as a potential star last season but was kicked off this summer. Guard Danny Oglesby quit in October.

"I think about the what-ifs all the time," Swift said.

Despite the situation, the Bulls expect to emerge successful.

"We're going to compete like crazy and go into Saint Louis expecting to win," Henson said.

Added Swift: "We're going to have to scratch, claw and fight."

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