Young Trojans hope to begin year on right foot

Fans attending USC’s season opener Friday night against Cal State Northridge might need to bring a roster to the Galen Center to identify all of the new players.

Carrying the load · Sophomore guard Maurice Jones will be relied on heavily this season to offset the loss of injured senior guard Jio Fontan. - Daily Trojan file photo


Leading scorer and rebounder Nikola Vucevic departed a year early for the NBA.

Starting forwards Marcus Simmons and Alex Stepheson, in addition to guard Donte Smith, graduated.

Senior point guard Jio Fontan suffered a ligament tear in his left knee in August during USC’s Brazilian exhibition tour that could sideline him the entire season. Sophomore forwards Evan Smith and Curtis Washington will miss games because of shoulder injuries.

The only returning players that scored a point for the Trojans last season are sophomore guard Maurice Jones and sophomore forward Garrett Jackson.

“We are a young group, but we have talent,” Jones said.

As a result of the significant roster turnover, younger players will have more of an opportunity to play immediately.

The Trojans bring in two freshman guards, 6-foot-2 Alexis Moore from Long Beach Poly and 6-foot-5 Byron Wesley from Etiwanda.

“It is a lot of pressure with [Fontan] going down,” Moore said. “It is definitely not something we wanted, but now I will have to learn at an accelerated rate and play like a senior, even though I am only a freshman.”

Moore and Wesley will have to overcome jitters playing in their first official collegiate game.

“No matter what I say to these guys, they are going to be nervous,” USC coach Kevin O’Neill said. “They are freshman and have not played on this level before. It is a learning process.”

USC will also count on several transfers, including junior guard Greg Allen (Navarro College), junior center James Blasczyk (Lee College), redshirt sophomore forward Dewayne Dedmon (Antelope Valley College) and junior forward Aaron Fuller (Iowa).

The Trojans held two scrimmages, against Air Force and Long Beach State the last couple weeks, which were both closed to the media and fans, making tonight’s game the first opportunity for the general public to see the new players.

“I want us to be solid offensively,” O’Neill said. “Hopefully we run our stuff offensively and not turn over the ball.”

The Matadors lost their two leading scorers and four highest rebounders from last season, but bring back two starters. Senior guard Vinnie McGhee, who averaged 6.7 points per game last year, is Cal State Northridge’s leading returning scorer.

The game is the season opener for the Matadors as well. Cal State Northridge is ineligible for postseason competition this season because of a low Academic Progress Rate score.

The last time USC faced Cal State Northridge, in 2005, the Matadors came out on top, 81-76 in overtime.

Tip-off against the Matadors is scheduled for 8 p.m., following the women’s basketball game against Fresno State at 5 p.m.

“We are really looking forward to finally playing real games,” Jackson said. “We have been working out hard all summer doing lifting, conditioning and shooting, so we are excited and ready to play.”