A new decade means new beginnings, and for the USC men’s basketball program, it could only signal a change from the bitter, not too distant past.
Following the resignation of former coach Tim Floyd in 2009, the USC basketball team was in shambles.
Former guard O.J. Mayo was found to have received improper benefits and the university decided to self-impose sanctions on a basketball program already trying to cope with the loss of starters DeMar DeRozan, Taj Gibson and Daniel Hackett, who declared for the NBA Draft.
Not only did USC lose these three players, but eight recruits decided to bolt for a better situation than the one they originally had signed up for.
The aforementioned sounds like the perfect recipe for a disaster, and that’s surely where it seemed like the Trojans basketball program was headed.
Enter Kevin O’Neill (aka K.O.).
“We’re thrilled to have Kevin O’Neill as our men’s basketball coach,” former athletic director Mike Garrett said in a release at the time of the hire. “Kevin is the consummate coach. He knows his Xs and Os, he’s an excellent recruiter and he is very in tune with the academic side of a player’s collegiate experience.”
Though Garrett might have seen it a bit differently, O’Neill had often been known more for his maniacal character and his constant barrage of four-letter bombs than his coaching resume.
But coming to USC, he had one job to do, and one job only.
Don’t bleep this one up.
For a program reeling from sanctions, the loss of NBA-eligible players and lost recruits, a .500 season in his first year at the helm would have been considered a success.
With no pressure to fulfill any sort of expectations, O’Neill exceeded my wildest dreams, leading USC to a 16-14 record.
And had it not been for a five-game losing streak to end the year, the Trojans would have been in the thick of the Pac-10 regular season title race.
Talk about tempering expectations, but O’Neill also gave the Trojan faithful a glimmer of hope for a brighter future.
Then, it was déjà vu all over again.
Forward Leonard Washington was dismissed from the team right after the 2009-2010 season ended, and reports mentioned he and K.O. weren’t exactly buddy-buddy.
A few months later, Washington announced his decision to transfer.
Next up: Freshman center Davis Rozitis.
Though Rozitis was a big work in progress, the 7-foot reserve’s intent to transfer wasn’t exactly clear-cut.
But given the track record O’Neill has compiled over the years, it’s not a far-fetched idea to examine and see that he is well-known for more than just his crazy style of coaching, but also player turnover.
One player who spoke anonymously went as far as to label him bipolar.
“He’s a great guy off the court, but he’s bipolar or something,” the player said. “On the court, he’s a madman.”
Now with the news that freshman guard Bryce Jones is set to transfer, this can only mean one thing for the USC basketball program: Trouble.
Jones’ transfer implies playing time was an issue, and it’s no wonder, since his minutes gradually decreased ever since receiving a technical foul against Lehigh.
An already tight rotation shrinks from eight to seven, and that becomes an issue when your starting guards and forwards already average nearly 35 minutes per contest.
I hate to say it, but before spring break, this current roster will be run into the ground, which is similar to what happened during O’Neill’s coaching stint in Arizona.
But though the health of the players might seem like a big deal, a bigger impact might be felt on the recruiting trail.
O’Neill managed to bring in a 2010 recruiting class that featured an ESPNU 100 player in Jones, along with freshmen forwards Garrett Jackson and Curtis Washington, who both ranked in the top 100 at their positions.
Now we have one recruit gone, and two left sitting snug on the bench.
For next year, K.O. nabbed forward Byron Wesley, who is the 43rd ranked player at his position, and for the 2012 class, three ESPNU Super 60 players are considering USC.
That’s some top-notch talent, but who wants to play for a coach who doesn’t utilize that talent, and doesn’t have a good relationship history with his players?
Not me — I’d rather take my talents to South Beach.
A season that looked so promising after a convincing victory against crosstown rival UCLA has now made a 180-degree turn in just a week and a half.
Two very disappointing losses at Oregon and Oregon State, combined with the news of Jones’ transfer surely isn’t helping.
Kevin O’Neill, you came in and steered a program in the right direction.
You put USC basketball back on the map in Los Angeles, reminding everybody we can compete on the hardwood too.
And you recruited enough talent to make the future look bright.
Now, my advice to you is simple:
Don’t bleep this one up.
“In The Zone” runs Thursdays. To comment on this article, visit dailytrojan.com or e-mail Trevor at firstname.lastname@example.org.