Men's Basketball Season Outlook
Oct. 11, 2000
LOS ANGELES - Here's what we do know about the 2000-2001 USC men's basketball team.
The Trojans return all five starters, four of whom were either 2000 All-Pac-10 first team or honorable mention selections. USC's first team pick, 6-foot-9 senior forward/center Brian Scalabrine, has already been tabbed a 2001 Playboy pre-season All-American and is sure to be included in any Wooden Award discussion.
USC also returns 97.2% of its scoring, 86.4% of its rebounding, 97.9% of its three-point production, 99.2% of its blocked shots, 95.8% of its assists and 93.8% of its steals. Overall, USC has eight players coming back who accounted for 94.4% of the minutes played last year.
What we don't know is how those figures will translate on the court. On the proverbial paper, the Trojans seem loaded.
The question mark then stems from these two figures - 53.3% and 50.0%. Those were USC's respective winning percentages after finishing 16-14 overall and 9-9 in the Pac-10 (sixth place) last year, records not quite good enough to earn the Trojans any postseason action.
USC opened 1999-2000 strong. In fact, seven games into the Pac-10 schedule, the Trojans stood tied for first in the conference at 6-1.
But foot injuries to returning 6-foot-7 junior power forward Sam Clancy and 6-foot-8 senior forward Jarvis Turner (a key reserve who was granted a medical hardship by the NCAA and awarded a fifth year of eligibility) in the same game against Arizona State early in the Pac-10 season took the steam out of the hot start and turned what looked to be a promising, NCAA Tournament-bound season into an off-season of what-ifs.
A year ago, the two injuries devastated the Trojans, who had little experience on the bench to fill the production void. Now, in addition to 5-foot-9 junior point guard Brandon Granville, 6-foot-4 senior shooting guard Jeff Trepagnier, 6-foot-7 junior small forward David Bluthenthal, Clancy and Scalabrine back as starters, USC returns Turner plus 6-foot-4 sophomore shooting guard Nate Hair and 6-foot-11 sophomore center Kostas Charissis, both of whom got quite a bit of experience filling in for their injured teammates. Also available this year is 7-foot-3 center Luke Minor, who redshirted as a freshman last year.
Combine that with three talented incoming guards in 6-foot-4 freshman Desmon Farmer and junior college transfers Robert Hutchinson (6-foot-1 sophomore) and Gennaro Busterna (6-foot-3 junior) and USC looks primed to be a factor in the Pac-10 title race in 2001.
Fifth-year coach Henry Bibby (57-57), who has directed the Trojans to winning seasons in three of his first four years and two post-season trips, likes USC's chances.
Said Bibby: 'With five starters back, the key is maintaining good chemistry. We can go as far as we want to go. I think last year, while we were still healthy, we showed we were an unselfish team and were willing to share the ball with one another.
'If we continue to play like that, there will be enough opportunities for everyone and we will be in the hunt for the Pac-10 title. When we're playing well and executing, we can be a good team. It's just a matter of doing it together.
'We weren't as deep as we would have liked last year and the injuries hurt us. If we hadn't lost Jarvis Turner and Sam Clancy, we would have contended for the Pac-10 title last year. When two of your top six guys go down, it hurts. Our bench was thin last year. This year, there is more to turn to.'
Since Turner received a fifth year, the Trojans are only without reserve guards Malachi Thurston (academics) and Rashad Jones (shoulder) from last year's team. Thurston and Jones, however, averaged only a combined 6.5 minutes per game and the depth they added notwithstanding, their contributions were minimal.
The reverse can be said about All-American candidate Scalabrine. As a junior last year, he earned All-Pac-10 and NABC All-District 15 first team honors and he is the Pac-10's top returning scorer (17.8 points). One of the most versatile players in the country, Scalabrine led the Trojans in field goal percentage (.531, fifth in the conference), tied for the best three-point percentage (.403), was second in assists (2.83) and was fourth in rebounds (6.0). His 19.4 scoring average in Pac-10 games was second in the league. He scored in double figures in 26 of 30 games, scoring at least 20 points 12 times and at least 25 points six times.
Said Bibby: 'Like he has done each year he's been here, Brian Scalabrine has worked hard before, during and after the season. This off-season won't be any different. He has a good all-around game and has really become one of the top players in the conference and the country. But there's still plenty to work on, like improving his rebounding.'
The only other senior on the team is Trepagnier, one of the top athletes in the country who used his 40-inch vertical leap to moonlight as one of the Pac-10's premier high jumpers after basketball season for the second straight year. Trepagnier, USC's second-leading returning scorer and third-leading returning rebounder, looks to continue the improvements that have made him one of the country's most versatile players. A 2000 All-Pac-10 honorable mention and NABC All-District 15 second team selection, he led the Pac-10 in steals (3.2, ninth nationally) and was the only player in the league to finish in the Top 10 in five statistical categories, posting career highs in each: steals, blocked shots (1.4, fourth), scoring (15.9, sixth), rebounding (6.6, 10th) and three-point percentage (.380, 10th). He also shattered the school season record for steals with 94 (the previous mark was 62). The past two springs, he cleared more than seven feet to place second in the Pac-10 high jump.
Said Bibby: 'Jeff Trepagnier is an example of someone who has improved each year he has been here. When he came to USC, he was more of an athlete than a basketball player. But through a lot of hard work, he is rounding into a complete player. He's not quite there yet. He still needs to work on his ball-handling and becoming more consistent on his finishes, but he has made big strides. Last year, he proved to be one of our top outside shooters. We expect nothing but more improvements from Jeff this year.'
Clancy was the only starter among the group who didn't earn any Pac-10 honors, mainly because he missed 10 games recovering from his fractured foot injured Jan. 20 against the Sun Devils. He returned for USC's final four games of the season, but saw limited action coming off the bench. Now completely healthy, Clancy is slated to start for his third consecutive year. He is one of the Pac-10's top rebounders and is rounding into one of the league's most consistent scorers from the post or outside. He is also a fine shot blocker who enters the 2001 season seventh on USC's career blocked shot chart with 66. He averaged 15.5 points and 6.9 rebounds last year. But at the time of the injury, Clancy was averaging team highs in points (17.6, also second in the Pac-10), rebounds (7.8) and blocks (1.6).
Said Bibby: 'Sam Clancy was having a great year until he got hurt. He had become a consistent scorer and rebounder for us. He's worked hard in the off-season and should only improve. If there's anything I'd ask of Sam, it's to up his intensity level a notch or two and play with a frown on his face.'
Perhaps the biggest and most pleasant surprise of last season was the blossoming of Bluthenthal, who grew from a seldom-used freshman into a 2000 All-Pac-10 honorable mention pick as a sophomore. He averaged a USC-best 8.3 rebounds per game (third in the Pac-10 and the best USC mark since 1995) and his 250 rebounds were the 14th-most ever by a Trojan in one season. He was the team's fourth-leading scorer, averaging 13.9 points per game, and he also finished as the squad's top free throw shooter, canning 74-of-88 foul shots (.841, fifth best in the Pac-10 and fifth best in USC history). Bluthenthal was the Pac-10's top rebounder in conference games, finishing with a 9.9 clip, the best ever by a Trojan in the Pac-10. Bluthenthal's season was highlighted by a monster performance against Arizona State at the Sports Arena when he tied a USC record (set by Cliff Robinson) with 28 rebounds.
Said Bibby: 'David Bluthenthal, in really his first year playing, came through great for us last year. When Sam Clancy went down, David stepped up and helped fill the void offensively and in rebounding. He showed he can play at a high level in this conference. If he can improve his quickness and ball-handling, he'll be that much more effective this season.'
Rounding out the starters is Granville, coming off a season in which he set USC's single-season record for assists (248) and earned 2000 All-Pac-10 honorable mention honors. Granville led the Pac-10 in assists (8.3, fourth nationally), was fourth in steals (2.1) and 10th in free throw percentage (.786). He averaged 13.1 points per game. He finished with a team-best nine double-doubles and 13 double-digit assist efforts. Granville set a USC single-game record with 15 assists against Memphis in the Maui Invitational (tied for sixth-best in Pac-10 history). He made a team-best 57 three-pointers and his 62 steals tied for the second-best effort ever at USC. He needs just 22 assists to surpass Larry Friend as USC's all-time assists leader.
Said Bibby: 'Brandon Granville really showed he's one of the top point guards in the conference last year. Now I'd like to see him step it up a notch and be a little more intense out there. He's our floor general and the team will follow his lead, so that's important.'
USC's remaining three returning players, Turner, Hair and Charissis, will provide valuable minutes and experience, off the bench this year.
Turner played in only seven of USC's 30 games during his 2000 senior season because of foot injuries. He missed nine games early in the season (not continuously) with a stress fracture in his left foot which he originally suffered in the preseason. He returned at the start of the Pac-10 season, but played in only four games before suffering a fracture in his left ankle against Arizona State on Jan. 20 which kept him out for the rest of the year. Overall, Turner averaged 1.7 points and 1.6 rebounds in 14.1 minutes per game. He had a season-high five points in 14 minutes at Washington State.
Said Bibby: 'It is great to have a veteran like Jarvis Turner back on the team because he knows what it takes to win. He's had a tough career at USC because of injuries and hopefully he can make the most of this opportunity. It's good to have another player on the bench who we know we can count on.'
Last year Hair got off to a slow start after suffering a stress fracture in his knee during the preseason, but rounded into shape as the Pac-10 season started and proved a valuable reserve after Clancy and Turner went down. He played in 27 of 30 games, starting three times. He averaged 4.2 points in 16.7 minutes per game and made .403 of his three-pointers (29-of-72), tying him with Scalabrine for the best accuracy on the team. It was also good enough for eighth best in the Pac-10. In conference games, Hair averaged 5.2 points and 2.0 rebounds in 19.5 minutes per game and his .453 three-point percentage (24-of-53) was best on the team and fifth best in the Pac-10.
Said Bibby: 'Nate Hair shot the ball well for us last year and should improve drastically overall this year. He's worked hard in the off-season to improve. If he can make strides defensively, the sky is the limit for his playing time. He was hurt at the start of last year, so it took him a while to get into the flow. A healthy start this year will enable him to make that much more progress.'
Charissis was an unlikely source of contributions. A native of Greece, he spent his first year in the United States trying to get acclimated to the country and to American-style basketball. He did both well. Charissis played in 26 of 30 games last year, starting 13 times after Clancy and Turner were injured. He averaged only 1.5 points and 2.1 rebounds in 9.8 minutes per game, but had by far his most productive game of the season at No. 4 Arizona, posting career highs in points (nine), rebounds (eight), minutes (33), free throws made and attempted (3 of 4) and assists (four).
Said Bibby: 'He improved in every game he played last year. He has become bigger in the off-season and has worked tremendously hard on his post moves and his rebounding. He should be a factor if he continues these improvements. This will not only be his second year with the team and in Pac-10 basketball, but his second year in the country, so he should be more comfortable in all aspects of his life.'
Minor should be one of the more interesting cases on this year's Trojan team. He spent his true freshman season as a redshirt and had in-season surgery to correct hammer toes on both feet. He was back practicing with the team by the end of the regular season and Bibby expects nothing but improvements from USC's tallest player ever.
Said Bibby: 'Luke Minor has monster size and, after surgery on his feet last year, is really improving his mobility. He has already improved 200% from high school and hopefully, he'll make a similar jump this year. We won't have to depend on him too much this year, but with his size and shooting touch, we feel he'll be an integral part of the team in the future.'
Challenging Hair and Charissis for playing time off the bench will be Farmer, from Northwestern High in Flint, Mich., Hutchinson from Okaloosa-Walton College in Niceville, Fla., and Busterna from McCook (Neb.) College.
Farmer comes to USC as a highly decorated shooting guard who can also play the point or small forward. But his forte is as a swingman, where his athleticism and shooting touch should enable him make an immediate contribution. He averaged 23.0 points per game as a senior, earning All-State second team honors.
Said Bibby: 'Desmon Farmer is a fine athlete with great leadership qualities and he brings a lot of intangibles that we're excited to have. He's a total winner. We feel he exemplifies where this program is going.'
With Jones gone, Hutchinson takes over duties as back-up point guard to Granville. At Okaloosa-Walton, Hutchinson was a 2000 All-Panhandle Conference and Region 8 state tournament first team selection. On a team with six players scoring in double figures, Hutchinson averaged 13.5 points, 7.2 assists and 2.6 rebounds per game. He shot 44.0% from three-point range and 75.0% from the foul line. His three-point percentage was a school record, as were his season totals in three-pointers (78), assists (208) and steals (48).
Said Bibby: 'Robert Hutchinson is a great addition to our team. He handles the ball well, knows how to direct an offense and will also lend some shooting touch from the outside. He is a great combo guard who can play the 1 or the 2.'
Another combo guard who will compete for time is Busterna, a sharpshooter who can play the point and at small forward. As a sophomore, Busterna was the 2000 Nebraska Junior College and Nebraska Community College Athletic Conference Player of the Year and earned 2000 All-Region 9 first team honors while leading McCook to a 25-6 record. He averaged 20.8 points and 6.0 rebounds per game last year. He shot .505 from the field (202-436), .491 from three-point range (113-of-230) and .744 from the foul line (64-of-86).
Said Bibby: 'Gennaro Busterna brings another quality shooter to the team and adds a dimension from the outside that we lacked at times last year. He can also fill in at small forward or at the point. He should be a factor as we look to improve this year.'
All that is left is to see how the team comes together. Bibby expects to get some help from Scalabrine and Trepagnier, his two seniors on the team.
Said Bibby: 'With all five starters back plus Jarvis Turner, we shouldn't have to look too far for leaders on the team. But I always ask a little more from my seniors. Brian, Jeff and Jarvis need to set the example of what needs to be done. All three have been great in the off-season and I expect them to continue that into the season.'Our practices should be more intense this year and we'll be able to simulate more game situations. We're going to get after it in practice and hopefully that will translate well into the games. Practice is where guys earn their minutes.'