TAMPA — Orlando Antigua carried a bullet in his head for six years, reminding him nothing should be taken granted.
He used the near-death incident as motivation, and Monday realized a dream when the University of South Florida named the 41-year-old as its new head men’s basketball coach.
Antigua accepted a five-year contract. USF has scheduled a news conference for Tuesday afternoon at the Sun Dome to introduce the new coach.
Antigua is an assistant to current Final Four Kentucky head coach John Calipari and worked under him for one year at Memphis. He previously was an assistant at Pittsburgh.
“We were looking for a great leader, a great communicator, with a proven record of being able to recruit and develop players, and someone who will represent USF with exceptional energy and integrity,” USF athletic director Mark Harlan said. “We have found all of that and more in Orlando Antigua.”
Antigua gained notoriety as a youth growing up in the Bronx when he was shot in the head in a random drive-by shooting at age 16.
He recovered, but doctors were unable to remove the bullet, and reports of him playing basketball two weeks later ran rampant in his tough neighborhood. The bullet was finally removed six years later when it moved down to his ear canal.
“The only thing that was in my control was how I was going to handle it. It’s brought me where I am today. It’s given me my perspective on life, the motivation to work hard in school and playing and appreciating the basketball part of it and the second chance,” Antigua told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 2006.
Antigua was named the U.S. Basketball Writers Association’s Most Courageous Athlete in 1994. Two years ago, ESPN named him the top assistant coach under 40 in the country.
“I would like to thank President Genshaft and Mark Harlan for this tremendous opportunity,” Antigua said. “I have been preparing for the challenge of leading a program my entire life, and I have a deep belief and passion that USF basketball can thrive and is ideally positioned in a community as rich and diverse as the Tampa Bay area. I look forward to renewing my strong connections in the state of Florida and can’t wait to begin working toward our future success.”
He became the first Latin-American to play for the Harlem Globetrotters when he signed with the famed touring team in 1995. He played in 46 countries. Antiqua was head coach of the Dominican Republic’s men’s team last summer.
A 1995 graduate of Pittsburgh, he was a four-year letter winner and two-year captain from 1991-95 and ranks among the school’s all-time 3-point career shooters.
Born in the Dominican Republic but raised in the Bronx borough of New York, Antigua attended St. Raymond’s High School, where he played a major role in the team’s New York Catholic League championship run. As a senior, he earned McDonald’s All-America and Parade magazine All-America second-team honors and was also named All-New York City.
The hiring ends a turbulent and sometimes embarrassing week for USF. The University signed Manhattan College head coach Steve Masiello but had to rescind the agreement when the school learned he did not graduate college as stated on his resume.
On Friday, USF reportedly offered the job to UNVL head coach David Rice. He interviewed in Tampa, but the next day reached an agreement on a raise and contract extension at UNLV. USF denied it ever officially offered the job, but UNLV officials said an offer was made.
Antigua replaces Stan Heath, who was fired after seven seasons. Heath finished last season with a 12-20 mark that ended in a nine-game losing streak.
Antigua joined Panthers staff in 2003 and was elevated to assistant coach in 2006. During his time at the school, the Panthers were 132-40 and had five straight 20-win seasons. He has a reputation as an excellent recruiter.