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Bulls build solid senior foundation


© St. Petersburg Times, published February 2, 2001

Cedric Smith gets it. "Our 1-2 options are B.B. Waldon and Altron Jackson," said the eloquent, energetic University of South Florida basketball player. "If for some reason they're not on the floor, it's up to us seniors to fill gaps and make it work."

Right now, gifted 6-foot-8 junior Waldon is suspended. Bulls coach Seth Greenberg says B.B. did something bad. A load of talent grounded indefinitely with Conference USA exams looming against Tulane, Memphis and UAB.

Also, in Wednesday night's 73-67 smackdown of Louisville, the spindly but frequently spectacular 6-6 Jackson spent 17 of 40 minutes on USF's bench.

Why, with B.B. shelved?

My guess: For a junior, Tron can go into freshman-like personality funks. Immaturity quite obvious. At times, the Jackson pout is terribly visible. This is a youngster with legit NBA possibilities, but Altron's grow-up process cries for acceleration.

Seth's bunch is solid, experienced, entertaining, but with evolving challenges apparent. USF's record is 14-6, a division-leading 6-1 in C-USA. Absolute opportunities for Bulls post-season joys, including maybe going a game or two deep in the NCAA Tournament.

They're not the Waldon Five.

Nah, not the Jackson Five.

B.B. and Altron are the artistic powder kegs, both needed for an optimum run, but the dependable backbone of Greenberg's party is four seniors who grit, grind and set manly examples: Smith, Chonsey Asbury, Sam Sanders and Artha Reeves.

"These guys are what college basketball is about," USF's coach said. "Our team depends heavily on doing the little things. Playing hard, tough defense. Getting the garbage. Playing to our strengths."

Asbury's body has multiple dings. Driving for the basket against the Cardinals, he was whistled for traveling. "Couldn't help it," Chonsey explained, grinning. "I got a bad cramp. It knocked me down."

Predictably, he got up.

"Chonsey has trouble moving too quickly the morning after a game," Greenberg said. "He hurts. We can't always practice him all out. But he's a warrior, just like Cedric, Sam and Artha.

"They bought into USF hoops when it wasn't fashionable. In an era when it's difficult to retain a college basketball foundation with four seniors who play a lot, I can't say enough about ours. I have unwavering confidence in them."

They're not hinting what Waldon did, other than it isn't an academic mess. B.B. was there for Louisville, standing around in street clothes, watching warmups from midcourt, sitting on the bench. Cheering his comrades. Hugging them.

"He's part of our team," Greenberg explained. "I see discipline as necessary, even when it affects people other than the kid involved. I love B.B. Waldon. So do his teammates.

"Discipline is a sign of love. To me, the No. 1 thought is Waldon's development as a person. B.B. is going to be fine. We should always be willing to discipline our children. Letting stuff go isn't going to help them be better in the long run."

Around the Sun Dome, you could hear all sorts of Benitez Bernard Waldon rumors. Including drugs. Maybe a fight? Patrons were guessing. Seth sees it as a family matter. Kept within the Bulls basketball circle.

Somewhere in the rafters, there was the expressed thought B.B. might not be back at all. "Not true," the coach said. "We're counting on seeing him playing again, when it's time. I believe we will see a better B.B. Waldon after this experience."

Cheers for coaches who make tough calls, extracting a vital athlete from the mix, especially when it means missing critical competition. If the boss chooses to look the other way, when there is a glance back at the problem, it might have become far worse.

So often when I see the Bulls at the Sun Dome, there is a feeling of, "Why don't they get larger crowds?" Especially now, with an absolutely successful season and energetic style.

Louisville is uncharacteristically down, with an 8-13 record, but this is one of college basketball's all-time studs. Denny Crum, in his 30th year with the Cards, has a 671-289 record and two national championships.

Still, the arena was half filled. Announced crowd: 5,343. Notably there is a shortage of students. USF has a whopping enrollment of 37,000. An estimated 36,000 chose to pass on Bulls-Louisville.

I know it's a commuter school. More drive-ins than live-ins. I know this isn't basketball-bananas country. We're aware of all the automatic excuses. Even so, I would guess that 10,000 students reside within 10 minutes of the Sun Dome. Were they all at the library?

You can bet, in hoops-savvy Kentucky, there was twice or thrice the Wednesday night conversation about the 8-13 Cards than was evident across Tampa Bay's landscape regarding the 14-6 Bulls.

B.B. and Tron are worth it.

Four seniors even more so.

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