When asked why he chose to give USC football his oral commitment last week, prized recruit Zach Banner replied simply that it “was the perfect fit.”
What the offensive tackle from Lakes High in Lakewood, Wash., probably doesn’t realize is that his recruitment to USC is the perfect fit for not one but two athletic teams on campus.
Though Rivals.com ranked Banner as the class of 2012’s 16th-best prospect on the gridiron, the 18-year-old’s athletic pedigree extends to a place this university could really use help: the hardwood.
At six-foot-eight, 290 pounds, Banner served as the starting center for Lakes High’s 3A Championship team last season and drew attention from five Division-I schools, including four from the Pac-12 Conference.
“Banner is a load to stop in the paint area,” said Tony Wroten on ESPN.com. “He has soft hands, good feet and a wide body to ward off defenders. He has a great demeanor about him and just plays the game at an even keel.“
So in essence, he’s everything USC coach Kevin O’Neill and company have lacked during their six-win campaign in 2011-2012.
Upon his decision to come to Southern California, Banner made very clear his intentions to one day play under the Galen Center lights.
Though it’s been reported over the last week that USC coach Lane Kiffin and O’Neill have given their blessing regarding the incoming freshman’s lofty plans, I’m suggesting he serve as the rule, not the exception.
It’s not uncommon to see Trojan football players make the leap from the Coliseum to Cromwell Field, whether it’s Tony Burnett, D.J. Morgan, or most recently, Marqise Lee. It’s time, however, to lobby for the USC men’s basketball team to receive some much-needed support at a time of great need.
Playing two high-profile sports that have overlapping schedules is not an easy task. And to excel at both, even the most skilled athletes need to typically prepare close to year-round. Add in the potential risk of injury, and it’s easy to understand the reluctance coaches and players often have regarding the topic.
Nonetheless, even as national championship hopes rest comfortably in the visible horizon, the current USC football roster is filled with players whose skills on a basketball court should not be limited to a pick-up game at the Lyon Center.
For those who have witnessed the football team’s recent propensity for organizing these five-on-five games at the gym, whether against each other or against unfortunate members of the student populace, the question has to be raised: Why is their talent being wasted on recreation?
We all marveled at Lee’s acrobatic catches against Oregon at Autzen Stadium this season. But that same 38-inch vertical leap made him a bona fide star on the Serra High hoops team his senior year in 2010, when he averaged more than 12 points per game to help lead the Cavaliers to a 35-4 record and the CIF-SS State Championship. For his efforts, Lee was named to the Daily Breeze’s All-South Bay first team.
Can you imagine him running the wing on a fast break with Maurice Jones?
Lob City 2.0 would put your butts in the seats every other week at the Galen Center, something that hasn’t happened since the days of O.J. Mayo and Demar Derozan.
When asked about the idea of the two-sport athlete, Kiffin told ESPNLosAngeles.com back in October that USC is all for it, because it helps the university and keeps players competitive year-round.
But to be honest, outside of a miniscule few on the track team, I am not seeing that “all for one and one for all” mentality across the athletic department.
If the school and the football program are so for it, why should Banner be the lone player to test unchartered waters in the coming years?
While Mike Williams and Dwayne Jarrett were helping USC win Rose Bowls and national championships in the mid-2000s, the two former high school basketball greats never suited up for Henry Bibby or Tim Floyd. It was a wasted opportunity then, but it doesn’t have to be now.
Just ask schools like California, North Carolina and Miami, that over the years benefited from the services of a Tony Gonzalez, Julius Peppers or Jimmy Graham. They’d be the first to tell you that both their programs were better served because of those players’ commitment to fulfilling multiple athletic endeavors.
I am not suggesting the school undertake a PR ploy to generate ticket sales or promote false hopes among a fan base. It’s a shame to tight-cast student-athletes into one sport, when they might possess the passion and skill set to compete in several.
It’s time for the basketball program to stop looking for help in the form of transfers hailing from junior colleges and other universities across the country, and instead start looking internally.
2012 has the potential to be a banner year on the football field, so all I am asking is for the love to be spread to the less fortunate.
Sometimes you’ve got to give a little to get a little.
“For the Love of the Game” runs Wednesdays. To comment on this article, visit DailyTrojan.com or email Dave at firstname.lastname@example.org.