A little more than a week into its practice schedule, the USC men’s basketball team is slowly gelling.
The Trojans have been hard at work since Oct. 12, stressing the importance of defensive fundamentals as they gear up for the start of the regular season on Nov. 9 against Coppin State.
“We want to make sure we’re great man-to-man wise,” USC coach Kevin O’Neill said. “[We want to be] a good transition defensive team, good scramble team. We’ve scrimmaged almost every day, which has been good for our guys. It’s just a matter of putting in the time and getting guys right on every possession, every play.”
Toward the end of each practice, USC has brought in referees to help simulate experiences which could prove useful in the coming months.
“It’s helping us a lot,” senior forward Renaldo Woolridge said. “Me particularly, being in a lot of pressure situations, definitely being able to have a lot of poise. Just seeing different lineups going together in different situations. So I think it’s been a good adjustment. And also with the refs, knowing when and when not to foul.”
O’Neill had been interested in instituting the daily scrimmages for some time but didn’t have enough active bodies in previous years to do so. It has been a welcome addition for the team.
“It’s nice to say, ‘Well, we’re going to sit around and do some special situations,”’ O’Neill said. “You can’t contrive them, you’ve got to let them happen. The more we scrimmage, the more guys will be in game situations.”
The Trojans are still trying to incorporate an almost entirely new group of players into O’Neill’s system. But from all indications, the different members of the roster have quickly meshed on and off the court.
“We have a bunch of new pieces, a bunch of new guys, and [we’ve] just been doing a lot of team bonding,” junior guard J.T. Terrell said. “Hanging out on the court, in the locker room, playing video games all the time, hanging out with each other outside of school.”
Woolridge agreed with his new teammate.
“It feels like we’ve actually known each other for a long time, but it’s only been a few months,” Woolridge said. “The chemistry on our team is really good.”
Starting senior point guard Jio Fontan and senior center Omar Oraby both sustained injuries last Saturday and did not take part in the most recent practice session. O’Neill expects both to return by the end of the week, perhaps as early as Wednesday.
“We’re learning how to play harder, we’re a little nicked up right now,” O’Neill said. “Jio got a cut and Omar has a concussion, but I like how hard we play, I like how long we play hard. I think we’re physical. We just have a long way to go, like any team this time of year.”
Other than Fontan locking up point guard duties, starting positions at the other four spots remain wide open. End of practice scrimmages have yet to feature anything resembling a first or second team as players continue to show what they can contribute.
“I’m a playmaker,” Terrell said. “Whether it’s scoring, making a play on defense, making a play for somebody else on offense. I just think I bring a little bit of everything to the table. Whatever the team needs me to do to win is what I’m going to do.”
O’Neill has taken note of what each player brings to the table and said he is appreciative of everyone’s work ethic so far.
“Dewayne Dedmon has had a great week of practice,” O’Neill said. “But really I couldn’t say that anyone didn’t stick out, I think everyone has had their moments where they play great basketball. Their effort was tremendous all the way through.”