First Place USF faces SMU as they hope to keep the winning streak alive before another big crowd at noon. The Bulls Honor the Legend of Arthur Jones

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USF SPORTS INFORMATION DEPARTMENT – Brick by brick, win by win, the USF men’s basketball team has built one of the most special seasons in program history.

The Bulls (20-5, 13-1 American Athletic Conference) have a two-game lead with four to play while inching closer to USF’s first regular-season title. If USF defeats the SMU Mustangs on Sunday afternoon (ESPN2, noon) before a projected large crowd at the Yuengling Center, its winning streak would extend to 13 straight games — another program record.

USF team members say they are playing for themselves, their families, the student body, the Tampa Bay area fans … and, perhaps most notably, the Bulls players who came before them.

Sunday’s game is a nod to USF tradition and history. The annual Equality and Inclusion game has been renamed “Arthur Jones Day’’ in honor of the first Black student-athlete in USF history.

Jones, 72, who was welcomed back to campus last season to commemorate Black History Month, is expected to attend Sunday’s game along with his mother, Annie Bell, and his sister, Trellis Haygood. The first 1,000 fans will receive an Arthur Jones 24 jersey T-shirt to salute the player who competed on USF’s inaugural freshman team and distinguished himself as an all-time Bull great from 1970-74.

“When we brought Arthur Jones back to campus and our team got to meet him last season, it was really emotional and probably the most impactful, meaningful thing we have done during my time here,’’ said USF senior associate athletic director Lee Butler, who was hired in 2022. “It went so well that I think we asked ourselves, ‘Why do we have to stop?’

“There’s nothing that says we can’t honor this man over and over for what he did and the doors that he opened. As long as I am here and as long as the family is willing, we’re going to continue to honor Arthur. This is our history and heritage. The players we have right now are standing on the shoulders of Arthur Jones.’’

Jones, who averaged 13.1 points and 8.5 rebounds in 74 varsity games, suffered a near-fatal stroke in 2018 that robbed him of his speech. Jones has worked himself back into shape — drawing upon the drive he displayed as a student-athlete — and lives an independent life in his native Polk County town of Mulberry.

Jones and his family returned to USF again on Jan. 22 for the annual Alumni Day, where he met Coach Amir Abdur-Rahim and the current players. Abdur-Rahim said he’s delighted that Jones has established a regular presence around the campus.

“It was such an honor to meet Arthur Jones,’’ Abdur-Rahim said. “My parents raised us on knowing history. I can hear both my mom and dad saying, ‘You can’t know where you’re going unless you know where you’ve been.’ So to meet Mr. Jones, shake his hand, and have him sign our Bull Wall, to meet a pioneer like that, it was truly awesome. It’s a privilege for all of us to give him the respect and honor that he deserves.’’

Sam Hines was part of last season’s team that welcomed Jones during his initial campus visit. Brandon Stroud, a first-year USF player, met Jones for the first time during last month’s Alumni Day.

Both players said they were moved by the experience.

“Meeting a man like Arthur Jones is a humbling moment,’’ Hines said. “It reminds you of the legacy you’re carrying on and how you should play with the passion that guys like that once displayed. Making a man like that proud is just a thrill. He truly paved the way for all of us.’’

“Whenever I see (former USF players) Charlie Bradley or Radenko Dobras sitting along the baseline, I get reminded that what we’re doing is meaningful for all the players who helped to build this program,’’ Stroud said. “There are so many players who came before us, but only one man can be called the first (Black student-athlete). Getting to meet Mr. Jones showed us all the responsibility we have as a USF student-athlete.’’

Abdur-Rahim said honoring Jones is a perfect highlight for the game-day themes of equality and inclusion.

“For our basketball program, for this university, and for our world in general, representation matters,’’ Abdur-Rahim said. “It means everything. That’s why I wanted Joi Williams as our chief of staff. Representation matters. When you have diversity and you have mutual respect for one another, you create lifelong bonds and learn to understand people of different backgrounds. And in our world, that matters. It matters a lot.’’

Stroud said the understanding and acceptance of different backgrounds have helped to establish USF’s winning season. USF’s basketball alumni have rallied around the current team’s accomplishments.

Abdur-Rahim has often said he’s happiest for the former players such as Bradley, Dobras, Chucky Atkins, and Dominique Jones, the guys who laid the foundation. Jones has a special place amid the former Bulls.

“When you pick the brain of an older person, you just might learn something you’ve never considered before,’’ Stroud said. “We’re a new generation and we don’t have all the answers. Whether it’s Arthur Jones or somebody I’ve never met before, if you get out of your comfort zone and meet new people, you’re going to expose yourself to new ideas that could be very helpful.’’

“The reason we have a day like this and the reason we honor Arthur Jones is to emphasize that we’re really all part of one community here at USF,’’ Hines said. “Everybody is welcome. Everybody has a say-so. I got to shake the hand of Arthur Jones and thank him for setting up the path that we’re all still traveling today. It makes you want to set an example like that for the future guys and always play hard while you’re representing this program. It inspires you to be the best version of yourself.’’

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About USF Men’s Basketball

The South Florida men’s basketball team is led by Amir Abdur-Rahim, who was named the 11th head coach in program history on March 29, 2023. Abdur-Rahim was named the 2023 Mid-Major Coach of the Year (Hugh Durham Award) after leading Kennesaw State to its first-ever Division I NCAA Tournament berth in 2022-23. Abdur-Rahim’s Kennesaw State team set an NCAA record as the fastest team to ever reach the NCAA Tournament after a one-win campaign, accomplishing the feat in a span of just three seasons. He was also named the 2022-23 NABC District 3 and ASUN Coach of the Year after leading Kennesaw State to both the regular season and tournament titles, and a school-record 26 wins.
 
USF has retired three numbers in its history: Chucky Atkins (12), Charlie Bradley (30), and Radenko Dobras (31). The Bulls have earned three NCAA tournament bids, appeared in the NIT eight times, and won the 2019 College Basketball Invitational.
 
For tickets, contact the USF Ticket Office at 1-800-Go-Bulls or by going online to 
USFBullsTix.com. Season tickets for the 2023-24 USF men’s basketball slate are on sale now. To purchase season tickets, click here.