Commentary | After what he's been through, USF hoops coach Orlando Antigua doesn't quit easily

adell@bradenton.comJuly 2, 2014 

Puerto Rico Basketball



It was Halloween Night 1988 when 14-year-old Orlando Antigua decided to play it safe, skip the trick-or-treating and just play basketball.

The playground in the Bronx where Antigua honed his skills provided a path for him to reach his dream if he could avoid the violence that permeated those hardtops.

On this night, he couldn't, and Antigua was shot in the head.

"Someone thought I threw an egg at them," he says.

The slug remained lodged in Antigua's head for six years, but he continued to play basketball and earned a scholarship to Pittsburgh.

"I had headaches, but you don't let that stop you," he says. "The doctors said it would eventually come out naturally, and it did through my ear."

When Antigua proposed to his girlfriend, she told him no, but he wouldn't give up. They've been married for 20-plus years.

He signed with the Harlem Globetrotters in 1995, becoming the first Hispanic and first non-black to play for the team in 52 years.

He was hired as USF's head men's basketball coach only after it was revealed the person the school initially chose lied about graduating from college.

Antigua is a 6-foot-7 basketball player who can shoot the three.

He defies the odds. That's why the USF basketball program may finally have found the answer to its problems.

"We all face obstacles in our lives and we have the power to choose how we deal with them. Do we use it as an excuse or a springboard to get where you want to go and chase your dreams?" he said last week during a visit to Bradenton and Sarasota as part of the USF coaches tour.

Antigua has been given a challenge that his previous three predecessors failed, beginning with Seth Greenberg, who called the USF men's basketball program a sleeping giant.

He couldn't wake it up and his successor Robert McCullum made the program comatose. Stan Heath delivered a wake-up call, but got fired before he could make breakfast.

Now it's Antigua's turn, and there is something about this guy that makes you feel this sleeping giant is about to raise the Sun Dome roof.

He has boundless energy and worked under John Calipari at Kentucky from 2009 through 2014 before taking the USF job during the NCAA Final Four.

Antigua is considered a rising star and has been recognized as one of the top basketball recruiters in the country.

But that was at Kentucky. Now he is at USF.

They don't recruit the same type of player.

Antigua is nobody's fool, but says don't let the difference between these programs fool you.

"It's all about the process," Antigua says. "Every program has its own separate challenges and we will adjust to ours. I've had challenges in my life. The power is in how you perceive them.

They can be opportunities or challenges that hinder you. I see USF as an opportunity to do what people say can't be done; and that sounds like my whole career."

You have to like Antigua's moxy and the timing couldn't be better. McCullum and Heath coached the Bulls in the Big East when it was the country's most powerful conference.

USF now resides in the American Athletic Conference where the behemoths are limited to Connecticut and maybe Memphis though SMU under Larry Brown is making noise.

USF's basketball facilities are the best they've ever been, and you can't dismiss Antigua's Calipari connection. Not every player can play for the Wildcats, and why wouldn't Calipari steer a few of them to Antigua?

"We've got to recruit kids we can try to get, and we have to develop them. That will lead us to recruiting those All-Americans," Antigua said. "We start by recruiting quality athletes who want to play our style (up-tempo). Winning gets people to come out. We will worry about the results when they happen. It starts by chipping away at the rock."

Alan Dell, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 941-745-7056. Follow him on Twitter @ADellSports.

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