USF Lures Orlando Antigua in Hopes of Bringing In Florida TalentPosted by CD Bradley on April 2nd, 2014
USF has its man, again. The school on Tuesday announced the hiring of Kentucky assistant Orlando Antigua as its new head coach, less than a week after it nearly hired Manhattan head coach Steve Masiello. “I think I was my wife’s second choice too, but that’s worked out; we’ve been together for 20 years,” Antigua said during an introductory news conference held during his brief stay in Tampa. Just hours after landing, he took off again, returning to Lexington for a practice ahead of this weekend’s Final Four. He will return to Tampa for good once the Wildcats’ season ends.
When he gets back to Florida, he will have something to work with despite USF’s back-to-back 3-15 conference records. Returning are two freshmen bigs – 6’10” John Egbunu and 6’8″ Chris Perry – and junior point guard Anthony Collins, who helped lead the team to two NCAA Tournament wins as a freshman but missed most of this season with a knee injury. The biggest reason Antigua got the job, though, is not because of what he’ll do with the players already in Tampa, but with the players he will be expected to bring to Tampa. Antigua has been a key recruiter for John Calipari over the last six years, one at Memphis and five at Kentucky (those stints follow five years on the staff at his alma mater, Pittsburgh, and some previous run as a Harlem Globetrotter). Some of those massive recruiting hauls included Floridian Brandon Knight, who led the Wildcats to the 2011 Final Four before being drafted by the Pistons. The Bulls’ talent deficit has been a major reason for it recent woes, and Antigua’s first job will be to close that particular gap with his AAC foes.
One interesting subplot with this hire is that it opens yet another front in the ongoing cold war between Calipari and Louisville head coach Rick Pitino. USF’s first choice for the job was Pitino disciple Masiello, who lost the offer when it came to light he did not graduate from, somewhat ironically, Kentucky (Pitino said on Tuesday that he expects Manhattan to decide soon whether it will retain Masiello). The Bulls then turned to Calipari lieutenant Antigua as its next choice. While Pitino has one of the greatest coaching trees ever grown in college basketball; former player and assistant Billy Donovan is shooting for his third national title in Dallas this weekend, one of five former Pitino aides in this year’s NCAA Tournament. Calipari, six years Pitino’s junior, has had fewer disciples win big; two of his former assistants – Memphis’ Josh Pastner and UMass’ Derek Kellogg – lead teams to this year’s Tourney.
Antigua is taking on quite the challenge with this job. USF has no basketball tradition to speak of, but it does have a few potential strengths on which to build some momentum. He’s the first (completed) hire of new athletic director Mark Harland, on the job in his first week after leaving UCLA. The program has a new practice facility, and its home court, the Sun Dome, has recently undergone substantial renovations. The American, even in the post-Louisville era, promises to be a multi-bid league, which should provide an opportunity for quality wins while not offering as many roadblocks as one of the top conferences. Florida doesn’t have the same number of prospects of California or the northeast corridor, but seven of ESPN’s top 100 seniors hail from the state this year, as do three of the top 45 juniors. The pieces are there for someone to be successful there — now Antigua will have to try to put them together.