Bumped...Great Read! - P
With Nikola Vucevic's recent announcement to sign with an agent and declare for the NBA draft it is easy to write off the upcoming hoops season as a wash. Kid Euro's decision means that 4 starters from the VCU game (the others being Donte Smith, Alex Stepheson, and Marcus Simmons) and at first blush there doesn't seem to be much to look forward to for next year's squad. But there is one huge fact that shouldn't be overlooked about next season; for the first time since the end of the 05-06 season the Trojans have the opportunity to return every single player for the following season if Jio Fontan's petition to the NCAA is successful. This sets up next season as an important developmental year where Kevin O'Neill should be evaluated based not so much on wins and losses, but rather on how he utilizes the roster and develops the team's young talent.
So let's take a look at what benchmark's KO needs to meet for a successful year and to set up for a run in 2012-13:
I. The Front Court Heirarchy
Down low is where SC will face its biggest challenge by having to replace the duo of Stepheson and Vucevic with one semi-proven transfer and a trio of projects. Former Hawkeye Aaron Fuller will definitely start as an undersized PF (standing at 6'6"/235) and will be immediately relied upon as a scorer after leading Iowa during Big 10 play with 12.3 PPG. At center expect to see a rotation of the the raw but ultra athletic Dewayne Dedmon (who is 7'0" and allegedly runs the floor like an SF), JUCO journeyman James Blasczyk (another 7 footer, but less athletic/more skilled), and seldom used recruit Curtis Washington. What I would like to see is for KO to position Dedmon as a defensive specialist who gets the bulk of his points from offensive rebounds and while tallying a lot of blocked shots (similar to Haseem Thabeet) while Blasczyk acts as more of an offensive specialist and part time starter depending on team by team match ups. Finally, Curtis Washington needs to become a competent player so that he can spell our other guys when they're losing their legs, and the kid needs at least 5-10 minutes per game otherwise its a wasted roster spot in my mind.
II. Find Harmony at the Point Guard Position
Unfortunately USC has two player with similar production (Jones 9.9 PPG/3.2 APG/34.7% 3PA, Fontan 10.5 PPG/3.9 APG/37.5% 3PA) who are both at their most comfortable playing the point. The major differences between the two is that theoretically MoJo has more room to develop and averages 1.3 more steals per game while Jio is a bit better of a perimeter defender. For this team to be successful moving forward KO needs to find a way for the team to operate well with both players on the court at the same time, as they are two of the team's best offensive players,and not relegate MoJo to coming off the bench as was the case for the final 10 games or so of the season.
III. The Swingman Shuffle
In the eyes of most close followers of SC Basketball Garrett Jackson was criminally underused this past season. Averaging roughly 10 minutes per game, Jackson put up 3.2 PPG and 1.7 RPG but did so in an incredibly efficient manner shooting 56% from the field including 45% from deep. Jackson deserves starters minutes next season. Additionally, recruit Byron Wesley out of Etiwanda should see a lot of minutes too and will be a key player in the years to come. Finally, the development of JUCO recruit Greg Allen is mostly gravy to me but is important in terms of depth.
This part is simple. Don't throw away Nikola's open spot this year and get a solid player (preferably at the SF/PF/C positions) in the early signing period because next season could get ugly.
So to wrap it up, here is what I'll be looking for next season: Get Aaron Fuller playing at the level he was at during Big 10 play while he was at Iowa, develop and define clear roles for Dedmon and Blasczyk based on their strengths, find a way for MoJo and Jio to play alongside and complement each other, give Garrett Jackson starters minutes (i.e. least double what he had last season), consistently get key reserves (Wesley, Allen, and Washington) regular minutes, and don't waste the open roster spot left by Nikola. If KO can accomplish these things in addition to developing the team's offensive game then I'd call next season a success regardless of wins and losses because of a potentially deep and talented roster heading forward, but otherwise that coaching seat should start feeling awfully warm. FIGHT ON!