Sunday’s melee gives USC black eye

Let’s put it this way: If you notice athletes prominently featured on Deadspin on a Sunday, they probably aren’t featured for any philanthropic reasons. It isn’t because they visited a downtown Boys & Girls Club. And it isn’t because they hosted an anti-crime campaign insisting people should “shoot baskets, not guns,” or anything like that.

Setback · Interim head coach Bob Cantu’s job of preparing his team for the Pac-12 tournament was made more difficult after Sunday’s fracas. - Ralf Cheung | Daily Trojan

Setback · Interim head coach Bob Cantu’s job of preparing his team for the Pac-12 tournament was made more difficult after Sunday’s fracas. – Ralf Cheung | Daily Trojan

No, they’re making news because of Saturday-night shenanigans. And that’s exactly what happened last Sunday afternoon to the USC men’s basketball team.

Sports news outlet Deadspin, citing a local television station, pointed out eyewitness reports claiming two USC players were involved in an altercation in downtown Spokane, Wash., that sent four people to the hospital. Senior center James Blasczyk and redshirt junior center Dewayne Dedmon are alleged to be involved.

The Trojans had been in Eastern Washington after facing Washington State earlier in the day in the teams’ regular-season finale. They spent the night in Spokane before leaving on a flight Sunday.

On Monday, USC interim head coach Bob Cantu suspended Blasczyk and Dedmon indefinitely, citing a violation of a team rule. Officials acknowledge they are aware of the police investigation but declined to comment further until more information comes to light.

To be fair, neither player has been arrested at this point. Neither has been charged. The investigation is ongoing.

But the allegations remain absolutely serious. According to Noel Macapagal, an employee and former owner of The Wave Sushi Island Sports Grill and Sushi Bar — the reported location of the brawl, one person was “knocked out cold.” A female employee left with a broken nose. Another employee suffered a broken jaw.

That isn’t some little shouting match. This is a drunken melee at       2 a.m. The incident is not just serious, but pathetic and deplorable. How much either Blasczyk and Dedmon participated in the ordeal remains unknown, but the allegations alone are no doubt disturbing.

Whoever takes over as the Trojans’ next head coach in the next month or so evidently has quite a bit of housecleaning to do. Mind you, the on-court mediocrity is more than apparent; a 20-43 mark over the last two seasons sticks out like a sore thumb. But beyond that, the program’s culture appears to be in declining disarray.

The odd thing is Athletic Director Pat Haden has previously noted that the team’s players have kept their noses clean, using that example as a rationale for retaining former coach Kevin O’Neill at the end of last season.

But, in examining the past two years, it hardly seems that way.

In January 2011, former freshman guard Bryce Jones faced dismissal from the team after punching a teammate and getting into a confrontation with a resident advisor at a campus dormitory, according to the Los Angeles Times.

In March 2011, O’Neill was infamously involved in an altercation with an Arizona booster in the lobby of a Downtown Los Angeles hotel. Photos surfaced of him that caused some to speculate that he was drunk and holding an alcoholic beverage in his left hand.

During a February 2012 road trip in Arizona, junior forward Ari Stewart, a Wake Forest transfer, was arrested on a charge of possessing marijuana and drug paraphernalia.

Does the program need a babysitter?

Now, on the heels of a 25-point loss to Washington State, news hits that players were involved in a so-called “rolling fight” that resulted in a handful of people being rushed to an area hospital.

Losing, and losing in such embarrassing fashion, naturally looks bad for any team. But, hey, guess what looks worse? Punching people on the street after a defeat.

USC basketball has become a bit of a running joke on this campus, in this city and in this conference. Losing plays a part, of course. But, instances like these only add to the punch line. It’s hard to take a program seriously when its players and coaches are caught in bar fights or arrested.

Do the players and coaches still take the program seriously?

Cleaning house, if you will, never seemed more imperative. This program is a fixer-upper, to say the least. Anyone who has followed the team in recent years understands and recognizes that. Nonetheless, every day serves as a reminder of how deep the problems rest and how unintentionally comical the program currently is.

Good thing this bunch will soon be en route to Las Vegas for the conference tournament.


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