At his first press conference since being introduced over the summer, USC men’s basketball coach Kevin O’Neill discussed the challenges ahead.
Sitting between senior guard Dwight Lewis and junior guard Marcus Simmons, O’Neill was optimistic yet practical, noting that while the road ahead may be long, all hope is not lost.
“I’m not sitting around lamenting the status of our players, but it’s a matter of how soon we can get together as a group,” O’Neill said.
O’Neill admitted he can’t fully assess his squad until Friday, the first day of practice. The workouts, which will be open to the public, will be the first time O’Neill will be able to conduct practices with the entire team. But he had no question that the team had been working hard in the offseason.
“I’m pleased with our work ethic as a group,” O’Neill said. “I like how our guys have approached work in general.”
Simmons especially made a concerted effort to work on his jumpshot this offseason, shooting up to 1,000 shots a day to the point where he hurt himself.
“Just one day my wrist started aching really bad, it was swelling up on me,” Simmons said, adding, “It’s fine.”
O’Neill said he would know a lot more about the Trojans’ dynamic after 10 hours of practice time in the gym this weekend, but he highlighted some early concerns.
“Obviously we have unproven point [guard] play,” O’Neill said. “Donte [Smith] didn’t play much last year and we’re going to depend heavily on him.”
O’Neill noted that redshirt senior guard Mike Gerrity will also factor into the point guard position, but not until the second semester when he is cleared academically.
When asked who else could help out Smith until Gerrity returned, O’Neill pointed to the two guys sitting next to him, Lewis and Simmons. Both will play more minutes than they ever have before, O’Neill said, and Lewis especially will have to prepare for other teams to be gunning for him.
“Dwight doesn’t know this yet, but people are sitting around the league saying, ‘OK, if we’re going to play USC, we’ve got to stop Dwight Lewis first,’” O’Neill said. “And I’m not sure that was always the case last year.”
Lewis did not shy away from the responsibility at all, however.
“I think I handled it quite well. [O’Neill] expected me to be a leader during this offseason, and I think I’ve done a pretty good job,” Lewis said. “All the added pressure — I really don’t see it right now.”
Lewis also responded to the low expectations many are placing on the Trojans this season.
“With this team we have now, we really don’t care what other people think,” Lewis said. “We all believe in each other, we believe in ourselves, we believe in our coaching staff.”