2003-04 Men's Basketball Outlook
July 7, 2003
Henry Bibby rarely faulted their effort.
His 2002-2003 USC basketball team was a young group, finding its way without the benefit of any impact seniors. They were competitive in nearly every game and held second-half leads in most despite fielding a team handcuffed by injuries throughout the season.
But it was a team that couldn't finish what it started. It had trouble holding leads late and lost nine Pac-10 games in which it led in the second half.
It all came together in the Pac-10 Tournament as the Trojans upset ranked Stanford and California teams to earn a showdown with Oregon in the championship game, playing for the right to win the conference's automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament.
And then it happened again. USC led by as many as seven points in the first half and, after falling behind big in the second half, closed to within four points with 2:30 to go. But the Trojans couldn't get over the hump, couldn't close the deal. The NCAA Tournament, so tantalizing close, was now another year away.
Bibby is confident that year is this year.
He returns the top six scorers from last year's team and nine players overall (including one redshirt) -- all juniors and seniors -- and fully expects to improve on the Trojans' 13-17 overall record of last year (6-12 in the Pac-10, tied for sixth). Complementing his returning players are a trio of highly rated prep guards who will make an already athletic USC team as physically talented as any in the country.
Said Bibby, entering his eighth season as the USC head coach: 'We have a lot of guys coming back who gained a lot of experience last year. We cost ourselves a lot of losses late in games, games we could've won. We need to learn from that. We won 13 games last year with a young team and we expect to be better this year.
'We knew we'd be a little down last year. This year, we should be okay.'
An understatement, no doubt.
The 2003 season was highlighted by USC's first season sweep of UCLA since 1992 and the Trojans' second consecutive appearance in the Pac-10 Tournament's title game. Only one year removed from back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances, including an Elite Eight run in 2001 and a No. 4 seed in 2002, Bibby hopes the highlight list grows longer in 2004.
Desmon Farmer, a 6-foot-5, 220-pound senior swingman, is back as the Pac-10's third-leading returning scorer (18.7) after becoming USC's 28th player ever to score at least 1,000 points in his career last season. Joining him in the backcourt is 6-foot-2, 190-pound junior shooting guard Errick Craven and 6-foot-2, 200-pound junior point guard Derrick Craven. Identical twins, Errick was USC's second-leading scorer (13.0) last year and led Troy in assists and steals while Derrick was second in both categories. Rounding out the backcourt experience is 6-foot-4, 195-pound senior guard Roydell Smiley, USC's fourth-leading scorer last year who should be ready for the start of fall practice after suffering a broken leg in USC's season finale loss.
Rory O'Neil, a 6-foot-11, 240-pound junior center, returns as USC's top offensive post threat and shot blocker after averaging 10.1 points and 1.3 blocks in 2003. Nick Curtis, a 6-foot-8, 220-pound athletic junior forward, had a big start derailed by nagging foot injuries last year, but still tied for the team lead in rebounding (5.3) and hopes to build on last year's strong first act. Junior forward Gregg Guenther Jr., a 6-foot-8, 245-pound two-sport athlete who is a key contributor at tight end for Pete Carroll's football team, was a pleasant surprise last year in the paint and will again join Bibby's team after football season is over. Jonathan Oliver, a 7-foot, 230-pound senior center, is also back, looking to become a factor after seeing only limited playing time as a junior.
USC will also have the services of 6-foot-8, 260-pound junior power forward Jeff McMillan, who redshirted the 2003 season after transferring from Fordham. One of the Atlantic 10 Conference's top rebounders as a freshman and sophomore, he is a true banger in the paint who will add a strong rebounding and inside scoring presence that went missing at times last year.
Completing the team are three highly touted freshman guards, including another set of identical twins. Rodrick and Lodrick Stewart, 6-foot-4, 200 pounds and 6-foot-4, 210 pounds, respectively, and 6-foot, 175-pound Quinton Day were all rated among the top 80 players in Basketball Times' Top 100 prep seniors in 2003. All three are expected to have an impact for the Trojans in 2004.
USC said goodbye to a pair of key seniors from last year in point guard Robert Hutchinson and center Kostas Charissis. Hutchinson averaged 5.1 points in 23 games last year, largely as a reserve, while Charissis averaged 2.8 points and 3.7 rebounds in 19 games.
Also gone are guard Brandon Brooks and forward Jerry Dupree. Brooks, a sophomore point guard last season, suffered a career-ending ankle and leg injury in January. He was averaging 4.5 points in 10 games off the bench at the time of the injury. Dupree, a junior in 2003 who averaged 5.0 points in 21 games, failed to meet expectations as a student-athlete and is no longer with the team.
Farmer, USC's leading scorer in 19 of 30 games last year, including the final 13 in a row, was named a 2003 All-Pac-10 honorable mention selection and also earned Pac-10 All-Tournament honors after he averaged 22.0 points and 4.3 rebounds in the conference tourney as a junior. He averaged 18.7 points overall and 20.4 points in Pac-10 play, becoming only the second Trojan to average at least 20 points in conference games since 1992. He scored in double figures 27 times and had at least 20 points 14 times. He was among 52 players who participated in the 2003 USA Basketball Men's National Team Trials for a spot on the U.S. Pan Am Games team, though he did not make the team.
Said Bibby: 'Desmon Farmer is our returning MVP and a senior and we expect a lot of leadership from him. Along with Rory O'Neil, he's one of the guys we'll run our offense through. Desmon has improved each year he's been here and I expect he'll do the same this year.'
Errick Craven, one of the top defensive guards in the Pac-10 who led the conference in steals last year for the second consecutive season, averaged 13.0 points (second on the team) and 5.3 rebounds (tied for first) as a sophomore, starting 26 of 29 games. USC's top all-around player, he became the first Trojan ever to lead USC in rebounds (5.3), assists (2.6) and steals (2.5). His 73 steals not only led the Pac-10 last year but were the second-most ever in a season at USC (behind Jeff Trepagnier's 94). His averages of 14.9 points and 6.2 rebounds in Pac-10 play were both 12th best in the conference and his 2.3 career steals average is just off Pac-10 record-holder Jason Kidd's 2.5.
Said Bibby: 'Like Desmon, Errick is a leader for us. He does a lot of things well, including rebounding and disrupting the passing lanes on defense. He can really spark our defense. We're looking for better consistency on offense from Errick. He's working hard in the summer to improve his outside game.'
Errick's twin brother, Derrick, averaged 4.6 points and 2.2 rebounds in 19.9 minutes per game last year, starting 25 of 30 games as a sophomore. One of only two Trojans to play in every game (Desmon Farmer was the other), his 40 steals and 70 assists were both the second-highest totals on the team. He scored in double figures seven times (doing it in back-to-back games three times), including a career-high 17-point effort at UNLV that featured a career-best three three-pointers.
Said Bibby: 'Derrick made steady improvement last year as a point guard, considering it was really his first time doing it at this level. He got experience running the offense and took some steps forward offensively. We need him to continue to improve offensively. He's already a fine defensive player who has the ability to disrupt an offense. His ability to get steals and rebounds is a bonus for us.'
Smiley was one of USC's steadiest players all last year and the top contributor among the newcomers. He started seven of 28 games as a junior college transfer, finishing as USC's fourth-leading scorer (8.6) despite battling nagging knee injuries for most of the season. He made the second-most three-pointers on the team (40) and shot a team-high 84.4% from the free throw line (38-of-45). He scored in double figures 13 times and was third on the team in steals (30).
Said Bibby: 'Roy played well for us last year and did whatever we asked. He's a hard worker and a positive kid and made the transition from junior college to the Pac-10 rather smoothly. He's a good outside shooter whose perimeter game will continue to be important to us and his ability to handle the ball is also a key.'
O'Neil started 25 of 29 games as a sophomore center in 2003, averaging 10.1 points per game, third best on the team. He also led the team in blocked shots (1.3, fifth in the Pac-10) and was fourth in rebounding (4.9). Featuring one of the smoothest outside shots in the league, he scored in double figures 17 times and had four double-doubles. He averaged 14.7 points and 7.3 rebounds in the Pac-10 Tournament, earning All-Tournament honors and his 38 blocks were the most ever by a USC sophomore. A top student-athlete, he was named a Pac-10 All-Academic honorable mention selection with a 3.01 GPA in mathematics.
Said Bibby: 'Rory had a strong finish to the season and hopefully he can build on that. Everyone knows he can knock down an outside shot, but it was his improvements in the paint near the end of the season that make us excited. He's a smart player who works hard and does whatever we ask of him. With continued work in the weight room, he could be one of the top post players in the league.'
Curtis averaged 6.6 points and 5.3 rebounds (tied for team high) in 21.0 minutes last season, starting 15 of 29 games as a sophomore forward. He was averaging more than nine points and seven rebounds per game for more than half of the season when tendonitis in his feet slowed him down. He finished with three double-doubles on the season, including a 17-point, 15-rebound (career-high) effort at Washington. One game later, he scored 11 points and had 11 rebounds at UCLA. His other double-double was a 13-point, 11-rebound night against Morris Brown. He posted career highs in points (21), field goals (eight) and blocks (four) to go with eight rebounds against La Salle.
Said Bibby: 'Nick really showed what he could do at the beginning of last season. He was active on the boards and showed an ability to score before the foot injuries limited his play. Hopefully with a light off-season regimen, he can come to camp completely healthy and play the season injury free. A healthy Nick Curtis will be huge for the team.'
Guenther averaged 6.2 points and 5.0 rebounds in 18.6 minutes, starting nine of 19 games, joining the team after the Orange Bowl. He showed marked improvement in his second year with the team. His overall rebound average was third on the team and his 6.1 boards per game in Pac-10 play was eighth in the conference. He finished with four double-doubles, coming in a five-game span. He scored a career-high 16 points against Oregon in his first start of the season and had a career-high 11 rebounds twice.
Said Bibby: 'Gregg was a solid contributor for us last year, providing some toughness and grit that we lacked last year. He came on nicely and was able to provide a spark in the post. We look for more of the same from him this year after he comes over from football.'
McMillan spent 2003 as a redshirt, unable to play in games. But his tireless work in practice consistently drew praise from the coaches. Able to provide muscle and bulk in the low post that will remind some of USC's 2002 Pac-10 Player of the Year Sam Clancy, McMillan's size and skill will be a boon to the Trojans' frontcourt.
Said Bibby: 'We've beefed up our inside game with the addition of Jeff. He gives us a solid inside presence that we didn't have last year. We can now play finesse or physically as the game dictates. He'll hopefully get us some easy points and some big rebounds around the basket.'
Oliver averaged 2.5 points, 1.6 rebounds and 7.8 minutes in 17 games in 2003 as a reserve center in his first year with the team. He scored a season-high 19 points against Morris Brown, making 8-of-9 shots and adding seven rebounds and two blocks. He had 11 points and five rebounds off the bench against Missouri.
Said Bibby: 'Sometimes it's hard for junior college players to make the transition to Pac-10 basketball and that was the case with Jonathan. Hopefully with a solid off-season in the weight room and the gym, he can improve and become a factor for us next season.'
Bibby welcomes a freshman class as heralded as any in the West. The Stewart twins, from Rainier Beach High in Seattle, Wash., and Day, from Paseo Academy in Kansas City, Mo., are all athletic guards who could see meaningful minutes next season.
Rodrick and Lodrick, ranked No. 37 and 53, respectively, among 2003 prep seniors by Basketball Times, led their high school to back-to-back 3-A state titles in 2002 and 2003. Rodrick, a 2003 Parade All-American third teamer, averaged 18.0 points, 7.0 rebounds and 8.0 assists last year while Lodrick, a 2003 McDonald's Preseason All-American alternate, averaged 19.0 points, 6.0 rebounds and 3.0 steals. Day averaged 20.2 points, 5.0 assists and 6.0 steals as a 2003 senior, leading his team to a second-place finish in Missouri's 4-A tournament.
Said Bibby: 'Lodrick and Rodrick will add lots of athleticism and quickness. They are two kids who just flat out love to play basketball and can play the 1, 2 or 3 positions. Quinton also gives us good quickness and has a strong perimeter game as well. He's a legitimate point guard option for us.'