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Ex-Pitt player, assistant Antigua introduced as South Florida's coach

| Tuesday, April 1, 2014, 6:09 p.m.
South Florida's new men's basketball coach, Orlando Antigua (center) is congratulated by football coach Willie Taggart and USF president Judy Genshaft on Tuesday, April 1, 2014, in Tampa, Fla., after a news conference to introduce Antigua.

TAMPA, Fla. — Orlando Antigua, making a pit stop during his road to the Final Four, reached a career pinnacle Tuesday when he was introduced as basketball coach at South Florida.

He mentioned the characteristics that made it possible: Hard work. Determination. Focus. Vision. An unrelenting thirst for excellence.

They were qualities he learned at Pitt, where he played from 1991-95, then later served under Jamie Dixon for five seasons (2003-07) as he learned the coaching profession.

Antigua, 40, was born in the Dominican Republic. He grew up in the Bronx section of New York. He's most associated with Kentucky, where he has helped John Calipari's Wildcats assemble five consecutive No. 1-ranked recruiting classes, where he finishes his UK run this weekend during the Final Four in Arlington, Texas.

But make no mistake, Antigua considers himself a Pittsburgh guy.

“It's the foundation of who I am,” said Antigua, who was presented with a five-year USF contract and an annual salary of $900,000, which will escalate by $25,000 each season. “I'm a Pitt man. I'm so grateful for everything I learned there.

“Just the blue-collar mentality, the tenacity, everything that town stands for. It's still who I am.”

There's hard work ahead at USF. The Bulls, two years after making their first NCAA Tournament in 20 years, fired coach Stan Heath following a 12-20 season and a 3-15 mark in the American Athletic Conference. It's often a hard sell at USF, located in a professional sports-driven market, situated in a state with Florida, Florida State and Miami, college programs that dominate the landscape.

“You've got to win,” said Antigua, a member of the Big East's All-Rookie Team with Pittsburgh in 1992. “You've got to sell it and be exciting and recruit some players. But bottom line: You've got to win. Then you make it the happening thing to do and you go from there.

“You can have a successful college program in a pro town. It's very, very similar to what was built at Pittsburgh, and that program has done all right, hasn't it?”

Antigua was the first Hispanic to play for the Harlem Globetrotters, and he was on the verge of becoming that organization's vice president and director of sales in Latin America when Dixon called with an opportunity at Pitt. It changed the direction of Antigua's career, eventually sending him to Memphis with Calipari, then to Kentucky, where he could win a national championship Monday night.

Antigua said he strictly will be a UK assistant until the Wildcats run ends, then he will dive back into the USF job.

On March 24, USF athletic director Mark Harlan offered the job to Manhattan College coach Steve Masiello, who accepted and signed a five-year contract. But before the ink was dry, a search firm employed by USF determined Masiello had lied on his resume because he never received his bachelor's degree from Kentucky.

USF rejected Masiello, sending the school back into the pool for a coach. The search ended with Antigua — technically USF's second choice.

“I'm OK with that,” Antigua said. “I think I was my wife's second choice, too, and we've been together for 20 years.

“I think faith led me to this point, where I'm the guy sitting here talking to you, the guy with the job. No matter how it happened, I'm just grateful that it did.”

Joey Johnston is a freelance writer.

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