It All Starts With 'D'

Feb. 25, 2003

By Nick Schenck, Sports Information Student Assistant

After USC's recent l08-78 loss at Arizona State, coach Henry Bibby could have complained about every aspect of his team's game. After all, they had 17 turnovers and were out-rebounded 42-28. Instead, coach Bibby concentrated on what normally carries the team.

'We played no defense at all,' said Bibby. 'It was our worst night defensively. If we score 78 and they score their average (74.7), we win the ballgame.'

Defense is not the most glamorous part of basketball, but unless you enjoy the view from the bench, you better learn to play it.

Derrick Craven, the Trojans' 6'2', 190-pound sophomore point guard, is fully educated in the art of defense.

'I like playing pressure defense,' said Derrick. 'I decided to come to USC because (coach Bibby) focuses on defense.'

Under Derrick's watch, some of the nation's best players, such as Missouri's Ricky Paulding, UCLA's Jason Kapono, Arizona's Jason Gardner, UNLV's Marcus Banks and Oregon's Luke Ridnour, have been held to a combined 30-of-76 (39.4 percent) from the field.

If you do not believe the stats, ask USC forward Desmon Farmer. After Derrick held UNLV's top scorer, Marcus Banks, to eight points (11 points below his season average), he said: '(Derrick Craven) is our best defender.'

Defense is only a small part of what Derrick brings to the team. He has also learned how to be more of a floor general and his offensive production has increased.

'The coaches tell me to shoot it,' said Derrick. 'My confidence has definitely improved. The coaches' confidence in me gives me confidence.'

The recent accolades that Derrick has received have been a welcome sign that his time is finally coming. After USC's all-time assist leader, Brandon Granville, graduated last year, the Trojans' starting point guard spot was anything but solidified coming into this season. Along with Derrick Craven, both senior Robert Hutchinson and transfer Brandon Brooks were competing for the starting job. When asked about his role coming into this season, Derrick said that starting was not even on his mind.

'I just wanted to learn how to run the offense and be a true point guard,' he said.Derrick's goals were understandably modest after returning from a freshman year in which he only averaged 6.5 minutes in 13 games, did not hit a three-pointer and missed USC's entire non-conference schedule with a stress fracture in his right leg.

'It was kind of difficult being injured (last year),' said Derrick. 'I felt a little helpless.'While mostly riding the bench, Derrick's twin brother, Errick, was Troy's fourth-leading scorer and the Pac-10 leader in steals--the only freshman to do so since

California's Jason Kidd did it during the 1992-1993 season. He also made the 2002 All-Pac-10 Freshman first team.

'I was happy about the attention that (Errick) received,' Derrick said. 'He is a good player. It was a little difficult (watching him), though, because we were identical players in high school.'

At Bishop Montgomery High School in Torrance, Calif., Derrick and Errick led their team to two consecutive California and CIF Southern Section Division III titles. After Derrick's senior season, for the second consecutive year, he shared CIF Division III Player of the Year and Del Rey League MVP honors with his brother. Derrick left Bishop Montgomery with career averages of 16.4 points, 6.4 rebounds, 5.6 assists and 1.9 steals.

Unlike many siblings that develop rivalries, the Cravens have always stuck with each other. During their high school recruiting process, they wanted to go to the same school together.

'It was a package deal the whole time (during our recruitment),' said Derrick. 'We have always been on the same team together. There is no competition, though. We have two different jobs, two different roles.'

This season started slowly for Derrick. In the Trojans' first 10 games, he only started half of them and averaged 16.5 minutes, 3.3 points and 1.6 assists, while shooting 36.3 percent from the field and missing both of his three-point attempts.

In the Trojans' 18th game of the year, a 98-73 win at UNLV, Trojan fans saw aside of Derrick's game that they had not seen before. He broke almost all of his previous career highs when he logged 30 minutes of playing time, scoring 17 points, making three of his four three-point attempts, and shooting 14 field-goal attempts, making seven.

'When he plays like that,' said coach Bibby, 'he brings a new dimension to our offense. His physicalness is a strength. He can probably get to the basket as well as anyone I've seen. As he improves his ball control near the basket, he will only get better.'

Coach Bibby was not the only coach that took notice of Derrick's stellar play. His old Bishop Montgomery high school coach, Doug Mitchell, liked what he saw as well.

'He said that's the way I used to play for him,' Derrick said.

People may argue that anybody can have one great game, but to Derrick, he did not see his performance as a fluke. He has always known what he is capable of.

'I've always had confidence,' said Derrick. 'I just didn't shoot it. I'm still learning the position (point guard). I felt like I had the green light (to shoot), but I didn't need to shoot because other people were scoring.'

For Errick Craven, his brother's performance just proved to other people what he has known for a long time: his brother can compete with the best in the country.

'I've been seeing him do it my whole life,' said Errick. 'So it's no surprise to me. I know what he can do.'

With the starting point guard reigns now firmly in his grasp, Derrick wants to contribute even more. Along with his defensive intensity, he is now incorporating other parts of his game in the team.

'I'm improving my shooting and I can drive to the hoop,' said Derrick. 'I have good upper-body strength and I've stepped up (this year) to be a more vocal leader.'

With his ability to shut down the opposition's top threat defensively and the ball in his hand to ignite an up-tempo offense, Derrick thinks that USC's fast-paced, full-court pressure style can yield great results.

'That's how we play,' said Derrick. 'We run now. When we get it going with our defense, our offense is so much better.

'In the years ahead, our goals are to go to the Elite 8, the Final Four and win the National Championship.'

With their starting five returning next year, along with another set of identical twins coming in, the Trojans are poised to accomplish some of those goals.

They just have to understand that it starts with 'D.'

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