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Greenberg keeps faith

By HUBERT MIZELL

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 8, 2000


TAMPA -- Seth Greenberg can sell. "We're playing entertaining basketball," barked South Florida's coach. "Our guys are fun to watch. Averaging 86 points. Terrific speed. Very athletic. We give crowds at the Sun Dome lots of reasons to participate. It's easy to get caught up in how these Bulls go about their work."

Are you buying? Greenberg needs the business. Customer flow at Seth's hoops shop has disappointed.

USF is away to a promising start (8-4), competing in one of America's hottest leagues (Conference USA), but attendance for five local games is a small-time average of 3,371.

Meriting twice as many.

Greenberg has taken a no-complain oath. His mouth zipped against zaps. "Until football bowl games and NFL playoffs are finished, crowd numbers will be down in most college basketball arenas," Seth did say in soft explanation.

"I'm not going to waste my energy on things I can't directly control. My job is to put the finest possible USF product on the floor, plus promoting it as diligently as possible."

Seth's doing more than his part. Recruiting has been ample, so USF has some exotic talents, most notably 6-foot-8 sophomore Benitez Bernard Waldon, who for some reason goes by "B.B." An ample cast includes Altron Jackson, Scott Johnson, Cedric Smith, Art Reeves, Chonsey Asbury and Reggie Kohn.

Greenberg's gang expects to challenge C-USA heavyweights Cincinnati, Louisville and DePaul. USF will wince in March if it fails to make the 64-team NCAA Tournament field.

"We're the biggest bargain in Tampa Bay sports," says Seth the pitchman. "Wholesome, affordable entertainment. Not hitting the public with 81 games (like Devil Rays baseball) or 41 (like Lightning hockey), but just 14 or 15 times at home.

"Bulls tickets are far more economical than for our professional sports franchises. We also make good deals. Wednesday night, for our successful (88-69) conference opener against UAB, there was a $50 family package that offered four tickets, four sodas, four hot dogs and four bags of popcorn."

They drew 3,425.

Tonight the count is sure to escalate. Florida State is coming to the Sun Dome. At least 9,000 will spin through revolving glass doors. With a nice gush of walk-up buyers, USF may find observers for all 10,411 seats.

FSU helps the house. Many fans will wear garnet and gold. They'll be Seminole chopping. Still glowing from a 'Noles national football championship. But basketball stock is showing life in Tallahassee with recent upsets over Vanderbilt and Wake Forest.

Okay, now I'm selling.

"Our students are coming back from the holiday break," Greenberg said, "so the dome should have a fabulous atmosphere.

"When more people realize what South Florida now has on its basketball shelf, the numbers will rise. I'm confident. Sports fans should love the pace of action we're offering."

Monday night the Bulls brought their basketball wares to Pinellas County. They played at Bayfront Center, winning 91-53 against Morgan State.

"We're eager for a closer relationship with USF's campus in St. Petersburg," Greenberg said. "Also, we wanted to say thanks to the many volunteers who helped bring Final Four success at Tropicana Field last season."

Crowd count was 1,183.

Greenberg believes. Full force. Full heart. I detected no hints to the contrary. No shrugs of frustration over small crowds.

"My family loves this area," Seth said. "There's no reason why South Florida can't become a consistent top 20 program that excites huge numbers of people and brings constant sellouts to the Sun Dome."

His enthusiasm is boundless, but human nature reminds of a potential downside if a university with 37,000 students continues to embrace the flourishing Greenberg act with too many assemblages of 3,700. Every year Greenberg gets feelers about employment at universities where basketball is ample and attendance stronger. Losing him would be a horrendous loss.

Seth won't discuss that.

"Our goal is to have excitement that comes close to the Bucs experience at Raymond James Stadium," he said. "One of the giant myths is that USF is a commuter school with most students driving long distances, leaving after class for a sizable trip home. But, truth is, we have 25,000 students within 10 minutes of campus.

"We're hoping they get a USF fraternity row off the ground, where social attitudes can be highly favorable for basketball. The University of South Florida has become a big, dynamic place.

"I'm a city guy (from New York, Miami and then Los Angeles). Places with big population are my favorite college towns. Tampa Bay is great. We can capture this community."

Seth believes. Seth sells. Seth waits.

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