AD Pat Haden has promised to turn the USC men’s basketball program into a winner — and we should believe in him.
The first issue that should be noted is that Haden was appointed athletic director in August 2010. As such, he inherited a basketball team in the throes of self-imposed sanctions related to the NCAA violations surrounding O.J. Mayo in 2007-08. The Trojans were docked one scholarship for two years in a sport that routinely sees top recruits leave for the NBA after a single season at the college level. Recruiting itself was made increasingly difficult because of a 20-day truncation of the recruiting season, another condition of the self-imposed sanctions.
Furthermore, though the timing of former USC coach Kevin O’Neill’s firing might have come as a surprise, it opened the door for speculation with regard to the basketball program’s future. The firing itself was never really in question and had been speculated since last August, when ESPN LA reported that O’Neill had sold his downtown condo and moved 125 miles south to Coronado. Though O’Neill insisted that the move would not affect his coaching responsibilities, many saw it as a sign that O’Neill was not confident in the team’s ability to deliver on what had become a bubble of expectations, inflated by the acquisition of highly touted transfers such as junior guard J.T. Terrell and junior center Omar Oraby.
O’Neill was replaced by Cantu, who will have the rest of the season to make a case for his head coaching candidacy. Should he receive the position, he will have an opportunity to continue recruiting for the Trojans. Cantu’s recruiting track record has been solid over the course of his career, including signings of Trojan standouts Nick Young, Taj Gibson, Mayo and DeMar DeRozan. Cantu’s recommendations of other potential standouts were eventually vetoed by head coaches; one such player was Klay Thompson, who ultimately landed at Washington State and is now starting for the NBA’s Golden State Warriors. If Cantu is given full rein to recruiting responsibilities, building a strong program could just be a matter of time.
Finally, the truest test of Haden’s ability to make good on his word to strengthen the basketball program has yet to come: the decision of either hiring a new head coach or retaining Cantu, which can be made easier or more difficult depending on how the Trojans finish this season. To assert that Haden is unable to deliver on his word at any point before then would be premature.
Stinging losses, such as the one suffered Saturday night to Arizona, might linger in the mind, but before the Trojan faithful break out pitchforks and torches, it’s important to hold the right people accountable. In this case, Haden is not culpable for the basketball team’s performance –— yet.
Instead, it is far more likely that Haden is thinking with the men’s basketball program’s long-term interest in mind. Constructing a top-tier basketball program doesn’t get underway without a little initial demolition work, and Haden’s firing of Kevin O’Neill was one step in the right direction. Whether Haden takes the next step forward and hires the right architect to draft a blueprint for success remains to be seen.
Euno Lee is a junior majoring in English and philosophy.
The lackluster history of USC men’s basketball should quell any hopes of a return to national prominence.
Since its basketball program began back in 1922, USC has made the NCAA tournament just 16 times. Yes, 16 times in 91 years. So in any given season, the Trojans have less than a one-in-four chance to make the postseason.
They’ve been the regular-season champion of their conference only seven times, most recently in 1985. They’ve won their conference tournament once, in 2009. And their last Final Four appearance? You’d have to go all the way back to 1954, when the NCAA tournament field only consisted of 24 teams.
Why does any of this matter?
Because besides lacking historical draw, USC has also done a poor job of recruiting, especially as of late.
According to Rivals’ ratings system, USC’s last five-star recruit was DeMar DeRozan in 2008. Meanwhile, their last two four-star recruits have either transferred in their first season (Bryce Jones in 2011) or underachieved (J.T. Terrell).
For USC to turn their men’s basketball program around, they need to stop heavily recruiting three-star recruits and junior college transfers. It’s almost impossible to yield a tournament team in a major conference without top-tier talent.
In this day and age, most four- and five-star recruits focus on a few factors when choosing a school: the program’s history, their chances of advancing deep in the NCAA tournament, their playing time and the coach’s ability to prepare them for the next level.
At this point, USC can only offer players one of those opportunities (you can guess which one). And the biggest hindrance of all, which is the most difficult to deal with pride wise, is the fact USC’s crosstown rival, the UCLA Bruins, are almost always going to have the first pick in local and national recruits.
Just as USC has dominated the college football recruiting landscape in Southern California, UCLA has done the same on the hardwood. Since DeRozan’s departure to the NBA, UCLA has had three five-star recruits and eight four-star recruits. That’s something the Trojans could only dream of.
As the Trojans continue their search for a coach, this much is clear: They need to hire a top-notch coach who not only employs a player-friendly and successful style of basketball, but can also recruit upper-echelon players. It sounds simple, but who fits the bill?
There are certain names floating around the rumor mill, and a few attractive options, but no one has the pizzazz needed to drastically shift USC’s reputation in a short amount of time.
It’ll take another five years or so, at the least, to turn the program around from the doldrums of the 2010 sanctions and the turmoil of having three different head coaches in a span of less than four years. It’s possible, but not probable. The past does not dictate the future, but it can help predict it. If the USC men’s basketball team’s historic struggles are any indication, we can expect history to repeat itself.
Jovan Buha is a junior majoring in print journalism.