On most nights, sophomore guard Maurice Jones’ age would have prevented him from entering the Conga Room at L.A. Live.
Yet on Friday afternoon, Jones, the youngest player and only sophomore chosen to represent his team at the annual Pac-12 Conference Men’s Basketball Media Day, found himself sitting on the stage at the popular nightclub alongside USC coach Kevin O’Neill.
“[Jones] has to lead,” O’Neill said. “That is a hard thing to do for a guy that is just starting his sophomore year.”
As one of only two returning players that scored a point for the Trojans last season, Jones will be counted on for more than just leadership.
Last season, Jones mostly played shooting guard. When senior guard Jio Fontan suffered an ACL tear during an exhibition game this summer in Brazil that could sideline him the entire season, however, O’Neill announced that Jones would play point guard. Nevertheless, O’Neill stressed that Jones will be counted on to score, in addition to distributing the ball.
“[Jones] has to be in attack mode all the time,” O’Neill said. “He has got to be prepared to play 40 minutes a game.”
Jones said that he has twisted his ankle three times in the last three weeks. Besides Jones, the Trojans only have three available guards on scholarship, and none have competed at the Division 1 level.
“If we do not have [Jones], it will be difficult for us to be competitive in major college games,” O’Neill said. “Do not come to the games, it would be ugly.”
Jones has not let his ankle injury slow him down.
“I do not take it lightly,” Jones said. “I still have to give one-hundred percent while I am out there.”
The Trojans were picked to finish seventh in the Pac-12 Men’s Basketball Media Poll.
“We are a work in progress right now,” O’Neill said. “Sometimes we look good and some days we stink.”
USC opens the season at home against Cal State Northridge on Nov. 11.