By TOM ZEBOLD
USF Senior Writer
TAMPA - Jose Fernandez has won the most games of any USF basketball coach in the history of the program and his success reached a new level when the Bulls delivered him No. 200 on New Year's Eve.
"It just makes you look back and think, 'Wow, man I've been here 12 years,'" Fernandez said Thursday. "It makes you look back and see all the student-athletes that made a commitment to come here, help you win games and believe not only in the university and the program, but my family and my beliefs. I've been fortunate to coach so many great players and work with great people."
USF finished its non-conference slate with an 11-2 record after defeating Detroit Mercy, 74-60, at the Sun Dome that served as the perfect place for Fernandez to celebrate his accomplishment with the team.
"There are a lot of great memories and still a lot of nice memories to come as well," Fernandez said.
Big East Play Begins With a Tall Task
USF gets Big East play started Tuesday, Jan. 8 at home in what will be the Bulls' toughest test yet this season when No. 5 Notre Dame visits at 7 p.m.
"You can throw the 11-2 out the window because it's all about what you do in league play that matters," Fernandez said.
Notre Dame is 11-2 and showed how dangerous it can be the last time out in a 128-55 win over Saint Francis (Pa.). Kayla McBride (15.3) and three other players have double-digit scoring averages on a team that's scoring 86.2 points per game - 30 more points than its competition.
"They have a lot of nice pieces," Fernandez said. "They were good last year and the year before, and went to the Final Four, but they're as good as they've ever been and that's a credit to coach (Muffet) McGraw and her coaching staff to really put those pieces together."
The Irish begin their Big East slate 4 p.m. Saturday at No. 1 UConn before making the trip to Tampa. Purchase tickets for USF-Notre Dame HERE.
Cancun Trip Enhances the 'Student-Athlete Experience'
Coaches talk about giving their players a true student-athlete experience at college and USF has allowed Fernandez to keep delivering with memorable trips to exciting places.
The Bulls' latest journey took them to Cancun, where the team split a pair of games at the Caribbean Classic in late December and also got to enjoy some of what the vacation hot spot has to offer. USF visited the Mayan Ruins and had some fun in the sun at the beach, a first for freshman forward and Georgia native Alisia Jenkins.
"A trip like that is something these kids are going to remember for the rest of their lives," Fernandez said.
Fernandez was disappointed the Bulls didn't go 2-0 during their stay but said the team definitely got closer far away from home. USF has won two straight by an average of almost 20 points since returning to Tampa.
"I think it's what we got out of the trip off the floor as a basketball team and staff, and being able to spend time together during the holidays was very important," Fernandez said.
USF has traveled to Cancun twice since Fernandez took over in 2000 along with visits to places like the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. The Bulls bonded as a team well last season during trips to Alaska and Colorado Springs, and Fernandez said the trend will continue in the future.