Kevin O’Neill is out as USC’s men’s basketball coach. His long-term replacement has yet to be determined but, for now, Bob Cantu will take over as interim head coach.
Cantu has resided as an assistant at Troy for 12 years, and now the power to lead the basketball program is in his hands. With the team’s record standing at 7-10, Cantu has changes planned for the squad and spoke Monday afternoon about what might be different for the rest of the season.
The first order of business for Cantu will be speeding up the Trojans’ offensive pace, or lack thereof. The Trojans are 11th in the Pac-12 in scoring at 63.8 points per game, and also 11th in field goal percentage with 42.5 percent.
“I want to play a little faster and I want to press a little bit,” he said. “[I want to] try to create easy baskets. I think a lot of times you sit and try to grind out in a half court and it’s difficult to score. We’re going to make adjustments to one of our basic offenses and get the ball rolling.”
Cantu also mentioned the possibility of divvying up playing time, including giving minutes to players that found themselves in O’Neill’s doghouse. He specifically mentioned a pair of transfer forwards, junior Ari Stewart and senior Renaldo Woolridge. Expected to be an athletic, slashing forward with 3-point ability, Stewart is averaging nine minutes per game and hasn’t played in eight of the Trojans’ 17 contests; Woolridge, meanwhile, is getting just 4.1 minutes a game.
“Guys that are here have shown that they have been successful at other places,” Cantu said. “Renaldo, Ace [Stewart], [and] other guys that haven’t played as much need to come out and have a great practice [on Tuesday and Wednesday].”
Senior point guard Jio Fontan is the program’s most tenured player, and was generally given the reigns of the offense by O’Neill, something that Cantu plans to continue.
“I talked to Jio about becoming an extension of me on the court, and being an associate head coach on the court,” he said.
Fontan has struggled to find his shot and take uncontested looks, shooting 32 percent from the floor, but is third in assists in the Pac-12 with 5.2 per game. The Trojans’ floor leader hasn’t paid the notion of switching coaches midseason much thought yet.
“For the most part, I don’t really think you have much time to think how hard it is,” Fontan said.
It will be an uphill battle for the Trojans to find success, but Cantu has confidence in his inherited squad as it moves forward in the Pac-12.
“You just look at the league… and I just see us having our chances in every game,” Cantu said. “We have great kids and they love the game of basketball, and I think they’re going to think about some of the things we discussed today and they’re going to come out focused.”
Though the Trojans’ interim leader did express that his goal is to become a permanent head coach, Cantu deflected attention away from any potential consideration for the vacant USC position.
“I want to do the best job I can, but my main focus is not on me,” Cantu said. “It’s on the players.”