Plenty of change for Trojan basketball


Time for an update on basketball.

It’s been more than a month since the Trojans suited up for the final time this season — about 45 days since USC finished off the season by losing its final five games, each by 10 points or less.

Since then, the Trojans have been in and out of the news — hiring a couple assistant coaches, losing a key contributor, signing a controversial recruit and being charged with tampering.

The charge was dropped, but we’ll get to that later. In the meantime, there are plenty of other topics to discuss while we wait out the six-plus months until USC plays a meaningful basketball game again.

First, those assistant coaches. Early in March, USC coach Kevin O’Neill chose not to retain assistants Phil Johnson and Gib Arnold, who had been leftovers from the previous Tim Floyd administration. Then, O’Neill promoted strength and conditioning manager Tony Miller to an assistant spot, hired Dieter Horton and promoted long-tenured assistant Bob Cantu to associate head coach to fill out his assistant quota.

Arnold is now the head coach at the University of Hawai’i. Johnson signed on to be an assistant under Floyd at the University of Texas El Paso.

For a little background on the new guys, Miller has never been a coach — at any level. He played for O’Neill at Marquette and then played professionally in Europe for 12 years. Last year was his first year on staff at any institution, although many players did rave about him multiple times over the course of the season.

Horton has been a coach for a while, but never at the Division I level. He’s been regarded as one of the best junior college coaches in the nation for a while. With Horton, there’s a little bit of another story — he spent the last four seasons as the head coach at Antelope Valley College, which incidentally is the same school new USC signee DeWayne Dedmon currently attends

Dedmon is a 7-footer who has played only two seasons of organized basketball but reportedly picked up more than two dozen scholarship offers from schools around the nation.

Regarding the situation, Horton told WeAreSC.com last year of the Dedmon-USC connection: “He loves [O’Neill]. He’s been down there twice and very much enjoys it down there. He hasn’t made a decision yet, but I know he likes ’SC.”

Dedmon won’t enroll until January and won’t play until October 2011, but it won’t hurt to have his coach with him along the way as he develops.

Perhaps the biggest news of this offseason, though, came last month when the Los Angeles Times reported that USC forward Leonard Washington would transfer. Washington had been a fairly important player for the Trojans over the past two seasons, as a sixth man last season and an off-and-on starter during his freshman year.

But he never got along with O’Neill, and their conflicting attitudes apparently reached a breaking point near the end of the season. Washington was reportedly dismissed from the team following USC’s final game and is now searching for a school to bring his services to.

On that note, the Trojans look to be somewhat shorthanded in the 2010-2011 season, especially for the first few games when Fordham transfer Jio Fontan is still ineligible to compete. Once Fontan returns, USC will have a good amount of talent on its roster, as the Trojans will boast a mix of experienced and young players.

At guard, they’ll have redshirt senior Donte Smith and senior Marcus Simmons — and freshmen Maurice Jones and Bryce Jones. Neither Smith nor Simmons has been a long-term starter, and the Joneses might very well overtake them for key minutes this season.

In the frontcourt, they’ll have senior Alex Stepheson and junior Nikola Vucevic, both starters last season — and sophomores Davis Rozitis and Evan Smith and freshmen Curtis Washington and Garrett Jackson. Rozitis and Smith each played sparingly last season, putting them essentially on the same level as the incoming freshmen. Of anyone, Jackson might be the most important reserve on this year’s team.

Now, let’s not forget the whole tampering situation surrounding former Rutgers guard Mike Rosario, who went to high school with Fontan. Earlier this month, the Courier-News of New Jersey reported that Rutgers University was set to file tampering charges against the Trojans, regarding the recruitment and potential transfer of Rosario.

Thing is, it never happened. O’Neill immediately denied the report to the Orange County Register, and on Sunday, ESPN’s Andy Katz reported that Rutgers’ athletic director, Tim Pernetti, had apologized to O’Neill for the false charges. Rosario committed to Florida, by the way.

To recap: In the last 45 or so days, USC has replaced two experienced assistants with inexperienced ones, signed a high-potential recruit for the class of 2011 but lost a probable starter for next season and been charged with serious tampering allegations only to have them dropped.

Now we have to wait six months to see what it all means.

“Looking Past the X’s and O’s” runs Mondays. To comment on this article, visit dailytrojan.com or e-mail Pedro at pmoura@usc.edu.