Trojans hope to begin year on right foot


Every year around this time there is a faint sense of renewal and change we really can believe in.

When the calendar flips to a new 365-day period, the talk is always about what we hope to achieve tomorrow, not of what we didn’t achieve yesterday.

Yet in these often best-laid plans, our fickleness typically gets the best of us and thwarts our ambitious attempts to lose those 20 pounds, quit smoking, attend class lectures on a more frequent basis or treat our relationships with care and the utmost loyalty.

But alas, in one last-ditch effort to keep the misguided tradition of making goals and lofty promises for the dawning of a new day, here are a few that are more than apropos for USC’s athletic program — who, could really use a year of good fortune in 2011.

Take the appeals decision with a grain of salt

For those of you ready to send gift baskets to Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton or Ohio State’s well-deserving 2009 Fiesta Bowl Sportsmanship Award winner Terrelle Pryor, think again before you hit the “buy” button on your Amazon.com shopping cart.

To believe that the NCAA’s negligence and gross oversight regarding these two recent incidents will somehow correlate to lenience in USC’s appeals case come Jan. 22 is frankly asking a lot of an organization that hasn’t exactly built itself on a foundation of logic or reason.

Watching 13 sanction-imposed football games this past year with feverish interest despite the lack of post-season buzz was a tall task, though many of you still rose to the challenge. From “Bowls are for Salad” to “You Can’t Sanction the Endzone,” a trying time was defined by your cathartic humor.

But, more than likely, get ready for some tongue-in-cheek comic relief, because although 2011 spells the beginning of conference expansion, don’t expect the higher powers to take a newfound look in the mirror in search of integrity or fairness.

Believe in the bench

USC men’s basketball play-caller, Kevin O’Neill, has a coaching pedigree which cannot be ignored nor largely criticized. But arguably the thing that stands out most for the Trojans’ second-year coach is his ability to lead programs to March’s highly-celebrated dance floor with little haste.

Every stop O’Neill has stayed for at least two years — Marquette, Northwestern and Tennessee — found itself in the NCAA tournament by the end of year two.

It is a streak O’Neill lists highly on his long list of resume-defining accomplishments. But it is also a streak that is in some serious jeopardy if he doesn’t learn to trust his bench of underused potential.

Freshman guard Maurice Jones has played all 40 minutes six times this season (and 41 minutes in the overtime loss vs. Washington).

If not for the fact that he reached the five-foul limit against Tennessee or the quick in-hand blowout win over Lehigh, junior forward Nikola Vucevic would be staring at a 16-game streak of at least 30 minutes logged.

And despite the fresh legs junior guard Jio Fontan likely has after missing the first 10 games of the year, you will be hard pressed to find him taking a cushy seat on the bench the rest of the way — as he has already tallied 34 minutes per game.

But if USC is going to make a run at the post-season and extend its coach’s personal streak, O’Neill is going to have to rely more on freshmen Bryce Jones and Garrett Jackson to contribute meaningful minutes off the pine.

It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish

Preseason rankings are flattering and always serve as a nice way to ring in a new year.

But as shown by the meltdown by Bill Ferguson’s men’s volleyball team in March a year ago, the No. 1 ranking is rather empty when it comes to guaranteeing postseason success.

This season, the Trojans again start as the No. 1 team in the country, with most media members and volleyball pundits picking them as not only MPSF favorites but also contenders for another National Championship.

From do-it-all senior opposite Murphy Troy to arguably the hardest working athlete in junior outside hitter Tony Ciarelli, Ferguson and company still have a team full of leadership, experience and cream of the crop talent in 2011.

But champions aren’t born on paper, a lesson learned the hard way a year ago.

(Southern) California Gurls’ talent is undeniable

I believe that as we welcome in a new year, fans, students and fellow peers can prove that sexism doesn’t run rampant at this 21st century university.

Call me crazy or naïve, but I think we recognize the talent this university boasts among its female athletes.

From the return of Jovan Vavic’s two-time defending NCAA champion women’s water polo squad to Michael Cooper’s much-improved basketball team, to the senior year swan song for USTA Indoor National Champion Maria Sanchez, who tries to lead the No. 19 Women of Troy tennis team back atop the hard court hierarchy for the second time in three seasons.

It’s not every day a university puts as much emphasis on gender equality in athletics, let alone has the talent across the board to maintain such a level of equality.

So from me to you, have a happy and healthy new year, may your spirits be brightened, may your baseball team return to its once-routine post as a Pac-10 powerhouse and may your athletic program be spotless on and off the field in the year to come.

“For The Love Of The Game” runs Wednesdays. To comment on this article, visit dailytrojan.com or e-mail Dave at dulberg@usc.edu.