It's An International Game
Aug. 5, 2009
LOS ANGELES - Not only is USC's basketball program the only one with a player selected in the top 16 picks in each of the last three NBA Drafts, but they are also developing talented players that can make their mark playing professionally overseas. This summer, alone, five players have either signed to play professional basketball internationally or to represent their country in international competititons.
Nikola Vucevic (2009-current) helped lead Montenegro to a seventh-place finish at the U20 European Championships held July 16-26 in Greece. Vucevic led the tournament with an average of 10.8 rebounds per game and led his team with a 15.5 scoring average. The Trojans' sophomore-to-be also posted six double-doubles and averaged 1.9 blocks per game, tops in the U20 European Championships. Vucevic averaged 2.6 points and 2.7 rebounds in 23 games last season for USC and is expected to take on a much bigger role in the upcoming season.
Keith Wilkinson (2006-09) has signed to play professionally in the Ukraine for Kryvbasbasket. He is reporting early this month for training camp in Serbia, with the season running Oct. 24 through May. Wilkinson averaged 2.7 points and 2.5 rebounds in 31 games for the Trojans last season, making 12 starts in his senior campaign. Wilkinson's value to the Trojans was never judged on his numbers, but on his ability to facilitate the offense, make smart basketball decisions and play hard. He began his USC career during the 2005-06 season with a one-year guaranteed scholarship, but played his way into a four-year scholarship and to a role as a key member of the Trojan teams which established a school record by winning 20 or more games and reached the NCAA Tournament three consecutive seasons.
'This is a great opportunity for me to continue playing the sport I love and to represent my country and USC,' said Wilkinson. 'I was able to see the program make a complete 180-degree turn and make the NCAA Tournament the last three seasons. I am glad to say that I am an alumnus of Southern California and was really blessed to have such a great opportunity.'
Daniel Hackett (2007-09) will be playing this season for Benetton Treviso in the Italy-SeriesA league. He will begin action on Sept. 29. Hackett left to pursue a professional career after three outstanding seasons of leading the Trojans. He averaged 8.7 points, 3.6 rebounds and 3.6 assists in his 101 career games and led USC to the NCAA Tournament each season. Last season, Hackett averaged 12.3 points, 4.2 rebounds and 4.7 assists and earned Pac-10 All-Conference second team honors. His total of 363 career assists ranks fifth all-time by a Trojan.
Davon Jefferson (2008) signed to play professionally a second season with the Maccabi Haifa Heat in the Israeli Premier League. Jefferson earned the League's Sixth Man Award after averaging 16.7 points and 7.9 rebounds while helping the Heat to the Israeli Premier League finals in 2009.
'I'm happy to return to Maccabi Haifa,' said Jefferson. 'I truly felt at home in Israel and I want to help this team go even further this year.'
'Davon was a key to our offense last season,' said Coach Avi Ashkenazi. 'His tremendous work ethic, desire to win and explosive offensive ability makes him one of the most dynamic players in Israel.'
In his one season at USC, Jefferson averaged 12.1 points and 6.3 rebounds and was named to the Pac-10 All-Freshman team.
Also, Mamadou Diarra has left USC after his second season with the intent to play basketball professionally. He is going to play this summer with the Mali National Team before signing with a professional team. The athletic Diarra played sparingly in his two injury-plagued seasons at USC, averaging 0.7 points and 0.4 rebounds in 15 games.