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USF women's tennis team wins AAC title

The Bulls women's tennis team's improbable romp through the American Athletic Conference tournament culminated Saturday with a 4-2 triumph against top-seeded Tulsa in the title match at Lake Nona.

The No. 7 seed -- and a .500 team -- entering the tournament, USF (14-10) upset the three top seeds in as many days for its second AAC title and 13th conference crown overall.

Clinching Saturday's victory was No. 5 singles player Nicole Dzenga, who eked out a 7-5, 4-6, 6-4 victory against Martha Matoula. No. 2 Vera Bessonova also won in three sets.

Earlier in the day, Dzenga had teamed with classmate Vanja Klaric for a 7-6 triumph at No. 3 doubles to help the Bulls earn the doubles point.

Saturday's triumph occurred on the heels of Friday's 4-2 victory against No. 3 SMU, and Thursday's 4-1 win against second-seeded Tulane. The Golden Hurricane and Green Wave both defeated USF in the regular season.

On the men's side, the top-seeded Bulls (16-8) rolled to a 4-0 semifinal triumph against Memphis, setting up Sunday's noon title match against third-seeded UCF. The match can be watched here.  

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Are 3 non-Saturday home games too many for USF?

USF receivers Marquez Valdes-Scantling (11), Tyre McCants (8) and the rest of the Bulls will play three non-Saturday home games this year.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

USF receivers Marquez Valdes-Scantling (11), Tyre McCants (8) and the rest of the Bulls will play three non-Saturday home games this year.

Though we're accustomed to non-Saturday college football in these parts, the recent announcement that USF's home game against Tulsa has been moved to a Thursday night (Nov. 16) was a bit unexpected.

And perhaps a bit unsettling for Bulls fans.

It guarantees USF of three non-Saturday home games for the first time since 2008. In addition to the Tulsa tilt, to be televised on ESPN, the Bulls also will play nationally televised home contests against Illinois (Friday, Sept. 15) and Temple (Thursday, Sept. 21).

Toss in the Black Friday game at UCF (Nov. 24), and that's four total non-Saturday kickoffs for the Bulls.

While we fully understand the American Athletic Conference's need for non-Saturday contests to nationally showcase its product, is this a bit much? We're talking 43 percent of USF's home schedule that won't be played on the day traditionally set aside for college football.

Your thoughts?

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UCF's Scott Frost: Orlando is state's "best college town"

UCF sophomore quarterback McKenzie Milton (10) and the Knights host USF on Black Friday (Nov. 24) this season.

CHARLIE KAIJO | Times

UCF sophomore quarterback McKenzie Milton (10) and the Knights host USF on Black Friday (Nov. 24) this season.

Eleven of the American Athletic Conference's 12 football coaches participated in Wednesday's annual spring teleconference (Charlie Strong had a previously planned meeting he couldn't miss). Here are some of the more significant items to emerge:

* UCF second-year coach Scott Frost took a not-so-subtle jab at those who might have underestimated his staff's recruiting chops. Only 16 months after the Knights' 0-12 debacle came to a merciful end, Frost's staff hauled in a 2017 signing class deemed the Group of Five's best by Rivals and 247Sports.

"We don't put much stock in ranking, but I think as a coaching staff, we spent a lot of time listening to people talk about how recruiting in Florida was gonna be tough with (coaching) changes at USF and FAU and FIU, and they never mentioned us," Frost said.

"And I think that made our coaching staff happy to turn out the type of recruiting class that we did. We have the best city in Florida to sell, we have the best campus in Florida to sell and the best university in Florida to sell, and I think that differentiates us." …

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USF's Malik Dixon to transfer

Bulls sophomore Malik Dixon, who appeared to be making a solid transition from safety to linebacker this spring, has left the program.

Dixon, who missed nearly the entire 2016 season due to a shoulder injury, announced his departure Wednesday via Twitter. He had missed the last week of spring practice -- including Saturday's spring game -- for what Coach Charlie Strong called a "family issue."

"After long talks and consideration with my family and close friends, I think it would be best for me to transfer schools," Dixon wrote. "I will be attending a Junior College at first and then go back to the D1 level and further my college football career after."

Initially a backup to FS Jaymon Thomas, Dixon had six tackles, a sack, a forced fumble and a pass breakup against Towson in the '16 opener before undergoing shoulder surgery.

He becomes the second projected linebacker to depart in the Charlie Strong era, joining Cecil Cherry.

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Brian Gregory reportedly lands another USF commitment

Bulls men's coach Brian Gregory reportedly has received his second commitment from a prep school player, getting a pledge from Putnam Science (Conn.) Academy F Alexis Yetna.

Rivals national basketball analyst Corey Evans reported the commitment Wednesday.

A France native, Yetna -- listed at 6-foot-8, 215 pounds on the Putnam Science roster -- is a three-star prospect according to ESPN. He also reportedly had offers from Mississippi State, St. John's and Oregon State, among others. He visited USF last weekend.

"They definitely are bringing in a new style of play: a competitive, up-tempo system that is definitely something (Gregory) and his staff hit on," Yetna told Evans.

Yetna would increase USF's total of 2016-17 scholarship players to nine, presuming no one else transfers and the incoming players ultimately sign.

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USF alumni team gearing up for national hoops tourney

Former USF guard Anthony Collins is set to compete for a Bulls alumni squad hoping to gain entry into a national tournament to be broadcast on various ESPN platforms.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

Former USF guard Anthony Collins is set to compete for a Bulls alumni squad hoping to gain entry into a national tournament to be broadcast on various ESPN platforms.

The roster exodus has shifted into reverse. The Bulls who bolted not terribly long ago are returning.

JaVontae Hawkins is back. So is Anthony Collins. Day by day, the lineup is further fortified.

The alumni lineup, anyway.

All indications are, USF will field an alumni team in a fledgling 64-team national tournament known simply as "The Basketball Tournament" (TBT).

Coach Anthony Brammer, a former video assistant for Stan Heath, says the squad -- known as the Tampa Bulls -- has commitments from the minimum seven players required, and has received the minimum 100 fan votes needed for eligibility. Those voters also get a cut of the $2 million winner-take-all prize if the Bulls win.

Among those joining Hawkins and Collins will be King High alumnus Toarlyn Fitzpatrick, Gus Gilchrist, Ron Anderson Jr., Hugh Robertson and Corey Allen Jr. Michael Brown, a former Bulls manager, is the "GM."

Teams can gain entry into a 16-team region in one of three ways: Nine teams are chosen based on popularity (fans can vote for their team of choice here), while six others who meet eligibility requirements (at least seven players, 100 fan votes) are chosen at-large. One team in each region can play through in the "TBT Jamboree."

Brammer, now a loan officer and assistant hoops coach at Lecanto High, said he believes his club will receive an at-large bid when the field is announced June 6. It's currently eighth in the latest TBT "Power Rankings."

"They want us in this tournament," he said.

The tournament begins in early July and ends Aug. 3 in Baltimore. All games will be televised on one ESPN platform or another. Teams must pay their expenses the first two rounds (at four different sites nationwide), but the event pays the way from there.

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USF men's hoops roster evolving

USF fourth-year junior Troy Holston Jr. is among four scholarship players remaining from the Orlando Antigua era.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

USF fourth-year junior Troy Holston Jr. is among four scholarship players remaining from the Orlando Antigua era.

Tracking the Bulls men's basketball roster these days can fluster the keenest of minds, not to mention the simple ones such as ours.

Hence the reason we've assembled an updated one here. Just bear in mind, college rosters can be as volatile as a Kardashian relationship, meaning they're subject to frequent change (and we'll update this one as necessary).

It's also worth noting we spotted Troy Holston Jr., Malik Martin, Tulio Da Silva and Isaiah Manderson at Monday night's Stampede of Champions banquet. On Tuesday, the school confirmed all four remain with the program.

Unofficial USF 2017-18 Men's Basketball Roster
(scholarship players only)
 

G Payton Banks, Gr-Transfer (Penn State)*
G/F Justin Brown, Fr.
F Tulio Da Silva, R-So.
G Troy Holston Jr., R-Jr.
PG Stephan Jiggetts, Gr-Transfer (Fairleigh Dickinson)*
G TJ Lang, Jr. (Auburn transfer)^
F Isaiah Manderson, Sr.
C Malik Martin, R-Jr.
G Terrence Samuel, Gr-Transfer (Penn State)*
F Alexis Yetna, Fr.

*-Player's arrival has been widely reported but not yet announced by USF 
^-Must sit out the 2017-18 season

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Cameron Ruff receives Selmon Award at USF banquet

USF senior center Cameron Ruff, a Jesuit High alumnus, was presented the Lee Roy Selmon Award at the Bulls' student-run sports banquet Monday night.

JOEY KNIGHT | Times

USF senior center Cameron Ruff, a Jesuit High alumnus, was presented the Lee Roy Selmon Award at the Bulls' student-run sports banquet Monday night.

Bulls senior C Cameron Ruff, set to graduate next month, won the evening's most prestigious honor at USF's annual "Stampede of Champions" student-athlete awards banquet Monday night at the Sun Dome.

Ruff, who will receive his degree in business management, was presented the Lee Roy Selmon Award, given to the student-athlete who best exemplifies the spirit of the school's former athletic director and Pro Football Hall of Famer.

All awards were voted on by student-athletes, who annually produce the event on their own each year. Monday's presentations and scripts -- some of which mildly roasted peers and coaches -- also were done by Bulls student-athletes.

A Jesuit alumnus, Ruff started all 13 games last season. Last spring, he was chosen the American Athletic Conference's representative at the NCAA Student-Athlete Leadership Forum in Phoenix.

Others honored Monday:

Male Athlete of the Year: QB Quinton Flowers
Female Athlete of the Year: Women's soccer freshman Evelyne Viens (school-record 16 goals)
Team of the Year: Football (school-record 11 wins)
Coaching Staff of the Year: Women's basketball
Male Scholar-Athlete of the Year: Nick Buliga (cross country)
Female Scholar-Athlete of the Year: Brittany Raymond (women's soccer)
Most Improved: Maria Jespersen (women's basketball)
Individual Community Service Award: Ashley Wilson (women's track and field)
Team Community Award: Women's tennis
Sportsmanship Award: Women's tennis
Male Newcomer of the Year: TE Mitch Wilcox
Female Newcomer of the Year: Viens
Unsung Hero: Meredith Bissette (softball)
Best Comeback: Men's soccer (began 0-3-2, won conference regular season title)
Moment of the Year: Football (Birmingham Bowl triumph)
Most Spirited: Marcus Wingate (football)
"Stafflete" of the Year (top staffer): Walt Bell (strength and conditioning)
Best Performance Award: Flowers (54-yard TD run vs. UConn)

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USF enters media-rights deal with Jeff Vinik entity

An entity controlled by Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik, pictured here with USF President Dr. Judy Genshaft, has entered a multimedia-rights deal with Bulls athletics.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

An entity controlled by Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik, pictured here with USF President Dr. Judy Genshaft, has entered a multimedia-rights deal with Bulls athletics.

Bulls fans curious about the implications of USF's new multimedia-rights partnership with a Jeff Vinik-controlled group need look no farther than Amalie Arena.

The cutting-edge bells and whistles accompanying a Lightning game -- or at least a solid replicate of them -- now likely will be headed to USF events.

USF announced Monday it has entered a 10-year multimedia-rights partnership with Tampa Bay Entertainment Properties, LLC (TBEP), a newly-formed entity controlled by Vinik.

While separate from his entity that operates Amalie Arena and owns the Lightning, it's expected to provide the same type of innovative, fan-first experiences that helped the Lightning earn the No. 1 spot in ESPN's 2016 Ultimate Sports Standings.

"I think it's fair to say the work that we've seen in Amalie Arena is a goal that we've always aspired to be," Bulls athletic director Mark Harlan said.

"And now we're partnering with the group that put that on. So you can probably infer from that that not only are we excited about partnering with (TBEP), but I think our fans should be really excited as well."

The new deal begins July 1, a day after USF's contract with IMG Sports Marketing expires. It guarantees USF at least $29 million through the 10-year term, which Harlan confirmed brings USF a bit more money than the previous deal. …

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USF lands transfer Stephan Jiggetts, Michael Bibby departs

USF has received a commitment from Fairleigh Dickinson graduate transfer PG Stephan Jiggetts, who is expected to be eligible for the 2017-18 season.

CBS Sports' Jon Rothstein first reported Jiggetts' commitment Sunday. The 6-foot-1 Maryland native already has USF (and a Bull horns icon) on his Twitter bio.

The arrival of Jiggetts coincides with the departure of freshman PG Michael Bibby, who announced via Twitter late Saturday night he is transferring. Bibby, who averaged 6.6 points and 1.9 assists in his lone season as a Bull, becomes the sixth USF player to depart since the end of the season. …

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Vince Naimoli and wife donate $1 million to USF athletics

Former Rays owner Vince Naimoli (center) and wife Lenda were recognized Saturday for their $1 million gift to USF athletics.

JOEY KNIGHT | Times

Former Rays owner Vince Naimoli (center) and wife Lenda were recognized Saturday for their $1 million gift to USF athletics.

Former Rays owner Vince Naimoli might have had a love-hate relationship with local baseball fans, but he just might have forever endeared himself to the Bulls demographic Saturday.

Naimoli -- 79 and battling a brain disorder -- and wife Lenda were honored at halftime of the Bulls' spring game for their $1 million donation to the athletic department. The "Naimoli Family Gift" will support on-campus facility projects for tennis and football, as well as the renovation of the Fishman Family Student-Athlete Enrichment Center (SAEC).

"Lenda and Vince Naimoli are passionately invested in the success of USF Athletics and the University of South Florida," athletic director Mark Harlan said in a prepared statement.

"Their incredibly generous commitment is very exciting for our program and we are grateful and humbled by their vital support of our shared vision for excellence in the classroom, the community and in competition."

Lenda told the Tampa Bay Times in 2015 that her husband was diagnosed with a rare brain disorder called Progressive Supranuclear Palsy in the fall of '14, and his health has steadily declined. He was led to the Corbett Stadium field in a golf cart Saturday before being assisted out for the midfield presentation.

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A few Bulls to watch at Saturday's spring game

USF senior defensive tackle Bruce Hector (60) has evolved into a run-stuffing force for the Bulls.

JOEY KNIGHT | Times

USF senior defensive tackle Bruce Hector (60) has evolved into a run-stuffing force for the Bulls.

During the first 14 USF spring practices, open only to the media and special guests, several Bulls have captured our attention. Some have transformed their bodies. Others successfully have switched positions. A few simply are playing better.

Saturday, they perform on the spring's biggest stage, at Corbett Stadium in the Bulls' split-squad game. See if these guys turn your heads the way they've turned ours.

WR Deangelo Antoine
The early candidate to replace Rodney Adams at the slot-receiver spot. A sophomore from Orlando, Antoine sparkled in the Bulls' first extensive scrimmage of the spring, and hasn't really tapered off.

LB Malik Dixon
Though he still needs to add some bulk this summer, Dixon (6-foot-3, 219 pounds) appears to be making a solid transition from safety to linebacker. "Kind of fills the void where Nigel (Harris) left, because Nigel was a really good cover guy," veteran MLB Auggie Sanchez said. "He needs to gain a little weight, but he does a good job. He'll stick his nose in there, and he's a motivated kid."

WR DeVontres Dukes
This rangy redshirt freshman from Wharton High seems to make a big play in every practice. At 6-4, 217 pounds, Dukes has the length and hands to flourish in new offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert's system, which features more of a vertical passing dimension.

QB Quinton Flowers
Twenty-seven starts into his college career, Flowers still doesn't fail to turn our heads. That said, someone else must quarterback the other team, which will give you a chance to see just how much Brett Kean (who has the position's fastest release) and Chris Oladokun (who has the position's fastest feet) have progressed.

DT Bruce Hector
Very quietly, this senior has had an outstanding spring, asserting himself as a run-stuffing force on a team in dire need of one.

RB Elijah Mack
To be sure, senior D'Ernest Johnson is this team's starting tailback, but Mack (6-0, 215) looks like the bellcow of the future in this power-based offense. Thought not related to Marlon Mack, his frame (6-foot, 215 pounds) is a dead ringer for his predecessor. Look for him to get a succession of handoffs Saturday.

LB Andre Polk Jr.
Sanchez's offseason surgery and Cecil Cherry's departure have opened the door for Polk -- a 6-4, 225-pound redshirt freshman -- to make serious inroads this spring. Polk has taken a ton of first-team reps so far, and it will be interesting to see how disruptive he can be for one of the squads Saturday.

DB Craig Watts
Clearly, Bulls defensive coaches are bent on keeping Watts -- a redshirt freshman from Admiral Farragut -- on the field, even if it means shuffling him around. This spring, Watts has lined up at safety, corner and nickel back, and has performed effectively at each spot.

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USF extends Jose Fernandez's contract

USF women's basketball coach Jose Fernandez won his 300th game earlier this season.

Times file photo

USF women's basketball coach Jose Fernandez won his 300th game earlier this season.

USF announced Thursday it has added two years to women's basketball coach Jose Fernandez's contract, presumably keeping him in Tampa through 2023.

Fernandez, 45, who has led USF to three consecutive NCAA Tournaments and five overall in 17 seasons, signed a six-year deal worth roughly $2.9 million two years ago. Since then, the Bulls have posted consecutive 20-win seasons, giving the program five in a row.

"What Jose has been able to build and sustain in the women’s basketball program at USF over the last 17 years is remarkable and a point of pride for all Bulls fans," USF athletic director Mark Harlan said in a school news release.

"We are thrilled that he continues to lead a program that has established itself among the best in the nation and look forward to many more exciting seasons and achievements to come."

Fernandez, whose contract ran out twice before being renewed earlier in his tenure, is the winningest coach in program history (309-235). He returns four starters from this past season's squad, which finished 24-9 and reached the NCAAs despite being besieged by injuries.

"I am so appreciative of President (Judy) Genshaft and (Harlan)," Fernandez said.

"Their support of our women’s basketball program is remarkable. The city of Tampa and USF has been home to me and my family for the last 17 years and I am looking forward to continuing to lead this team. There is nowhere I would rather be than here, at this incredible institution and athletic department."

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Hargrave's Justin Brown signs with USF

Hargrave (Va.) Military Academy 6-foot-6 swingman Justin Brown formally became the first signee of the Brian Gregory era at USF on Wednesday, the first day of the NCAA's spring signing period.

"His size, versatility, skill package and athleticism will put him in a position to make an immediate impact in our program," Gregory said.

Immediate impacts will be essential for Gregory, believed to have only five scholarship players remaining from the Orlando Antigua era. Gregory also reportedly has a commitment from Penn State G Terrence Samuel, but Brown's signature was the only one expected Wednesday.

A four-time All-Birmingham Metro selection at Spain Park High in Hoover, Ala., Brown averaged 11 points, seven rebounds and two steals his postgraduate season at Hargrave. He shot nearly 60 percent from the floor and converted nearly 39 percent of his 3-pointers, according to USF.

"Justin is also a perfect fit when it comes to character and academic excellence, components that we emphasize greatly in the recruiting process," Gregory said. "It is important that we recruit from high-caliber, winning programs and Justin has come from two such programs at Hargrave and Spain Park."

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USF football season-ticket sales on uptick

USF has sold nearly 1,300 more season football tickets than it did this time in 2016.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

USF has sold nearly 1,300 more season football tickets than it did this time in 2016.

Buyoed by last fall's unprecedented 11-win season or Charlie Strong's arrival (or both), Bulls fans are scooping up season tickets at a modestly accelerated rate.

The school announced Wednesday that 8,734 season tickets for 2017 have been sold as of March 31, an increase of nearly 1,300 from the same time last year (7,444). Additionally, ticket-holders who have renewed for two or more years are renewing at an 86-percent rate, according to USF.

"We're really, really encouraged," said Scott Kull, the school's deputy athletic director for external operations.

The Bulls appear well on pace to eclipse the 12,151 total season tickets sold last year. Kull said he expects sales to taper off during the early summer as most fans use their disposable income on vacations, but projects a bump as the season nears in mid-July and August.

USF's average announced home attendance jumped by 41 percent last year, the fourth-best uptick in the country. The Bulls' home attendance grew to 37,539 (up from 26,578).

Season-ticket prices and purchase information can be found here.

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