Top-tier recruits left along with Floyd

In college basketball, where there are no contracts or no-trade clauses, a coach’s resignation from a team can have widespread effects beyond the simple fact that his presence isn’t felt the following season.

For the USC men’s basketball team, which is preparing for its first season since former head coach Tim Floyd resigned in early June, this ripple effect has revealed itself most apparently in the form of decommitments from several of the Trojans’ most highly touted incoming recruits.

Long road ahead · Coach Kevin O’Neill recognizes that the loss of recruits has shaken up the roster. -  Photo courtesy of USC Sports Information

Long road ahead · Coach Kevin O’Neill recognizes that the loss of recruits has shaken up the roster. - Photo courtesy of USC Sports Information

Point guard Lamont Jones, forward Derrick Williams and forward Noel Johnson all requested to be released from their letters of intent to USC over the summer after Floyd left. Jones and Williams decided to play for the University of Arizona and Johnson left for Clemson University. Forward Solomon Hill decommitted in April — around the time that Floyd was rethinking the USC coaching job — also to play for Arizona.

One of the biggest losses for the Trojans came earlier in the year, before the Floyd controversy. Center Renardo Sidney, a top-10 player who had received national attention for his formidable size (6-foot-10, 250 lbs.) and bruising style of play, decided to switch schools and commit to Mississippi State University.

USC’s initial acquisition of Sidney in late February led the wave of recruits for 2009, but questions regarding his amateur status and personal financial situation forced the Trojans to back away from their previous offer and part ways with him. Sidney also had academic eligibility concerns, but has since been cleared to play.

The absence of these recruits leaves an already depleted roster — which is without last year’s starters Taj Gibson, Demar DeRozan, Daniel Hackett and Keith Wilkinson — with little depth to turn to. Prior to Floyd’s resignation, the Trojans were ranked as high as 15th in ESPN’s NCAA basketball recruiting rankings, a figure that seems every bit a dream now compared to the nearly empty recruiting class that has stayed committed to USC for the 2009 season.

“We’re going to have major roster changes over the next three years, but that’s just the way it is, especially when you come in with essentially a blank recruiting class,” said new head coach Kevin O’Neill.

The Trojans will have only one returning starter for the upcoming season, and only four seniors on the entire roster.

But in every problematic situation there remains a silver lining, and the Trojans can certainly find theirs in the fact that they still have one recruit — 6-foot-7 small forward Evan Smith — to aid the rebuilding process for coach O’Neill.

“I love this university, I live in LA and I was born and raised here,” says Smith of his desire to stay at USC. “I’ve been committed since junior year, and I just didn’t want to leave.”

Smith represents something of a new breed for the Trojans: a solid player that won’t just jump into the NBA after one season, but stay and grow with the team over a period of time. He has already taken a liking to O’Neill as well, offering a sign that the Trojans seem to be heading in a different direction than the one Tim Floyd led them.

“We all love [O’Neill]. He’s the man,” said Smith. “He came in here and really got things started. We spent the whole summer training, and we’re all ready to play.”

Smith will join a young Trojan team led by senior and returning starter Dwight Lewis and redshirt senior Marcus Johnson as they compete for a second consecutive Pac-10 title. USC will open the season with a home game against UC Riverside on Nov. 17.