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Jawanza Poland’s improvement allowing Bulls to succeed in Big East

This season, Jawanza Poland has emerged as a significant contributor for USF men’s basketball. After playing a limited role last year, he has moved up the depth chart because of his scoring ability and defensive intensity. Poland is the team’s second-leading scorer, averaging 9.5 points off of the bench.

The Bulls currently sit at 15-10, including eight wins against Big East opponents, and Poland deserves a lot of the credit for the team’s turnaround. The name “Jawanza” means dependable, and that’s exactly what Poland has been this season, according to Josh Dentel, the USF Bulls Insider for

“USF is having one of their best seasons in 20 years, and a large reason for that is the improvement of Jawanza Poland’s game,” Dentel said. “Last season, Poland took the most shots on the roster but was only making around 32 percent of his attempts. He had the ability to drive to the hoop, but Poland struggled at finishing around the rim. This season, Poland is shooting 42.5 percent from the field and improving as a scorer. One look at Poland’s stat line doesn’t necessarily say that he has improved, but with some investigation, he has done quite a bit to help this team in the 2011-12 season.”

“I grew a lot over the past year,” Poland said. “I’m more mature now and ready to take on a bigger role. Over the summer, my teammates and I woke up every morning at 7 a.m. to run a few miles on the track and then go to open gym together. I worked a lot on my dribbling and shooting skills.”

Poland didn’t take the traditional route to USF. After high school, Poland enrolled at Cowley Community College in Kansas and turned heads with his athletic ability. He was named the conference’s Freshman of the Year and was ranked the third-best shooting guard in the junior college ranks.

When Cowley’s head basketball coach, Steve Eck, decided to take a job at nearby Hutchinson Community College, Poland and many of his teammates decided to transfer. While most of Eck’s players were allowed to follow the coach, Cowley wasn’t happy to lose its budding star and refused to grant Poland his release. He was forced to sit out his final year of junior college eligibility, but the situation didn’t scare away Division I programs. Poland was recruited by Oklahoma, West Virginia and Cincinnati before he ultimately committed to USF. Looking back on his journey, Poland believes it made him work harder.

“The junior-college route is hard,” Poland said. “It’s not the worst route, but it’s not the best route, either. You have to work hard if you really want to be successful. It was tough for me since I had to sit out one year, but I just stayed focused and kept trying to get better every day. It definitely made me more humble and hungry.”

While attending junior college helped Poland develop a strong work ethic, he also picked up some of his workout habits from former USF star Dominique Jones. These days, Jones plays for the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks, but he continues to be an excellent mentor for Poland.

“I used to watch Dominique Jones a few years ago,” Poland said. “Then, I came here and he showed me you have to work very hard if you want to be good. He was always in the gym, trying to get better. I saw that and realized that nothing is going to be handed to me.”

USF head basketball coach, Stan Heath, has also played a large role in Poland’s improvement. When the shooting guard first arrived to Tampa two years ago, he had plenty of raw talent, but it was clear he hadn’t had much individual coaching. He relied heavily on his athleticism and needed to work on many different aspects of his game. Heath pointed out Poland’s flaws and pushed him to improve.

“I really enjoy playing for Coach Heath,” Poland said. “He tells me what I’m doing right and what I’m doing wrong. He’s always coaching me. I’m glad I’ve gotten the chance to play for him.”

While Poland has achieved individual success this season, he understands that the team’s success comes first. After their impressive start, the Bulls want to carry their momentum into March and qualify for the NCAA Tournament.

“We all have the same goal and that’s to make the NCAA Tournament this year,” Poland said. “That’s the goal for this team. We want to finish top three in the conference and then get to the tournament.”

If Poland can continue to perform at a high level for the remainder of the season, anything is possible.

Here are some video highlights of Poland this season:


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