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Colleges

USF's dedication nets a top recruit

By GREG AUMAN
Published November 11, 2004

BRANDON - Zaronn Cann had to borrow his father's USF baseball cap, but after a firm tug, it still fit the Brandon basketball star just fine.

Cann, a 6-foot-6 forward, signed Wednesday with the Bulls, who see his versatility and playmaking abilities as crucial elements for their success as they move to the Big East next season.

"We targeted him almost as soon as I was hired, and we made him our No. 1 prospect in our Class of '05," said USF coach Robert McCullum, who flew to Houston to see Cann in a tournament a week after he was hired. "He was one we felt would be a good fit and could be a very good Big East player."

Cann's basketball future was in jeopardy when he tore ligaments in his left knee in January, but he expects a full recovery. He felt good after participating as Brandon opened preseason practice Monday, and he said he'll be at full strength by January.

In addition to the proximity to his family and friends, Cann said what made him choose USF was the way Bulls coaches stuck with him during his injury while other colleges backed off.

"That hurt, in the beginning, but I guess it was just God's way of showing me where I needed to be," said Cann, who had visited Virginia and West Virginia and said future Big East rivals Pittsburgh and Syracuse made last-ditch efforts to pry him from USF.

McCullum said he never doubted Cann's ability to recover and held firm to the scholarship offer he had made in August 2003.

"To me, a commitment, by the definition of the word, is unconditional," McCullum said. "We were confident, too, that he would be able to make a complete recovery. He has a number of qualities that I think will enable him to quickly become a fan favorite."

Cann said he was eager to sign during the early period so he could concentrate on his senior season at Brandon.

USF's other two oral commitments, St. Petersburg College forward McHugh Mattis and point guard Chris Howard of Fort Washington, Md., are expected to sign with the Bulls today.

USF's women's basketball team signed guards Jessica Jackson of Roswell, Ga., and Shantia Grace of Sarasota. Grace, rated the state's top recruit by floridahoops.com, averaged 21 points last season for Riverview High.

"Shantia is a prolific scorer ... that we have been recruiting since I got to USF," coach Jose Fernandez said. "Shantia will add a major scoring threat for us immediately in the perimeter."

BROOKSVILLE: Central guard Alex Ruoff signed with West Virginia, becoming the second boys basketball player in Hernando County to sign with a Division I college straight out of high school. He also became the county's first boys player to sign with a college in a major conference (Big East).

"It feels great," said Ruoff, who canceled visits with North Carolina-Wilmington and DePaul after visiting West Virginia in August. "They (the Mountaineers) run a real structured offense, and it's a great school academic-wise. It's been there for 100 years."

The 6-foot-7 guard was the Times' All-Citrus/Hernando Player of the Year last season after averaging 22.3 points, 8.8 rebounds and 4.2 assists for the Bears. He was ranked as one of the top 50 seniors in the nation, according to recruiting service Hoopmasters.com.

SOFTBALL: Chamberlain infielder Jo Jo Medina, a first-team all-state selection last season, was one of five players to sign with USF.

"Jo Jo is a feared hitter that can turn a game around with a swing of the bat," USF coach Ken Eriksen said. "Because of her versatility in the infield, she gives us much-needed depth in the lineup."

USF also signed infielder Britta Giddens from two-time state champion Bartow, catcher Liz Howell of Bradenton Lakewood Ranch and two out-of-state players, pitcher Christina Ecks of Manassas, Va., and infielder Caitlin Schneider of Naperville, Ill.

Crystal River first baseman Ashley Bullion, who committed to the USF softball team in May, is expected to sign with the Bulls on Friday.

FSU: The women's program added four touted prospects to fill specific needs: size and shooting.

The signees are Kyria Buford, a 6-2 forward who earned Street & Smith honorable mention all-America honors the past two seasons out of Victory Christian (Charlotte, N.C.) High and is now at the IMG Academy in Bradenton; 5-11 guard Tanae Davis from Dawson, Ga.; 6-1 guard Mara Freshour from Nashville, Ind., where she has been a three-time Street & Smith honorable mention all-America; and 6-3 forward Cayla Moore from Westover, Ga., a former AAU teammate of Ronalda Pierce, the Seminole player who died in June.

"This class moves us closer to our goal of becoming a perennial Top 10 program," coach Sue Semrau said. "Each of these student-athletes shares not only tremendous talent, but an elite level of commitment."

Times staff writers Brian Landman, Emily Nipps and Dawn Reiss contributed to this report.

[Last modified November 11, 2004, 00:30:23]


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