USC hoops a team of second chances
OCT 19, 2012 4:54p ET
No, it wasn’t during any type of postseason tournament. It was actually during a preseason exhibition in Brazil when star guard Jio Fontan suffered a torn ACL.
“Last year the feeling around our program went downhill as soon as Jio got hurt in Brazil,” coach Kevin O’Neill said. “It was a long, drawn-out process. It wasn’t any fun for anybody.”
USC finished the season 6-26 and last in the Pac-12 with a 1-17 conference record. The Trojans have their sights on going from worst to first.
“Our goal is to win the league and that’s something that we want to do,” O’Neill said.
The fourth-year head coach feels he has the horses to get it done. There’s not much resemblance between this year’s squad and last year’s squad. The 2012-13 edition of the Trojans is one O’Neill calls the deepest team he’s ever coached.
O’Neill says he has 14 players he would feel comfortable starting. The same couldn’t be said last season.
“A lot of those guys shouldn’t have been starting ever at our level,” O’Neill said. “They were put in tough positions.”
Fontan is back for his senior season and is the leader of the team, without a doubt. He’s joined by a bunch of new faces.
Transfers Omar Oraby, J.T. Terrell, Ari Stewart, Eric Wise and Renaldo Woolridge lead a group of nine players that didn’t suit up for the Trojans last season. Of the group, Oraby is the only one awaiting clearance from the NCAA. He transferred to USC from Rice last month, making 10 of the 13 scholarship players transfers, thus the name “The Second-Chance Kids.”
“We actually talked about it,” O’Neill said. “Including myself, a bunch of rejects. Let’s face it. But these guys all have one thing in common, they want to win.
“It’s one of those things where a lot of guys are in second chances and last chances and they’re going to want to be good individually as well as, as a team and I’m all for that. I’m all for our guys having success individually, but it can never supersede what’s important for the basketball team.”
This team will be challenged out of the gate with a tough non-conference schedule that includes Long Beach State, San Diego State and a visit to New Mexico — all NCAA tournament teams from a season ago. USC will also be in the field at this year’s Maui Invitational.
The health of Fontan is going to be crucial to any success the team has this season. After missing all of last season, he is “cleared completely,” according to O’Neill.
Of all of the newcomers, Terrell is the most talented. He averaged 24.4 points a game last season at Peninsula College in Washington. The junior began his collegiate career at Wake Forest where he started 18 games and averaged 11.1 points as a freshman in 2010-11. He set a school record for points in a first game when he scored 26 in his debut against Stetson. He also hit seven 3-pointers in a game to set a school record for a freshman.
The challenge for Terrell, O’Neill says, is going to be being able to play hard, especially on the defensive side of the floor.
Wise, another transfer, has completely changed from the player he was at UC Irvine. He’s lost 45 pounds and is down to 232 pounds.
“His game has completely changed,” O’Neill said. “His body’s changed. I’m sure he’s more popular with the chicks now that he’s down 45 (pounds). He’s more athletic.
“(He) might be our best shooter on the whole team.”
Other returners from last year include Byron Wesley, Dewayne Dedmon and Aaron Fuller. O’Neill says this team is versatile enough to play different styles, another luxury it didn’t have last year.
“I’ve always said you play as fast as your car would let you drive,” O’Neill said. “Last year we didn’t have a Maserati.
“I would expect us to be a much different team.”
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