Trojans start basketball season with little fanfare
Many collegiate basketball programs celebrate the beginning of fall basketball practice by packing thousands of students into their stadium for Midnight Madness festivities.
The first official USC basketball practice Friday, on the other hand, was only witnessed by a handful of media members, scouts and university officials as a result of the Trojansâ new stricter basketball practice admittance policy.
Though there may not have been a lot of fanfare at USCâs first practice, the Trojans started off the season with an intense and productive three-hour practice.
âI thought they did a great job today,â USC coach Kevin OâNeill said. âWe were able to get a lot of stuff in. For a first practice I thought it was really, really good.â
USC will be eligible for postseason play this year, after self-imposing a postseason ban on the basketball program last season, stemming from a violation of NCAA rules. As a result, the players are competing for more than just pride this season.
âEveryone seemed pretty hungry,â sophomore forward Evan Smith said. âEveryone got after it and played physical. We had a lot of great competition.â
Friday was the first official practice for USCâs four freshman. OâNeillâs initial freshman recruiting class, which includes guards Maurice Jones and Bryce Jones, and forwards Garrett Jackson and Curtis Washington, will make the team quicker than last yearâs squad.
âWe had a bunch of guys that overachieved last year and showed strong character,â OâNeill said. âI hope that carries over to this yearâs group, which has a little more speed, quickness and talent.â
Many of the Trojans appeared to be stronger and in better shape than they had been last season, thanks to Shaun Brown, first-year strength and conditioning manager.
âShaun Brown has whipped us into shape,â Smith said. âHe has gotten us to the point where we can play up to the level that coach expects us to. It will really pay off at end-of-the-game situations. We want to put in the work necessary to win.â
The speed of the team, combined with the inside presence of forwards senior Alex Stepheson and junior Nikola Vucevic, will shape the style of the team.
âThe No. 1 thing we are going to have to do well is to play well defensively,â OâNeill said. âI think we are also going to be a good running team. I think that [point guards] Maurice Jones and Jio [Fontan] will make us a much better up-tempo and fast-breaking team than we were last year.â
The Trojans will hold the Cardinal & Gold Scrimmage on Oct. 23 at 12:30 p.m. at the Galen Center.