Alex Kennedy

Alex Kennedy has written 3 posts for The Digital Bullpen

USF men’s basketball team can still fight their way into NCAA Tournament

The USF men’s basketball team hasn’t qualified for the NCAA Tournament since 1992, but this year the Bulls ended their lengthy drought.

The Bulls head into the Big East Tournament Wednesday, Mar. 9, at 9 p.m. They’ll face the winner of the Rutgers vs. Villanova Monday night game.

Carson Ingle, who covers NCAA sports for, commented on the Bulls’ record.

“This is their first winning season in Big East play and they have been extremely impressive,” Ingle said. “They got off to a good start against some of the lesser teams in the conference, but picked up a few marquee wins as well. … Also, they’ll probably need to win a game or two in the Big East Tournament to gain really strong NCAA consideration.”

The players understand what’s at stake. Last week, Jawanza Poland told the Digital Bullpen that the team is focused on joining the 68-team field.

“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.”

Entering the season, there weren’t high expectations for this team. After losing 23 games last year, USF was again expected to be one of the bottom feeders in the Big East. However, head coach Stan Heath recruited a number of new players, such as Victor Rudd Jr. and Anthony Collins, and altered his coaching so that the team would play a more physical style. Also, this is the final opportunity for players like Augustus Gilchrist and Ron Anderson to prove themselves and show that they’re good enough to play professional basketball.

Dan Barto, the head trainer at the famed IMG Basketball Academy, was very surprised by USF’s success.

“I think the biggest reason for USF’s improvement is individual motivation,” Barto said. “The changes to the staff have been very helpful to Stan Heath’s game management, but for guys like Augustus Gilchrist, Victor Rudd and Ron Anderson, this is their last opportunity [to] prove their doubters wrong and they’re greatly motivated. They are also one of the longest and biggest teams in the country, which allows them to own the paint. They play a very physical style of basketball and they wear teams down.”

While receiving an invite to the NCAA Tournament would be excellent for the program, USF’s season will still be considered a success if they don’t receive an invite. In fact, missing out on March Madness and playing in the National Invitation Tournament (NIT) may be better for USF in the long room, according to Josh Dentel of

“Even if the Bulls don’t make the NCAA Tournament, they’re still a lock for the NIT,” Dentel said. “It may actually be better for them to play in the NIT. They could make a deep run in that tournament, rather than losing in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.”

USF’s play over the next week will determine their fate. Even if they don’t qualify for the NCAA Tournament, the team is heading in the right direction, which is more than we could say last season.

Former Bulls star Dontavia Bogan adjusts to NFL after injury


Dontavia Bogan’s rookie season in the NFL didn’t go quite as planned.

After starring at USF for four years and finishing with the second-most receiving yards and touchdowns in school history, Bogan wasn’t selected in the 2011 NFL Draft. However, the 23-year-old was signed by the San Francisco 49ers and made the team’s roster. Then, less than a week into his NFL career, his season came to an end.

“On the third day of training camp, I tore my ACL,” Bogan said. “Unfortunately, I had to miss the entire 2011 season, so my rookie year was basically just about rehabbing my knee. They placed me on injured reserve, and they had me out in Arizona doing rehab with a knee specialist. I went to four or five games this year, but other than that, I was just rehabbing and making sure I’m ready for this upcoming season. That was the story of my rookie season.”

After working his entire life to play in the NFL, he had to put his dream on hold for another year. Now, Bogan’s knee is completely healthy, and he’s excited to get back onto the field next season.

“I’m starving right now, and I’m not talking about food,” Bogan said with a laugh. “I’ve been out for an entire year. I’ve been away from the game that I love. I can’t wait to get back.”

Because of his injury, Bogan’s contract with the 49ers won’t be guaranteed entering the season. He’ll have to earn his way onto the roster again with an impressive outing in training camp. Charlie Bernstein, NFL analyst for Fox Sports, believes that Bogan has what it takes to make the team.

“He’s a smaller guy with average speed, so he projects to be a possession receiver at the next level,” Bernstein said. “But if he can stay healthy, he’ll have as good a chance as anyone to make the 49ers.”

Even though he was sidelined for his entire rookie season, Bogan still enjoyed the experience.

“I still learned a lot,” Bogan said. “I was sitting there watching every game from the sideline and learning so much about this league. I understand how NFL cornerbacks play, how tight the route running needs to be and a bunch of things like that. I studied it all and noticed a lot of new things. The experience was great. You first get there as a rookie and see all of these big-name players that you’ve been watching on TV. You see someone like Vernon Davis and it’s like, ‘Dang, I’m in the same locker room as this guy?’”

Bogan played 49 games for the Bulls and has fond memories of his time at USF. He believes that the coaching staff deserves a lot of credit for his development, and he still follows the team closely.

“I feel like they put me in a great situation,” Bogan said. “There were a number of great wide receiver coaches there that really helped me. I learned a lot from Coach [Mike] Canales, and then they brought in Coach [Phil] McGeoghan. He played in the NFL, so he knows what it takes to get there and he helped put me in position to make the league. He taught me a lot and helped me improve my route running. USF prepared me pretty well for the next level. I still spend a lot of time in Tampa. I’m alumni now, and I watch every single game.”

Bogan had a stellar career at USF and will try to duplicate that success in San Francisco this season. His rookie season was a disappointment, but Bogan’s best football is likely still ahead of him.

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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