CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified Ben Farz as Collin Farz. Last updated 10/26/23 at 1:45 PM.
We are not too far away from the start of the men’s basketball season slate here at USF. The men’s program under the authority of Coach Ryan Marks has a lot to look forward to this winter. The Fighting Saints will strive to deliver their fourth consecutive season of being at or above .500, and keep the momentum of last year’s team that saw the Bernies go 14-6 in the CCAC and 16-14 overall going for Saints fans.
Marks is excited about the opportunity to coach the Saints this year and said its been a fun start to the year, adding, “it’s a great group of guys who have been very supportive of one another”.
Teamwork and support are going to be in high demand at the Pat Sullivan Center because before the campaign could get underway, returning CCAC All-Conference selection Aitor Anabitarte was lost for the season due to an ACL injury sustained in practice. The operation to repair his knee was successful and Anabitarte is expected to make a full recovery, but he will be out for the entire 2023-24 schedule. Anabitarte was touted to lead the Saints out on the hardwood, but Coach Marks says his loss is not insurmountable and the rest of the players on the roster will have the chance to overcome his absence.
“We have a lot of red-shirts from a year ago who are looking to show what they can do as well as some other returning players who can make an impact for this team,” Marks said.
Replacing lost talent on the floor isn’t going to be easy if the Saints want to build on the progress made in years past as some key contributors have moved on from the program.
However there are plenty of options for Coach Marks at his disposal. In response to the injury to a starter like Anabitarte who does so much for the team on the floor, the coaching staff is expected to have a deeper rotation to start the year and get more guys involved. Some notable options to look for early-on in the season to assume a bigger role are Shir Maraigi and Ramel Davis. If the Saints need additional reinforcement during the season a possible source could be Jalen Reneau, who appeared in six games and started in four during the 22-23 season. Coach Marks said of Reneau, who suffered the same ACL injury as Anabitarte during last year's campaign, that he expects him back at some point this year.
Stepping in for Anabitarte is not going to be a one-man effort according to Marks who said that there will be many opportunities for young players to rise to the challenge when it's time for tip-off. It's going to have to be a total team effort but one or two players are anticipated to step up in a more direct way for Anabitarte.
Ben Farz is a big man who was anticipated to be an integral cog for the Saints this year already, and certainly will be even more with what is now needed from the team in the front court.
Another possible option is EJ Charles, who is returning from injury himself. A long-tenured veteran of the St. Francis program, Charles’ game experience and familiarity with other returning players should help him take on more of the workload for the Bernies.
There are a number of questions that have to be answered by the men’s basketball team this winter but there are plenty of answers available and seeing how the team adjusts to pressure and different problems this year is going to be an interesting storyline for Saints’ fans to follow throughout this 2023-24 basketball season.