Many collegiate basketball programs celebrate the beginning of fall basketball practice by packing thousands of students into their stadium for Midnight Madness festivities.
The first official USC basketball practice Friday, on the other hand, was only witnessed by a handful of media members, scouts and university officials as a result of the Trojans’ new stricter basketball practice admittance policy.
Though there may not have been a lot of fanfare at USC’s first practice, the Trojans started off the season with an intense and productive three-hour practice.
“I thought they did a great job today,” USC coach Kevin O’Neill said. “We were able to get a lot of stuff in. For a first practice I thought it was really, really good.”
USC will be eligible for postseason play this year, after self-imposing a postseason ban on the basketball program last season, stemming from a violation of NCAA rules. As a result, the players are competing for more than just pride this season.
“Everyone seemed pretty hungry,” sophomore forward Evan Smith said. “Everyone got after it and played physical. We had a lot of great competition.”
Friday was the first official practice for USC’s four freshman. O’Neill’s initial freshman recruiting class, which includes guards Maurice Jones and Bryce Jones, and forwards Garrett Jackson and Curtis Washington, will make the team quicker than last year’s squad.
“We had a bunch of guys that overachieved last year and showed strong character,” O’Neill said. “I hope that carries over to this year’s group, which has a little more speed, quickness and talent.”
Many of the Trojans appeared to be stronger and in better shape than they had been last season, thanks to Shaun Brown, first-year strength and conditioning manager.
“Shaun Brown has whipped us into shape,” Smith said. “He has gotten us to the point where we can play up to the level that coach expects us to. It will really pay off at end-of-the-game situations. We want to put in the work necessary to win.”
The speed of the team, combined with the inside presence of forwards senior Alex Stepheson and junior Nikola Vucevic, will shape the style of the team.
“The No. 1 thing we are going to have to do well is to play well defensively,” O’Neill said. “I think we are also going to be a good running team. I think that [point guards] Maurice Jones and Jio [Fontan] will make us a much better up-tempo and fast-breaking team than we were last year.”
The Trojans will hold the Cardinal & Gold Scrimmage on Oct. 23 at 12:30 p.m. at the Galen Center.