In the early season, when freshman JaVontae Hawkins made only token game appearances, University of South Florida men's basketball coach Stan Heath preached patience: "At some point in time, JaVontae will be a key player for us.''
That time has arrived — earlier than Heath expected.
Wednesday at Seton Hall, Hawkins started his fourth consecutive game. Due to injuries, Hawkins, a 6-foot-5 guard from Flint, Mich., got his opportunity. And he's making the most of it.
Hawkins had a career-high 12 points in 33 minutes in Saturday night's 61-58 victory against Georgetown.
"It looked at one time like he wasn't hardly even going to play,'' Heath said. "Now he's starting and playing 33 minutes against Georgetown. Who would've figured that two weeks ago? I didn't see it coming.''
Hawkins said he's content to be the "energy guy'' or "do whatever they need me to do, shoot the ball, penetrate, play defense.''
Hawkins had a breathtaking baseline move against Georgetown, when he drove, floated out of bounds, then twirled and placed a perfect up-and-under spin off the glass and into the bucket.
"He's letting the game come to him,'' Heath said. "He's being aggressive, but he's not playing out of control. He's got athleticism and things he can do (naturally) that aren't normal. Teammates are gaining confidence in him and that's fueling his fire.''
FOOTBALL RECRUITING: Willie Taggart's recruiting efforts turned some heads last weekend when Bradenton Manatee High DT Derrick Calloway, previously committed to Louisville, flipped to USF.
That's precisely the type of difference-making move Bulls fans were hoping for with Taggart. Calloway (6-foot-1, 310 pounds) is rated a four-star prospect by Rivals.com.
The Bulls received more positive news Wednesday when Hillsborough LB Nigel Harris committed to USF. Harris (6-2, 205), a first-team all-state selection in Class 6A, led the Terriers in tackles two straight seasons.
USF also received commitments from Kissimmee Osceola CB Hassan Childs, Countryside DE Mike Love, Sarasota Booker DE Eric Mayes and Northeast FB Auggie Sanchez.
The football program will hold a signing day party at the Lee Roy Selmon Athletics Center on Feb. 6, beginning at 5 p.m. For $20, fans receive a tour of the facilities, a chat with coaches about the recruiting class, a barbecue dinner and a ticket to that night's men's basketball game against Marquette. For reservations, call 1-800-GOBULLS or email USFAthleticsTicketOffice@admin.usf.edu by Feb. 1.
BULLS BITS: Ken Eriksen's softball team, which made last season's Women's College World Series and finished 50-14, is No.12 in the USA Today preseason poll. The Bulls are the highest-ranked team in Florida with UF's Gators at No.14 and Florida State at No.25. … Former secondary coach Rick Smith was named defensive coordinator at East Carolina, where he coached defensive backs from 2005 to 2009. He's the third Skip Holtz assistant coach to land elsewhere. Graduate assistant Joe Sloan was named receivers coach on Holtz's Louisiana Tech staff. Offensive coordinator Todd Fitch was hired as receivers coach at Boston College. … Two players were picked in Tuesday's Major League Soccer supplemental draft — defender Brenton Griffiths (Colorado Rapids, 25th overall) and midfielder Kevin Olali (Seattle Sounders FC, 35th overall). … Five track and field athletes won indoor titles at last weekend's Notre Dame Invitational. USF's winners were Monique Williams (7.59 in women's 60-meter dash); Atasha Warren (48-6¼ in women's shot put); Matthew O'Neal (48-10¼ in men's triple jump); Aireonna Bailey (24.34 in women's 200); and Courtney Anderson (5-10 in women's high jump). Anderson set a school record as did Jared Thomas, who finished third with a weight throw of 64-9¾.