Men's Basketball Season Outlook
Oct. 11, 2002
USC men's basketball in 2002-2003 is not simply undergoing a changing of the guard. Actually, it's a guard and two forwards.
Point guard Brandon Granville, small forward David Bluthenthal and power forward Sam Clancy, their names strewn throughout the USC record books like no other graduating trio before them, have moved on. So, too, have their combined 310 starts in 353 games, their 4,400 points, 1,889 rebounds, 479 steals, 1,037 assists and 10,835 minutes.
But you won't find seventh-year head coach Henry Bibby pouting much as he begins efforts to take the Trojans to their third consecutive NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history.
There's too much to be proud of, too much to build on.
USC is coming off of consecutive 20-win seasons for only the second time in its history, complementing its 24-10 Elite Eight run in 2001 with a 22-10 record in 2002 that included a 12-6 finish in the Pac-10 (tied for second), a finals appearance in the Pac-10 Tournament, a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament and Clancy being crowned Pac-10 Player of the Year.
And as much weight as Clancy, Bluthenthal and Granville carried on their backs last year, USC's underclassmen began to manage their share by season's end. Combine it with a talented three-man junior college recruiting class in which each will challenge for meaningful minutes and Bibby is ready to roll up his sleeves and get back to work.
'It's exciting having all the new guys in and kind of starting all over,' said Bibby, who won his 100th game at USC toward the end of last season and takes a 103-77 record into this year. 'You do a little more when you have new guys in. I'm looking forward to the challenge.'
'I think we can be pretty good. The guys coming back know what we expect from them and what they have to do to be ready. The new guys are highly acclaimed JC players who will be battling alongside the returning guys for a chance to play.'
They will be competing to replace more than half the team's offense and half the team's minutes.
Clancy, drafted in the second round of the 2002 NBA Draft by the Philadelphia 76ers, accounted for much of that. As a 2002 senior, he earned FOXSports.com All-America first team and AP, USBWA and Basketball Times All-America second team honors, leading USC in scoring (19.1), rebounding (9.4), field goal percentage (.494) and blocks (1.5) and finishing second in steals (1.8). He left USC as its all-time leading shot-blocker (195), while finishing third in career points (1,657), second in rebounding (839) and fifth in steals (134).
Granville and Bluthenthal both earned All-Pac-10 honorable mention honors last year, averaging 12.5 and 12.3 points, respectively. Granville led USC in assists (5.8) for the fourth consecutive season. He finished as Troy's all-time leader in assists (779), three-pointers (218), steals (229), minutes (4,043) and games played (124). His 1,430 points are the eighth-most ever at USC. Bluthenthal was USC's top three-point shooter for the second consecutive season, making 62-of-153 (.405) and was second in rebounding (7.4). He is third on USC's career three-point chart (171), 10th in rebounds (755), sixth in steals (116) and 12th in scoring (1,313).
Okay, so maybe it won't be that easy to fill those shoes. But Bibby's not backing away from the challenge.
'It'll be different not having those guys there,' said Bibby, who is also replacing little-used reserve shooting guard Gennaro Busterna, who averaged 1.8 points per game. 'But this is college and you have to move on. They took us to another level and now we're going to have to go on without them.'
Leading the charge is a pair of guards who both proved to be worthy torchbearers of USC's basketball future.
But they are not alone. USC returns a pair of seniors in crafty 6-foot-1, 185-pound point guard Robert Hutchinson and the ever-improving Kostas Charissis, a 6-foot-11, 260-pound senior center. Both have seen meaningful time and starts in their careers.
Joining them are four second-year players who figure to blossom after a year's experience under their belts: sophomore Derrick Craven, a 6-foot-2, 190-pound point guard who is the identical twin of Errick Craven, 6-foot-11, 240-pound sophomore center Rory O'Neil, 6-foot-7, 200-pound junior forward Jerry Dupree and 6-foot-8, 220-pound sophomore forward Nick Curtis. A fifth second-year player, 6-foot-8, 245-pound forward Gregg Guenther Jr. , a tight end on the football team, will join the team at the end of the football season.
Completing the team is a class of three junior college transfers and one Division I transfer. USC's JUCO newcomers all figure to make an immediate impact in the Pac-10: sophomore Brandon Brooks, a 6-foot-1, 170-pound point guard, junior Jonathan Oliver, a 7-foot, 230-pound center and junior Roydell Smiley, a 6-foot-4, 195-pound guard. The other is Jeff McMillan, a 6-foot-8, 250-pound forward who played the last two years at Fordham and will sit out the 2003 season due to NCAA transfer rules, though he will be able to practice.
As it stands now, however, discussion of this year's squad starts with Errick Craven and Farmer.
Craven, a 2003 Basketball Times Preseason All-America honorable mention pick, started 28 of 32 games as a 2002 freshman, earning All-Pac-10 Freshman first team honors as USC's fourth-leading scorer and third-leading rebounder (4.4). A relentless player on both ends of the court, he became the first freshman to lead the Pac-10 in steals (2.1) since Cal's Jason Kidd in 1993 and his 68 steals were the second-most ever at USC. Craven's 376 points were the most for a USC freshman since Harold Miner had 578 in 1990. He scored a career-high 29 points at Washington State and tied a school record for most three-pointers made without a miss (five) against Rhode Island. He scored in double figures 20 times last year.
Said Bibby: 'Errick is a scorer in so many ways. He can score offensively and off of his defense. He shoots the ball well. One of his criticisms coming in last year was he couldn't shoot, but he proved he could knock down a shot. Once he works on driving and changing hands, he could become very hard to guard.'
Farmer, who started 16 games as a freshman and five times in 31 games as a sophomore, is another unyielding player who plays with his heart on his sleeve. Playing 22.5 minutes per game last year, Farmer posted 14 double-digit scoring efforts, including five in a row to end the season, the longest such stretch of his career. During the final five games (all off the bench), which included the regular-season finale against Oregon State, three Pac-10 Tournament games against Stanford, Oregon and Arizona, and the NCAA Tournament game against UNC-Wilmington, Farmer averaged 17.6 points (second only to Clancy) and 4.0 rebounds, making 30-of-55 field goals (.545) and 13-of-29 three-pointers (.448). He tied season highs of 20 points and four three-pointers in the NCAA Tournament, matching totals he had against Rhode Island.
Said Bibby: 'He really turned it on at the end of last year. He was playing as well as anyone we've had in the last stages of the season. When he's focused, he's as good as anyone I've coached here. He can be a real scorer for us this year. He has the ability to get the crowd involved in our games and can be an 'instant offense' type of guy for us. If he can pick up where he left off at the end of 2002, he can turn into a diamond in the rough.'
USC's two seniors, Hutchinson and Charissis, will vie for more minutes and increased roles in their final year with the Trojans.
Hutchinson, USC's team captain as a 2002 junior guard, played in 30 of 32 games, starting once. A veteran of 62 career games, he had 48 assists and only 21 turnovers last year, averaging 2.0 points in 11.7 minutes per game. He had a career-high 10 points in a career-high 26 minutes at Loyola Marymount after playing 24 minutes at San Diego, 19 of which came in the second half and overtime. He had a career-high seven assists at Arizona. He'll be long remembered, however, for his performance in the second round of the 2001 NCAA Tournament when he made 5-of-6 free throws in the final 77 seconds to seal the win over Boston College.
Said Bibby: 'Robert is a steady player and brings a lot of stability to the team. He's proven the last two years he can come in and be an effective player for us. He's a winner and it rubs off on the other guys.'
Charissis, a Greek native who has developed into an imposing presence in the paint, started 18 of 20 games at center last year, but only averaged 10.4 minutes per game. He missed the final eight games of the season with a fracture in his left ankle and had to sit out the Trojans' first three games because of a violation of NCAA amateurism rules. He averaged 2.3 points and 2.9 rebounds in his limited time. He had a career-high 10 rebounds against Cal and had eight points and two blocks in 30 minutes. He played with the Greek National Team for a short time this summer.
Said Bibby: 'Hopefully Kostas' time with the Greek National Team afforded him the chance to get some good quality minutes this summer. He gives us another big body. He knows the ropes around here and should be able to step in and give us some good production this year.'
Another center who Bibby hopes will produce this year is O'Neil, who has worked hard in the weight room to add muscle to his long frame since enrolling at USC. Already a polished perimeter shooter, O'Neil is striving to improve his inside game, on offense and defense. He started three of 32 games as a 2002 freshman, averaging 4.3 points and 2.3 rebounds in 13.4 minutes per game. His 21 blocks were second best on the team. He had five double-digit scoring efforts, including a career-high 14 points on 7-of-9 shooting against Stanford at the Sports Arena and another 12 points at Stanford. He had four blocks in a game twice, against Arizona State and at Bradley.
Said Bibby: 'Rory is still getting better and is getting bigger and stronger as well. He's like a sponge. He soaks up everything you tell him and does everything you ask him to do. He can shoot from the outside or go inside. Once he gets stronger, his inside game will grow. He's got a great presence about him. He's far along offensively, but needs to catch up on the other end.'
Dupree is another Trojan who worked hard in the off-season to improve his all-around game. As athletic as any player in the country, Dupree started seven of 30 games as a 2002 sophomore forward, averaging 3.7 points and 1.8 rebounds in 11.7 minutes per game. His 19 blocks were third best on the team. He came on strong at the end of the season and had a big showing in the Pac-10 Tournament, averaging 10.3 points, 3.7 rebounds and 2.0 blocks in the three games, making 14-of-19 field goals (.737). Those efforts included 10 points against Stanford, 12 points against Oregon and nine points and four blocks against Arizona. He had a season-high 13 points and seven rebounds in USC's season-opener against Wyoming. He will sit out USC's first six games to focus on priorities as a student-athlete.
Said Bibby: 'Jerry's strength is his athleticism, but there are other things he needs to work on to become more of a factor. He's been working on his ball-handling and improving his shooting this summer, things that will hopefully pay off this winter. Whenever Jerry is on the court, it's like having another 7-footer on the floor because of his shot-blocking abilities.'
Derrick Craven is yet another one of Bibby's second-year players who started to come on at the end of last year. Athletic, aggressive and defensive-minded, a stress fracture in his right leg cost him the non-conference schedule, but he eventually found a niche in the rotation by season's end as a backup point guard. He averaged 6.5 minutes in 13 games, but played in each of USC's final eight games and averaged 10.0 minutes per game in the last five. He played a career-high 20 minutes in the regular-season finale against Oregon State with a career-best four assists and two blocks. He played 10 minutes against Stanford in the Pac-10 Tournament with two steals.
Said Bibby: '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. He's a solid defensive player who gives everything he's got and is coming along offensively.'
Curtis, like O'Neil, has bulked up since coming to campus and hopes to parlay his increased strength with his already agile body into more playing time. He started four of 22 games as a 2002 freshman forward, going 9-of-23 from the field with three blocks. He had a season-high six points in 11 minutes in the season opener vs. Wyoming and scored five points against Rhode Island.
Said Bibby: 'We've thought about using Nick at small forward because he's so agile, but will probably use him at both small and power forward. He's still so young, but he's starting to fill out his frame. I think he can step up and give us some quality minutes. He can be a great shot blocker and defensive presence.'
Guenther is one Trojan whose frame is already filled out. A physical athlete, Guenther provides the Trojans with a good deal of muscle in the post with the ability to rebound. He played in nine games after joining the team last year, starting three times. He averaged 3.8 minutes an outing and had nine rebounds. He is set to join the team after the 2002 football season.
Said Bibby: 'Gregg did a good job for us after coming over from football last year. He's a very physical player who brings a good degree of toughness to the team.'
Brooks comes to USC as highly touted as any junior college transfer in the country. A talented playmaker and a tenacious defender, he will challenge for the starting job at point guard. Brooks was named the top-rated JUCO sophomore point guard by Lindy's Basketball and a Street & Smith's Preseason All-America fourth team selection entering the 2002 season. But he did not play last year at Indian Hills College in Ottumwa, Ia., and transferred to Compton (Calif.) College in January of 2002. He completed the academic year there while redshirting. As a 2001 freshman at Indian Hills, Brooks averaged 14.7 points and 7.6 assists, earning NJCAA Region XI first team honors.
Said Bibby: 'Brandon Brooks is kind of an extension of Brandon Granville. He's a heady point guard and a winner. He plays the open-court game well and distributes the ball as well as anyone we've had here. He brings a competitive edge. He will help make up for the kind of intangibles we lose without Granville.'
Oliver, like O'Neil, is a fluid big man who is light on his feet. He is a superb shot blocker and runs the floor with ease. Bibby hopes he will help fill the defensive void left by Clancy and will contribute on offense as well. Oliver earned 2002 California Community College All-State first team honors and was the Western State Conference MVP after averaging 17.1 points, 11.3 rebounds and 5.2 blocks per game as a 2002 sophomore at Ventura (Calif.) College. He started all 33 of his team's games and shot 62.8% from the field (213-of-339). His 173 blocks (5.2) were first in the state and broke Ventura's single-season and career records.
Said Bibby: 'He's a true shot blocker, but is someone who hasn't reached his potential yet. As he puts on a little weight and becomes more aggressive, he can be a dominating factor in this league. He's got a nice touch around the basket, can really clean up around the boards and can run the floor well. He can be as good as he wants to be.'
Smiley, a sharpshooter, rounds out the eligible newcomers. Another hard-nosed player, Smiley is a versatile player who can fill multiple roles for Bibby. He earned NJCAA Region XI first team honors as a 2002 sophomore and a 2001 freshman at Southeastern Iowa College in West Burlington, Ia. He averaged 14.7 points and 3.6 assists last year as a sophomore. Prior to his sophomore season, Smiley was named a Street & Smith's Preseason All-America fourth teamer.
Said Bibby: 'Roydell is a competitive player who plays hard, brings a lot of toughness and will get an opportunity to contribute. He's more of a shooting guard or a small forward, but can play the point also. He's a scorer. He can shoot outside and drive. He's a guy you love because he plays so hard.'
McMillan, who will challenge for playing time a year from now, will serve a meaningful role in practice as a tough rebounder and shot blocker. He started 14 of Fordham's 28 games as a sophomore power forward for the Rams in 2001-02. He led Fordham with 7.6 rebounds per game and averaged 10.2 points.
Said Bibby: 'Jeff is a big, physical player who has already shown that he can play well at the Division I level. He will be valuable in practice this year and we look forward to getting him more involved a year from now.'
Said Bibby on his early assessment of the squad: 'I'd like for this to become a defensive team and an aggressive team, one that can utilize its athleticism.'
USC is scheduled to open non-conference play on Nov. 22 against UC Riverside. Among the non-conference highlights is a Wooden Classic match-up against Missouri, which reached the NCAA Elite Eight last year, a road game at Big West Tournament champion UC Santa Barbara, a home date against Ivy League winner Pennsylvania and a contest at NIT participant Nevada-Las Vegas. The Trojans open Pac-10 play at Washington State on Jan. 2.
'We have a competitive schedule and will face a lot of quality teams in the preseason,' Bibby said. 'Hopefully, it will prepare us for the rigors of the Pac-10, which will be as tough as always.'
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