New head coach Orlando Antigua ready to transform Bulls into winners
TAMPA, Fla. — Orlando Antigua believes he can transform South Florida’s struggling basketball program into a consistent winner.
The Kentucky assistant was introduced Tuesday as the ninth coach in the American Athletic Conference school’s history, and he’s hardly the first to take the job promising brighter days.
But Antigua is one of the nation’s top recruiters, one of the reasons why Kentucky is in the Final Four with a starting five of all freshmen, and he says there’s no reason USF can’t win championships, too.
"That will take work," he said during a news conference in the Sun Dome’s Arena Club. "I’m not afraid of work."
The John Calipari understudy takes over a program that’s made the NCAA tournament once in the past 22 years. Predecessor Stan Heath arrived at USF sporting a strong track record of getting teams to realize their potential, but Bulls went 97-130 in seven seasons under the fired coach.
Antigua, who got a five-year, $4.75 million contract that could be worth more with incentives, wants to play an up tempo style of basketball similar to what Calipari has thrived on at Kentucky and a previous stop at Memphis. The 41-year-old vows to be competitive in recruiting, too, although he stopped short of promising to deliver the type of "one-and-done" talent that’s helped Kentucky reach the Final Four three of the past four years.
"We will run a championship program," Antigua said, adding that Calipari urged him to pursue the opportunity when USF approached after a deal to bring in Manhattan’s Steve Masiello fell apart and UNLV’s Dave Rice received a contract extension instead accepting an offer from the Bulls.
"He said it’s a sleeping giant … go get the job, surprise people and make some history," said Antigua, who remains a part of Calipari’s staff for at least a few more days. He will accompany the Wildcats to Dallas for the Final Four on Wednesday.
"We will play as fast as we can and be as disciplined on defense as we need to be," Antigua added. "It’s an exciting brand of basketball. It’s a way to impose your will on an opponent, and it’s the way kids like to play."
Antigua played at Pittsburgh from 1991 to 1995 and later spent five seasons as an assistant under Jamie Dixon with the Panthers. He went to work for Calipari at Memphis in 2008, and the following season they moved on to Kentucky, where Antigua helped the Wildcats land the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation each of the past five years.
Calipari expects him to be successful at USF, which went 12-20 under Heath this season. The Bulls made the NCAA tournament for the first time in 20 years in 2012, but only won 24 games over the past two years.
"I have the utmost confidence in him to lead (USF) to new heights," Calipari said in a statement released by Kentucky, which this week becomes the first team to head to the Final Four with five freshman starters since Michigan in 1992. "My guess is they will do things that have never been done before at South Florida."
Two years ago, Kentucky had a record six players selected in the NBA draft, including the top two picks in Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.
Antigua, whose resume includes a stint as a player with the Harlem Globetrotters, isn’t concerned that he wasn’t USF’s first choice.
The Bulls had an agreement in principle to hire Masiello, only to see the deal fall apart because the Manhattan coach doesn’t have a college diploma — one of the requirements for the USF job. New athletic director Mark Harlan pursued Rice and also talked to several other potential candidates before hiring Antigua.
"I think my experiences and background make me the right guy for the job," the new coach said. "But talk is cheap. You have to show. We’ve got to have success."