Replacing All-Pac-10 forward Nikola Vucevic — the 16th overall pick in the 2011 NBA draft — will not be the USC men’s basketball team’s only challenge this season.
The Trojans, who began official practice last Friday, are missing several key players because of various injuries.
Senior guard Jio Fontan, who suffered an ACL tear during the exhibition games in Brazil, and sophomore forward Curtis Washington, who has a torn labrum, are not practicing, and both players could be sidelined the entire season.
Sophomore forward Dewayne Dedmon, who sustained a non-displaced fracture of his right hand, was limited but practiced with a large cast, and will likely be available when the Trojans open their season at home against Cal State Northridge on Nov. 11.
“Injuries are a part of the game,” USC coach Kevin O’Neill said. “We have to move forward.”
Fontan, who led USC in assists and finished second in scoring last season, was expected to provide leadership as the only eligible senior on scholarship.
Sophomore guard Maurice Jones who started alongside Fontan for much of last season, is expected to slide over to play point guard. The Trojans will also rely on 6-foot-2 freshman guard Alexis Moore, from Long Beach, Calif. The only other guards on scholarship are Greg Allen, a transfer from Navarro College, and Byron Wesley, a freshman from Etiwanda High School.
“It gives another guy the chance to step up,” O’Neill said.
Washington, who played sparingly last season and did not score a point, was expected to provide depth in the frontcourt. In his absence, the Trojans will count on junior center James Blasczyk, a transfer from Lee College, and redshirt junior forward Aaron Fuller, who transferred from Iowa, in addition to Dedmon.
Dedmon is practicing, although the large cast on his right hand prevents him from shooting the ball. Trainers covered the cast with bubble wrap and tape so it would be safe enough to play with.
“It is like playing with a boxing glove,” Dedmon said. “It is hard but you have to make do.”
Other minor injuries include Fuller’s dislocated finger, but it has not caused him to miss any practice time.
“He has not said a word, and that is what I like about [Fuller],” O’Neill said. “You are not supposed to sit on the side with the sniffles.”
Jones has been bothered by a minor ankle injury. He has not been sidelined, but O’Neill stated he might rest Jones at times because he is valuable to the team.
“The crippling injury would be to [Jones],” O’Neill said. “If [he] gets hurt, I am in front of a bus.”
With Fontan out, Jones, who averaged 9.9 points per game last season, and sophomore forward Garrett Jackson, who contributed an average of 3.2 points per game, are the only two returning players to score for the Trojans last season.
O’Neill, however, insists he won’t use the numerous injuries to key players as an excuse for any potential obstacles this season.
“Basketball is full of challenges, especially the situation we took over,” O’Neill said. “We have to endure a few more bumps in the road, and we will do that.”