Beginning this weekend, two young teams will suit up under the USC basketball moniker, with a total of four scholarship seniors on the men’s and women’s teams and multiple freshmen ready to play big roles on both squads.
It is fitting then that both of the teams’ broadcasters will be young and new as well.
Chris Fisher, 25, is the new voice of the Trojans on ESPN Radio 710 AM. Fisher, who graduated from USC in 2007 with a degree in political science and three years of experience calling minor-league baseball across the nation, took over the play-by-play position in July after spending one season calling women’s basketball for USC. He takes over for the late Rory Markas, who died of an apparent heart attack in January.
Taking over Fisher’s vacated post with the women is Jason Schwartz, a 22-year-old Los Angeles native who graduated from USC in May with a degree in broadcast journalism and has called two seasons of summer-league baseball in the Pacific Northwest.
Collectively, the duo represents a big step for USC hiring two young broadcasters with Trojan connections. Add up their two ages and you might come close to the age of a normal basketball play-by-play man at most schools across the nation.
“We’re somewhat in the same boat,” Schwartz says, adding that the two have known each other since they were students. “We’re both going into unfamiliar territory. Even though he did women’s basketball, obviously jumping up to men’s is completely different and, being on ESPN radio, there’s a lot that goes with that.”
Both will make their respective debuts this weekend — Schwartz tonight at the Galen Center against Gonzaga and Fisher on Saturday against UC Irvine, also at home. And their first road trips aren’t far away either, with Schwartz and the women traveling to Cameron Indoor Stadium for a big test at Duke on Monday — a game Schwartz says he’s been excited for “since before I got the job.” Fisher and the men’s squad heads to Massachusetts next weekend for a preseason tournament, with other nonconference trips to Nebraska, Kansas and Tennessee scheduled in the next month.
Both will be calling every game for the teams, who each have the potential to qualify for the NCAA tournament. The women’s squad was close to getting in a year ago, as it was the first team out of the bracket of 64 left out. Analysts said they were snubbed; USC coach Michael Cooper compared finding out about it to losing to the Boston Celtics in the NBA finals as a Los Angeles Laker.
But the Women of Troy are predicted to be the third-best team in the deep Pac-10 conference this year, a finish that would almost assuredly earn them a spot in the Big Dance.
“Personally, I’m very excited for the prospects for the team this year,” Schwartz said. “Obviously any time a coach is in his second year, things are going to be better, and I think they have awesome leadership. The fact is, they didn’t really lose very many players. And what they lost, they’ve definitely made up for.”
Schwartz is right. USC returns its two top players from a season ago in stud juniors Briana Gilbreath and Ashley Corral, most of its top players, and adds two nationally known freshmen in Cassie Harberts and Len’Nique Brown.
The men’s situation is a little different. The Trojans lost a lot, with three starters — Mike Gerrity, Dwight Lewis and Marcus Johnson — graduating, but they will benefit from an actual incentive this time around.
Remember, USC banned itself from postseason play last January just as the Trojans were hitting their stride. The NCAA tourney — and the National Invitational Tournament, for that matter — are up for grabs this season, and Kevin O’Neill’s squad has set a firm goal of reaching postseason play.
And O’Neill just might have the talent to do it, with two star freshmen of his own in Bryce and Maurice Jones. Combined with returning forwards junior Nikola Vucevic and senior Alex Stepheson, and the much-improved senior Marcus Simmons, the Trojans will surely be in the mix.
“They’ve got some key guys at some spots that they haven’t had in the past,” Fisher said. “ They’ve got a point guard this year that they’re going to have from start to finish. They’re going to have one of the best frontcourts in the country with Vucevic and Stepheson, and they’re going to be rebounding machines. And when they get [Fordham transfer] Jio Fontan back, if they get solid production from those guys, they’ve got a chance to make a run at some things.”
Fisher will be along for the ride, as will Schwartz.
“Who knows whether or not they’re going to make the NCAA tournament or how well they’re gonna do in the Pac-10 tournament, but I think that this team has the potential to make some noise and re-establish itself as a Pac-10 player,” Fisher said. “They’ve got some interesting things they can present.”
“Looking Past the X’s and O’s” runs every other Friday. To comment on this article, visit dailytrojan.com or e-mail Pedro at firstname.lastname@example.org.