I guess if this was a college basketball-centric blog (i.e. an Indiana or Kentucky website), we'd be turning the pages from Saturday adventures on the gridiron to fall training camp on the hardwood by now. But this is a USC blog after all, and you all would likely start slinging mud at me if I brought up hoops too frequently in the midst of the college football season. But for the time being, there are a few news and notes slowly emerging from "The House That Mayo Built" on Figueroa and Jefferson these days.
No, practices haven't begun, and we're still a few weeks away from any substantial news regarding NCAA hoops, but the preseason magazines are out in full force, and more and more media outlets and blogs are starting to turn in prediction posts and player of the year watch lists. Do they matter? Not really, but considering USC's basketball tradition or lack-thereof, it's always a refreshing sight to see its players displayed in a positive light. Per USCTrojans.com
USC junior forward Nikola Vucevic was one of 50 players named to the John R. Wooden Award Preseason Top 50 List, it was announced today (Oct. 4) by the Los Angeles Athletic Club. The list is comprised of 50 student-athletes who, based on last year's individual performance and team records, are the early frontrunners for college basketball's most prestigious individual honor.
Vucevic had a breakout 2009-10 season scoring 10.7 points and brabbing 9..4 rebounds per game to earn the Pac-10 Most Improved Player Award. He led the Pac-10 with 283 rebounds and became the first Trojan to lead the conference in rebounding since Jaha Wilson in 1995.
It's nice see the committee take notice of Vucevic, because there might not be a more underrated player nationally. At 6'10", he's able to play in the interior, score in the paint, and block shots, while also possessing the skills necessary to defend on the perimeter and score from the outside. However, even as a skilled European big man, he doesn't face up a lot and shoot from the outside like an Andrea Bargnani. Instead, his game is a little more traditional, as he plays with his back to the basket frequently, while featuring an effective jump hook in the lane and turnaround shot.
Therefore, his touch in the interior has made him an intriguing prospect, even from the NBA scout's perspective, but his lack of athleticism is going to be rather limiting from here on out. He's incredibly skilled, last year proved testament to that; however, if he's going to take the next step and become an elite player on the college scene, he'll need to be able to overpower guys. It's easier on the west coast, where it is more of a finesse game, but regardless, he'll need to improve in this area, if he's going to carry the Trojans this year. Judging by his progress over the last two years, it's not out of the question, but the degree to which 'SC is going to be relying on him this year cannot be understated.
More after the jump.
On a similar note, ESPN.com's Andy Katz released his preseason watch list last week, as well, in which Fordham transfer, PG Jio Fontan, was highlighted on his "other" list. Fontan, like Vucevic, is significant in the fact that success this year for USC largely depends on their play. Strong performances from Kid Euro is important, because, well, he's the team's best player and most consistent scoring threat.
But it's a little different with Fontan. With the arrival of freshman SG Bryce Jones, Fontan is probably not even the team's first or second scoring option, but in a sense, success in 2011 is entirely dependent on his level of consistency. That's largely due to the departures of Mike Gerrity, Marcus Johnson and Dwight Lewis, which all leave the Trojans completely inexperienced in the backcourt, unless you classify PG Donte Smith as "cool under pressure." Now, Fontan, a fourth-year junior, is the team's lone source of experience at the guard position; subsequently, a lot is resting on his shoulders
And if speculation about the actual season, isn't enough, here's some updates on the recruiting front and the future of the program.
Because college basketball has an early signing day, there isn't the same uniformity in regards to when prospects commit and sign with schools, but nonetheless, October can often be a time when coaches make their move on certain players, bringing them to campus for football games and various other Fall functions. At the very least, it's been a common practice under Tim Floyd and Kevin O'Neill, as they've been able to piggyback of the football program's historical success as a way to lure kids to USC.
Not that it's paid huge dividends, but it's been the route both coaches have continued to take. A year ago, freshmen SF Garrett Jackson, SG Bryce Jones and PG Maurice Jones all committed during the fall, and now, it looks as if O'Neill is looking to fill out the remainder of USC's 2011 class as well. Per WeAreSC.com:
Lee College (TX) center James Blasczyk (7'1") has given a verbal commitment to attend USC.
"The most important thing is that Kevin O'Neill believed in me. USC only started recruiting me about 4 weeks ago and KO and I hit it off right away. I like what he's doing and the players really like him."
Blasczyk describes his game: "I can clog the paint on defense. I can hit the open jump shot, my game is pick and pop."
Blasczyk will enter USC in fall of 2011 with two years to play. He will play this year at Lee after playing at Texas A&M last year as a freshman, he appeared in 13 games and scored five points on the season. As a senior at Friendswood (TX) HS in 2008, he averaged 10.3 points and 7.6 rebounds.
For the record, I've been a big proponent of what O'Neill has been able to accomplish in regards to recruiting. The freshman class he put together for this year was nothing short of fantastic, especially when you consider the sanctions the team was then under. The Jones duo has the potential to make an immediate impact, despite youth, and O'Neill snagged a late bloomer in Garrett Jackson, who went on to become the Gatorade Player of the Year in the state of Oregon as a senior. Plus, he also got Fontan to transfer, and nearly convinced his high school teammate, Rutgers' Mike Rosario, to come along as well.
But the longterm plan (i.e. the class of 2011) doesn't make a lot of sense, particularly the recruitment of Blasczky. So, far K.O. has four commits for 2011 with, Blasczky, C DeWayne Dedmon, PG Alexis Moore and SF Byron Wesley. O'Neill strangely lost PG Gelaun Wheelwright in August, which forced him to sign Moore as a secondary option at point guard, who's a mid-level prospect at best, but after glancing on the roster for next season, this group is razor thin in the interior. Alex Stepheson will have graduated, and there's still a chance that Vucevic declares for the NBA Draft as well.
Yes, Iowa transfer Aaron Fuller will be there, but the lack of complementary players inside is an embarrassment. Dedmon is the definition of a project, who won't be ready for at least 2 years, and the transfer of Blasczky is totally illogical. At 235 pounds, he's essentially the same player as Davis Rozitis, who was chased away by K.O. after last season. Blaasczky couldn't cut it at Texas A&M, causing him to transfer to a junior college, and the only thing he has going for him is his height, which Rozitis had as well.
Outside of Wesley, none of these players are remotely close to being Pac-10 caliber players. Maybe, they'll improve under O'Neill's watch, but his longterm recruitment strategy doesn't make a lot of sense. After a year in which UCLA struggled and USC skated post further NCAA sanctions, now is the time to start making in-roads in Southern California, not just "filling out the roster."