USC Men's Basketball Practice Starts On Saturday
Oct. 15, 2004
The 2004-2005 USC men's basketball team tips off its quest for an NCAA tournament bid with its first practice of the season on Saturday, Oct. 16.
The Trojans return six seniors to a team that went 13-15 overall and 8-10 in the Pac-10 (sixth place) in 2004.
Leading the way in that group are forwards Jeff McMillan (11.1 ppg, team-leading 8.6 rpg), Rory O'Neill (8.3 ppg, team-leading 43 blocked shots), Gregg Guenther (5.6 ppg, 4.7 rpg) and Nick Curtis (3.0 ppg, 2.5 rpg).
There's also senior experience in the backcourt, as co-leading returning scorer Errick Craven (11.1 ppg, team-best 62 steals) returns, as does point guard Derrick Craven (6.1 ppg). Joining them are sophomores Lodrick Stewart (8.7 ppg) and Rodrick Stewart (4.4 ppg).
The Trojans will welcome an outstanding recruiting class that is expected to do good things from the get-go. Impact newcomers include 5-10 guard and junior college transfer Dwayne Shackleford, 6-4 freshman guard Gabe Pruitt, 6-6 swingman Nick Young and 6-8 forward Emanuel Willis.
Troy will play exhibition games on Nov. 5 and Nov. 12 (both in the Lyon Center), before opening its regular season at the Sports Arena against UC Irvine on Nov. 22 at 7:30 p.m.
USC Men's Basketball 2004-2005 Season Outlook
USC's 2004-2005 men's basketball team features a veteran-laden roster with a huge senior class eager to go out on a strong note. Notably, the group of six seniors is accomplished on the court and in the classroom, a heady class of student-athletes all scheduled to graduate next spring.
These core players are complemented by a talented mix of six first- and second-year players that ninth-year USC Coach Henry Bibby hopes will create the right blend to return the Trojans to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since back-to-back trips in 2001 and 2002.
The Trojans were 13-15 overall, 8-10 in the Pac-10 (sixth place) in 2004 and appeared to find themselves as a team near the end of the season, winning four of their final seven games, the three losses all by single digits.
Last season's highlights included USC's second consecutive sweep of crosstown rival UCLA, a first in more than 60 years, as well as its fifth home win over Arizona in the last eight years. The Trojans showed signs of brilliance during the season, playing top-ranked Stanford down to the wire twice before falling and coming within a possession of beating Arizona for a second time in a memorable Pac-10 Tournament first-round game that ended the Trojans' string of Pac-10 Tournament final appearances at two.
First and foremost for the Trojans in 2005 will be replacing the scoring talents of the departed Desmon Farmer, who finished his USC career as the school's fourth all-time leading scorer. He was far and away USC's top offensive threat the past two years and the scoring void will probably be left to more than one player to fill.
And while the Trojans figure out how to compensate for Farmer's offense (he averaged 19.4 points last year), they will also be working hard to shore up their defense and lowering their 2004 opponent points per game average of 78.8.
'We're returning a lot of seniors, a lot of experience and a lot of starters and it's their year to make something happen,' Bibby said. 'This is the most veteran team I've had coming back since I've been here.
'We're going to put more of an emphasis on defense this year. We haven't played well defensively the past couple years and our offense has carried us. We need to narrow the gap. If we do so, I think we can be very competitive in the conference.
'We've got a talented group of players coming in and we've brought these guys in to play. I think this group of newcomers is going to push the veterans. This should be a very competitive year -- within the team -- as far as guys competing for spots. Every position is up for grabs.'
USC's six seniors include 6-foot-2, 205-pound guard Errick Craven and his identical twin, 6-foot-2, 215-pound guard Derrick Craven, 6-foot-8, 225-pound forward Nick Curtis, 6-foot-11, 240-pound center Rory O'Neil, 6-foot-9, 255-pound forward Gregg Guenther and 6-foot-8, 260-pound forward Jeff McMillan. (It was supposed to be seven seniors, but 6-foot-4, 195-pound guard Roydell Smiley, however, suffered a career-ending ACL injury after the 2004 season, which he missed due to injury).
Joining the nine returning veterans are 5-foot-10, 185-pound junior college transfer guard Dwayne Shackleford, a junior, plus 6-foot-8, 220-pound freshman forward Emanuel Willis, 6-foot-4, 170-pound freshman guard Gabriel Pruitt, and 6-foot-6, 195-pound swingman Nick Young.
Candidates for leaders on this team abound, but to Bibby, Guenther epitomizes the role. A two-sport player in football and basketball for the last three years (after he redshirted as a freshman in football) who was a tight end on USC's national championship team in 2003, Guenther will play basketball exclusively in 2004.
Playing football the last three years, he wasn't able to don the basketball uniform until around Jan. 1. This year, he will be with the team when it opens practice in October. Though he always joined the team late, Guenther was a natural leader whose gritty toughness rubbed off on his teammates. Though tough in the post, he can also hit a mid-range jumper and his touch translated to the second-highest free throw percentage on the team (73.1%) last year. He averaged 5.6 points and 4.7 rebounds (third on the team), starting five of 19 games.
Said Bibby: 'With Gregg, you bring in a solid citizen, a good guy who knows how to win and wants to win and will sacrifice for the team. He's a kid that can provide leadership for us that I haven't had since I've been here. I've never had a leader like him. I'm excited he's going to be with us at the start of the season.'
Another low post force for Bibby is McMillan, the 2004 Pac-10 Newcomer of the Year and the only Trojan to start every game last year. He averaged 11.1 points and 8.6 rebounds (third in the Pac-10) in 29.2 minutes per game last year and became the first Trojan ever to lead the league in field goal percentage (63.0%), setting a USC team record in the process. In fact, McMillan crushed the old Trojan mark, previously held by Steve Smith (57.4%, 1979). In the 24 games in which he attempted at least four shots, he made less than half only three times. McMillan recorded 10 double-doubles on the season, had 12 double-digit rebounding efforts and led USC on the boards 16 times. He had off-season surgery on his left foot to correct hammer toes and Bibby expects the already quick big man to be even more nimble next season.
Said Bibby: 'Jeff had a big year last year. He's already one of the best rebounders in the Pac-10 and has proven he can score down low. If we can improve his running and his medium-range jump shot, an already excellent player will really take it to the next level.'
While McMillan and Guenther clog up a lot of the paint, O'Neil has the ability to join them down low or float outside. In fact, the versatile big man not only led USC in blocked shots (1.5) in 2003, but also in three-point percentage (36.0%), the only Pac-10 player to lead his team in both categories (with a minimum of more than 10 blocks). He averaged 8.3 points and 3.8 rebounds in 24.3 minutes per game last year, his blocked shot average good for fourth best in the league.
Said Bibby: 'Rory had a great sophomore year but fell off a bit last year. But he's back on track and workws hard this summer. He hopes to get to the next level and he knows he needs to put in the work. He gives us an added dimension shooting the ball outside and can score down low. He can play some small forward, power forward and center. His ability to shoot outside helps us to keep defenses honest.'
Rounding out the group of returning big men is Curtis, who has shown flashes of becoming a top-flight performer in the Pac-10 but has been riddled with injuries during his Trojan career. He averaged 3.0 points and 2.5 rebounds in 12.6 minutes per game in 2004, starting three of 22 games, but missed six games with tendonitis in his left knee and was never really 100%. Albeit in limited action, the athletic Curtis, who has career highs of 21 points and 15 rebounds, was the only Trojan besides Jeff McMillan to shoot above 50.0% (24-of-47, 51.1%) last year.
Said Bibby: 'I expect this to be Nick's year. He's had three years when he's been injured but I'm optimistic he can remain injury free this season. He's had some outstanding games, but hasn't been as consistent as we'd like him to be and that's due to injuries. I'm looking forward to a big year from Nick.'
The veteran scoring guard on the team is Errick Craven, who enters his senior year 27th on USC's career scoring chart with 1,052 points. He is also fourth on USC's career steals chart (203) and 14th on Troy's career three-point chart (81). One of the quickest defensive players in the Pac-10, he's had at least five steals 15 times in his career. He enters his senior year 21 steals short of cracking the Pac-10's career top 10 and 27 short of breaking the USC record of 229 (Brandon Granville). He is tied with McMillan as USC's top returning scorer (11.1) and led USC in assists (3.0) and steals (2.3) last year for the second year in a row. In fact, his steals average led the Pac-10, making him the first player to lead the conference in the category in three consecutive seasons since Gary Payton did it at Oregon State (1988-90).
Said Bibby: 'Errick returns as a three-year starter who has a ton of potential. He's shown signs of becoming one of the top players in the Pac-10, but he needs to be more consistent. He needs to improve his outside shooting, too. It's up to Errick to see how good he wants to be.'
Twin brother Derrick Craven, like his brother a catlike defender, averaged 6.1 points and 2.2 rebounds in 21.0 minutes per game, starting 11 of 27 games at point guard. His 79 assists were second on the team and his 33 steals were third. He had a season-high 16 points in USC's OT win at St. Mary's, going 7-of-7 from the field in 20 minutes. It was the first 7-of-7 performance by a Trojan since Nov. 23, 1999 (Brian Scalabrine).
Said Bibby: 'I'm looking for Derrick to be a defensive stopper for us. He needs to play with a defensive mind-set. We need guys to specialize in certain things. He can knock some shots down, but we need him to be a force on defense. Like a lot of guys on this team, he can play more than one position, at the one or the two.'
Twins Lodrick and Rodrick Stewart will once again find themselves in major roles with the Trojans. They are extremely athletic players who, like the Cravens, can create havoc with their high-energy play.Lodrick Stewart emerged as one of the Trojans' top scorers toward the end of the 2004 season. A 2004 Pac-10 All-Freshman first team selection, Stewart averaged 8.7 points and 2.6 rebounds in 20.5 minutes, starting six of 27 games. In his last five games, however, he averaged 13.2 points, including two 20-point performances, and shot 44.4% from three-point range. His 1.6 steals average was second on the team and sixth in the Pac-10 and his 35 three-pointers was also second most on the squad.
Said Bibby: 'We think Lodrick can be in the same category as Desmon Farmer. He needs to step up his defense, share the ball more and be more consistent. But he was one of the best players we had at times, playing hard, diving on the floor. He needs to maintain his intensity. If he can do that, we think he can step in and be a strong offensive and defensive player for us.'
Rodrick Stewart, who shared the point guard duties with Derrick Craven last year, gives USC yet another athletic guard. He averaged 4.4 points and 2.2 rebounds in 21.6 minutes, starting 17 of 27 games last year. He scored a season-high 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting in 25 minutes at BYU and matched that with 14 points and four assists at Washington.
Said Bibby: 'Rodrick is a quick, big, athletic kid who is a great passer. He needs to work on his jump shot, which could open his game. He can be a big plus for us at the point and can also play shooting guard and small forward.'
Figuring to challenge both Rodrick Stewart and Derrick Craven for point guard time is Shackleford, who is a good enough scorer to slide over to the two spot as well. He averaged 21.4 points for Allegany College in Cumberland, Md., as a sophomore in 2004, earning NJCAA Division I All-American, All-Region XX Division I and All-Maryland JUCO first team honors. He made a school record 114 three-pointers in 2004 and had 61 steals and 171 assists.
Said Bibby: 'We really haven't had a scoring point guard since I've been here other than Brandon Granville. And Dwayne will come in and bring toughness at the point we haven't had since Brandon left. He can shoot the three-pointer, keep defenses honest and will bring us leadership. He's an older kid who will hopefully come in and be a positive for us.'
Like Shackleford, Pruitt brings a scoring touch to the Trojans. He averaged 22 points per game as a senior at Westchester (Calif.) High in 2004, earning Student Sports All-America special mention notice, Los Angeles Times All-City and South Bay/Westside first team and South Bay Daily Breeze Player of the Year honors.
Said Bibby: 'Gabriel can play the one, two or three positions for us. He is a tenacious defensive player and an excellent outside shooter. He was the surprise player in California last year, overlooked because he didn't play as a junior. He really knows how to play basketball and that's what I like about him. He has good basketball smarts.'
Young is another local rising star who can put points on the board. He averaged 27.2 points and 10.8 rebounds as a 2004 senior at Cleveland High in Reseda, Calif., earning 2004 CIF L.A. City Section, Los Angeles Times All-City and San Fernando Valley first team honros. He shot 57.3% from the field and 46.8% from three-point range (52-of-111) and had 48 steals and 41 blocks.
Said Bibby: 'We're excited to get a long, athletic wing player like Nick. He's the type of player we haven't had here since Jeff Trepagnier. He's a high-flyer who has the potential to be a high scorer and I think our fans will enjoy watching him play. He also has a good foundation on defense.'
Willis rounds out the incoming class. An extremely athletic player, he prepped at Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham, Va., in 2004 after attending Mendenhall (Miss.) High in 2003. He was listed No. 16 among prep athletes attending post grad prep schools by Insiders.com.
Said Bibby: 'I compare Emanuel to Kenyon Martin (of the New Jersey Nets). He's athletic like him, jumps, runs and can shoot inside of 15 feet. He can play the power forward and small forward.'