MikeG Posted January 20 Group: Moderator Topic Count: 1,890 Content Count: 18,693 Reputation: 1,172 Days Won: 36 Joined: 07/17/2003 Share Posted January 20 Alumni Day: Remembering the 1991-92 NCAA Tournament Team January 19, 2023 Joey Johnston Athletics Senior Writer Story Links It was probably the most beloved USF men's basketball team — and definitely one of the most accomplished Bulls squads. Coach Bobby Paschal's 1991-92 Bulls will be honored during Saturday afternoon's Alumni Day festivities, when USF faces the UCF Knights for a noon tipoff at the Yuengling Center. For good reason. "This is a team that deserves to be remembered,'' Paschal said. The 1991-92 Bulls (19-10) defeated the Florida Gators and Florida State Seminoles — within a five-day span — and laid claim to being the state's best team. They downed the No. 22-ranked Iowa Hawkeyes, along with three nationally ranked foes within the Metro Conference (Louisville, Charlotte and Tulane). They earned an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, where they faced Alonzo Mourning's Georgetown Hoyas. On Senior Night at the Sun Dome, USF staff members donned tuxedos, adding a touch of class to the sendoff proceedings, where some fans openly wept as they said goodbye to the unforgettable quartet of Gary Alexander, Radenko Dobras, Fred Lewis and Bobby Russell. "My senior year, I will openly say it was the best team USF ever had,'' Dobras said. "I think that is still true.'' (L-R: David Williams, Bobby Russell, Fred Lewis, Landon Edmond, Gary Alexander, Radenko Dobras, Scott Roczey) The Four Seniors played in 434 games, combining for 5,071 points, 2,247 rebounds and 1,036 assists. Over their last three seasons, they had a 58-32 record, a Sun Belt Conference Tournament championship and three postseason appearances. But their final act was the most memorable of all. And it showed how far the program had come since their freshman arrival, when USF's program was at a low ebb. "I think we grew up right before people's eyes,'' Russell said. Boys II Men. Those were the 1991-92 Bulls. Building The Bulls Paschal, who replaced the NBA-bound Lee Rose, found the going tough when he was hired from Southwestern Louisiana. His first three teams labored to a 21-63 mark. But he had a plan. Paschal and his staff scoured the state of Florida, building relationships and looking to uncover some hidden gems. He found Alexander, a rugged 6-foot-7 post player from Jacksonville who initially had to sit out one season for academics, then recovered from a serious knee injury. He found Russell, a 6-5 swingman from Fort Lauderdale and franchise scorer who attracted everyone's attention until tearing his ACL. Dozens of schools backed away. USF stood firm, offering the scholarship and believing in his ability. He found Lewis, a 6-7 forward who initially took his first certain offer, a spot with the Division II University of Tampa Spartans. After one season, Lewis opted to sit out a year and pay his own way, so he could join the Bulls. Meanwhile, Dobras, a 6-7 native of Banja Luka, Yugoslavia, found Paschal and the Bulls. Dobras was ticketed for Kansas, the defending national champion. But when Coach Larry Brown fled for the NBA, Dobras was lost in the transition. Paschal was contacted by a USF professor, a Yugoslav native, who told him about Dobras. The USF staff took Dobras — sight unseen. The Bulls quickly matured in 1989-90, earning a Sun Belt Conference Tournament title, cutting down the nets and reaching the NCAA Tournament, where they fell against No. 2-seeded Arizona to finish a 20-11 season. The following year (19-11) was a hiccup, a 2-4 slide down the stretch, leading to a first-round home defeat against Fordham in the National Invitation Tournament. There were massive expectations heading into 1991-92, especially when the Bulls added a perfect ingredient, junior-college guard Derrick Sharp, who would hit 88 3-pointers (still a USF single-season record). Overall, though, it was the Four Seniors who led the way. "They were physically mature, mentally mature and emotionally mature, some of them 23 and 24 years old by that season,'' Paschal said. "They were grown men. And when it came to crunch time, that showed.'' A Memorable Season The 1991-92 Bulls were hungry for national attention. In mid-December, USF men's basketball hit an apex. Behind the 29 points (and 5-for-5 3-point shooting) of Dobras, the Bulls shot down the Florida Gators 73-71 in Gainesville. That Gator team ultimately reached the NIT Final Four. It set up a USF-FSU Friday night game at the Sun Dome. It was a hard sellout — 10,411 tickets sold and distributed — two days before tipoff. Coach Pat Kennedy's Seminoles, who would ultimately finish second in the ACC and reach the NCAA Tournament's Sweet 16, featured four future NBA first-round draft picks (Sam Cassell, Doug Edwards, Bob Sura and Charlie Ward). The Bulls prevailed 92-88 in a frenzied, deafening atmosphere, lifted by the 28 points of Alexander, whose behind-the-head dunk sent fans into hysterics. When the Bulls followed that up with a home 85-78 win against the Big Ten Conference's Iowa Hawkeyes, another NCAA-bound team, USF received 58 votes in the Associated Press poll, coming within a razor's edge of the top 25. Then came the struggles. USF began 0-3 in the Metro. Dobras suffered an ankle injury that kept him out of four games. On the eve of Valentine's Day, the Bulls were 12-8. The return of Dobras crystallized the lineup and USF won seven straight games down the stretch, including a riveting 81-76 upset of No. 15-ranked Tulane during Mardi Gras in New Orleans. When Dobras hit a pair of tack-on free throws in the final seconds, he blew kisses to the hostile and borderline out-of-control crowd. But in the Metro Conference Tournament, the Bulls blew an 11-point lead in the final 2:35 of regulation and were inexplicably beaten 92-87 in double overtime by the Clarence Weatherspoon-led Southern Miss Golden Eagles. USF's NCAA hopes were teetering. Lewis was more blunt, saying, "I think this loss did us in'' in the somber postgame aftermath. On Selection Sunday, there was no watch party. The coaches were at their homes. Low-key USF players gathered in a dorm room, trailed by one local television cameraman. Early in the CBS Selection Show, South Florida's name popped up. The No. 11-seeded Bulls were headed to Boise, Idaho for a date with No. 6 Georgetown. ESPN's SportsCenter led with highlights of the wild USF player celebration. The Tampa Tribune's banner headline read: "Oh, Boise! USF Gets In.'' "I was sitting on my couch pouting because I knew how good our team was and how deserving it was,'' said Tommy Tonelli, the former Bulls point guard who was an assistant coach. "When I saw our name, I just about fell off the couch. I was jumping up and down. I was elated.'' "I believe the NCAA committee looked at our schedule, looked at our guys and made the right decision,'' Paschal said. "There was no question. We were one of the best teams in the country.'' At Boise, the Bulls trailed by three points with 4:11 remaining, but Georgetown was stellar down the stretch. Mourning had 21 points, 11 rebounds and six blocked shots. The Bulls were done, but they had established a legacy that rings true — even three decades later. The Lasting Legacy Only Alexander reached the NBA and it was an 11-game cup of coffee in 1993-94. All of the other starters played professionally, spotlighted by Sharp, who became an assistant coach with the Maccabi Tel-Aviv first-division team after becoming a star player in Israel. "I learned a lot from those seniors and I tried to take on their traits of leadership and character,'' Sharp said. "I noticed that Radenko made 100 3-pointers every day before he could leave the gym. So that's what I started doing — and I did it every day the rest of my career.'' Lewis, called "the finest leader I've ever seen'' by Paschal, is now the head coach at Tampa's Blake High School. "I think we all learned how to work together with guys from different backgrounds, how to rebound from adversity, how to carry ourselves with class and represent our university,'' Lewis said. "Those were life lessons.'' "It's a cliche that every team says, but I think we were truly a family,'' Russell said. "We're still a family. We were unselfish. We cared about each other. But more than anything, we cared about winning.'' "Through a lot of it, all we had was each other,'' Alexander said. "It was a long time ago, but we still have that bond. We all want USF basketball to be successful, to experience what we experienced.'' The players are now 50-somethings — with families, careers and lives far from the Sun Dome's bright lights. Paschal has been retired for nearly two decades, but he will return with his players on Saturday afternoon to hear the cheers one more time. "It's what you want as a coach,'' Paschal said. "That team played hard and played for each other. They were good people and that has continued into their lives. It makes me feel good to know that people still have a lot of respect for our team. They accomplished some things that are going to last forever.'' 3 Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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