For the USC men’s basketball team, this week represents the calm before the storm.
The Trojans are gearing up for the start of the regular season next Friday, Nov. 9, against Coppin State at the Galen Center. It has been only two and a half weeks since their first official practice of the semester on Oct. 12, but with the season just around the corner, USC coach Kevin O’Neill and his players have their chance to redeem last year’s dismal 6-26 record.
“We’re trying to take it practice by practice because we don’t want to look ahead,” O’Neill said. “I like what our guys have done in their approach in terms of playing hard every day. And that’s what they need to do to keep going and getting better.”
O’Neill is quick to lower the hype surrounding the ever-approaching 2012-13 campaign, pointing out that there’s still plenty of work to be done in the meantime.
“We’re eons away,” O’Neill said. “We’ve got so many new guys — we’re a long ways away. But we’re headed in the right direction.”
Major questions that need to be answered before the opener remain; one such question involves junior transfer center Omar Oraby, who has yet to hear from the NCAA as to whether he will be eligible to play immediately with a hardship waiver. He was, however, back at practice alongside senior guard Jio Fontan after both sat out earlier last week because of injuries.
“Everything is good,” Fontan said. “When you’re doing three-hour days back-to-back-to-back, it’s kind of smart for my case to step out for a day. So everything is pretty good right now.”
The team’s three-hour practices are as intense as ever, which Fontan says is by design.
“It’s important right now to stay as aggressive as possible, because once the season starts you kind of want to slow down on how aggressive you are in practice with the constant games,” Fontan said. “So it’s important that this week and next week we really go at it. [O’Neill] has been doing a good job of putting us through a lot of contact stuff, and it’s working out.”
Most of the players are still adjusting to a new group of teammates and strategies, which might have spurred O’Neill’s comments about being “eons away” from where they eventually want to be.
“Everybody is learning still,” senior guard Greg Allen said. “They’re making easy mistakes that they’re not going to make later on in the season, but we’re just trying to learn it as fast as we can. The sooner the better, but everyone is trying.”
Tuesday’s practice, in particular, brought out some aggressive play from two of USC’s youngsters, freshman guards Brendyn Taylor and Chass Bryan.
“Both of them did a great job,” O’Neill said. “They’re both talented guys. They’re athletic. We want them to be aggressive, we want them to play like veterans.”
That seems to be the mantra of the whole team, however, not just the freshmen. With so many roster spots still up for grabs, the Trojans will likely continue to stay aggressive in the coming days.
“It’s just about competition,” Allen said. “Everybody is competing to see what their role is on the team to help out however they can.”