O'Neill: A Perfect Fit
Nov. 20, 2009
There is a saying that one person's loss is another person's gain and that ishow USC feels about new head basketball coach Kevin O'Neill. USC had asurprise opening on its staff and feels they have found the perfect man totake control of the men's basketball program.
'We're thrilled to have Kevin O'Neill as our men's basketball coach,' said USCathletic director Mike Garrett. 'Kevin is the consummate coach. He knows his Xs andOs, he's an excellent recruiter and he is very in tune with the academic side of aplayer's collegiate experience. I love his coaching philosophy and principles: he's ano-nonsense coach who is very detail-oriented and prepares his teams well. Hestresses defense and I've always believed that defense wins championships.'
The University of Arizona also thought O'Neill was the perfect man to succeedlegendary coach Lute Olson and named him its successor in December of 2007, onlyto have Olson announce his intent return. O'Neill then moved on to hone his skills one more season in the NBA with the Memphis Grizzlies and its budding star formerTrojan O.J. Mayo.
The Trojans then came calling and both parties couldn't be happier.
'This isn't just any job,' said O'Neill. 'This is a job where you can compete fornational championships. I've been offered other jobs before, but I wanted to wait for the right one. USC is a great job. My attraction to the job was simple: It's USC! They major in graduation and championships here, two pretty good things. The fact that there is an investigation going on did not change my view of the university. I was taking the job no matter what...the old saying is somebody's loss is somebody else's gain.'
Make no mistake about it, there were some issues to be dealt with, but O'Neillas is his nature is taking them head on. USC had lost most of its recruiting classand had to replace five players on its roster that had moved on to the NBA or toplay professionally. The first thing he did was to reassure the remaining rosterand their parents that he would be here for the long term. To that extent, hescheduled trips to meet with the parents of each athlete, even if it meant makinga trip to Montenegro to visit sophomore forward Nikola Vucevic's parents.
Next he had to begin recruiting under difficult circumstances and according toall sources has been building two strong classes (2010 and 2011), with his 2010class ranked as high as No. 13 in the nation by ESPN. O'Neill has seized control of the program and has had surprising early success on the recruiting trail by working hard, being a straight-shooter and displaying endless amounts of energy...often in the office by 6 a.m.
Everyone who has interacted with the Trojans' new head coach has found himto be very open and engaging, despite his hard-nosed reputation.
'I think he's a positive guy,' USC forward Leonard Washington said. 'I like theway he's approaching everything. It's not an easy job to take this job aftereverything that has been going on.'
'Coach O'Neill is a really cool guy,' added USC guard Dwight Lewis. 'He mayask a lot of us, but is very upfront and fair about everything. We are having funand I think we are going to surprise people this season.'
'Contrary to popular belief, I'm not Darth Vader,' kidded O'Neill. 'I really onlyhave two rules: be on time and don't be a jerk. I don't have a lot of rules. I just have a high expectation level and accountability level on and off the court. We are going to deal with whatever comes out of this and be positive and move forward.'
The team has taken to O'Neill, and he and his wife Roberta have taken to Trojanlife. 'This is a great city and we are at a great university, what's not to like,' said O'Neill. 'The Trojan spirit throughout the campus and city is amazing. You really feel the great alumni network everywhere you go.'
O'Neill has already established a good bond with football head coach PeteCarroll and has promised to emulate some of the things that Carroll has done withthe football program.
'Coach Carroll not only created a team of winners, but more importantly becamean ambassador for our university by showing how you can use athletics to inspireand help the young people of Los Angeles. It's my goal to do the same with USCbasketball - make it a program that both excites and inspires our community.'
O'Neill's wife Roberta has also entrenched herself in the Trojan family gettinginvolved in USC charity endeavors and even taking the Trojan pilgrimage to SouthBend, Ind. this year for the USC-Notre Dame football game.'That was such a great experience,' said Roberta O'Neill. 'I had such a greattime and believe we can establish the same type of enthusiasm and interest inthe basketball program.'
USC found itself in unsettled waters in June, but believes they have found theright captain to navigate the ship through the turbulence. With several keyplayers having to miss the first semester and others battling early season injuries,the Trojans may struggle to find their sea legs early, but USC feels they settingsail on the right course.
Under former coach Tim Floyd USC reached the NCAA tournament the lastthree seasons and then one the school's first Pac-10 Tournament title in March.'I want to be able to continue the good things that Tim was doing here,' saidO'Neill. 'He really did a nice job with the program.
And the Trojans are becoming firm believers in the saying, one person's loss isanother person's gain...and it appears clear that USC is the one which has gained.