The theme of the day was “calm, cool, and confident” for USC coach Kevin O’Neill and junior forward Nikola Vucevic as the two headed to the Nokia Theatre at L.A. Live Thursday for the Pac-10 men’s basketball media day.
As O’Neill addressed the media’s concerns that USC is in danger of falling to the bottom of the Pac-10, he explained that the Trojans are in the rebuilding process after losing ten starters in just a year and a half.
“We lost three guys to the pros, we lost a whole recruiting class that’s starting other places, and then we lost three starters from last year and I dismissed Leonard Washington. So we’re trying to piece this back together.”
Coming off a rough first year plagued with controversy after losing postseason eligibility in January because of self-imposed sanctions, O’Neill knew he and his team would be on the chopping block.
When asked about different media sources picking USC to place sixth in the Pac-10 this year, O’Neill responded sarcastically, “Well, we’re going to finish sixth then. You guys are always right.”
O’Neill kept his cool and stuck to the positive, explaining to the media that he is extremely impressed with his freshman players so far, including freshman forward Curtis Washington, who O’Neill said is “a way better rebounder and shot blocker than I thought he was going to be as a freshman.”
Vucevic told the media that he has most improved his conditioning, which he worked on while playing for the Montenegro national team over the summer.
“I got in a lot better shape,” said Vucevic, “ and with the help of the new strength coach (Shaun Brown), I’ll be able to play more minutes.”
The Trojans know they will be playing with a monkey on their backs this season, but with the positive attitude of their coach and the leadership of their newly elected captains (Alex Stepheson, Marcus Simmons and Donte Smith), USC hopes to beat the odds and get far into the NCAA tournament.