USC basketball and I are now on the rocks


There comes a time in every relationship when the obvious question arises: Can I see this lasting?

I recently had to face this daunting question and make an inquiry into the depths of my sports-loving soul.

My relationship, however, has nothing to do with another human being, but rather the USC men’s basketball team.

How do I determine whether or not to continue to follow a season that has been nothing short of a heart attack waiting to happen?

It’s quite simple, really: with a trip down the topsy-turvy memory lane that has been the 2010-2011 season.

From the first time I laid eyes on this team during the Cardinal and Gold scrimmage, it was far from love at first sight.

The team’s depth deficiencies, predictable offensive schemes and inexperience as a unit were apparent.

But what hooked me was the Trojans’ potential. This team would not be a Pac-10 powerhouse or a fixture in the national headlines, but there was a subtle attractiveness, despite its obvious flaws.

Our first few dates passed the eye test with wins over UC Irvine and Santa Clara.

Just when I thought this team could rid itself of its preseason problems, however, the Rider Broncs came to town and shattered the image I had so naively created, with a 77-57 rout Nov. 17.

Over the next month, my relationship with USC basketball was about as shaky as James Franco’s hosting performance during Sunday’s Academy Awards.

There were moments of jubilation, such as when the Trojans knocked off then-No. 18 Tennessee in their house and then took it to the then-No. 20 Longhorns two weeks later at the Galen Center.

There were moments of disbelief, particularly when a last-second out-of-bounds call on junior guard Jio Fontan cost the team a chance to knock off Kansas at historic Phog Allen Fieldhouse Dec. 18.

And there were moments of utter disappointment — the kind that makes you regret ever getting involved. Losses to Nebraska, TCU and Bradley speak for themselves.

Then the Pac-10 portion of the schedule came. Even though the Trojans won two of their first three games in conference, I should have sensed that things hadn’t really changed at all.

From poor guard play to a disgruntled freshman and non-existent perimeter defense, the next nine games challenged my faith and my patience.

Six losses to the likes of inferior Oregon, Oregon State and California pushed me to the edge.

How could this team, the one I had learned to love even with its flaws, crumble when it mattered most?

But just when I began to believe our best days truly were behind us, the Trojans desperately fought back.

A two-game sweep of the Bay Area schools for the first time since 1992, an upset of then-No. 10 Arizona and a dominating senior night victory over ASU brought me back temporarily, although with much trepidation.

With two games to play this weekend in Washington, and at least one game guaranteed in the Pac-10 tournament, the fork in the road leaves me to ask whether this ride deserves one more leap of faith.

Yes, there is stability with junior forward Nikola Vucevic, who has recorded 18 double-doubles and leads the team in points and rebounds.

Yes, it’s hard not to feel safe and secure with senior forwards Marcus Simmons, who has shut down Klay Thompson, Tyshawn Taylor and Jordan Hamilton.

Alex Stepheson, who leads the team in blocks and has recorded at least eight games of 14 rebounds or more.

And the tempo that guards Maurice Jones and Jio Fontan play with is exhilarating at times.

But with my heart and mind glued to the present, can I neglect the hair-pulling moments and long nights of serious reflection?

The answer is, in a word, yes.

They might or might not dance at the NCAA’s senior prom this month. Their coach will never be the next Mike Krzyzewski or Bob Knight. And you’d be hard-pressed to find a banner commemorating this group next year in the Galen Center’s rafters.

But, in my best tear-filled Terrell Owens impersonation: This is my basketball team.

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

Note: This story reflects a corrected version that ran Wednesday, March 2.