Gabe Pruitt Is A 'Steal' For USC Basketball

Feb. 14, 2005

by Collen Murray and Stephanie Montano

As the Trojans' leader in steals with 2.0 per game, freshman Gabe Pruitt is not only stealing the ball but stealing the spotlight as well. Emerging as an anchor on a team heralded for its six seniors, Pruitt is averaging 12.0 points and 30.4 minutes a game, both second best on the team.

'I didn't expect [to play such a big role on the team so early] but I knew I could,' Pruitt said. 'I knew I could come in and play a lot of minutes if I performed in practice, but if I didn't play a lot, I wasn't going to sit there and cry about it. If it happens, it happens.'

And when it did happen, Pruitt did not let the opportunity pass him by. In his first collegiate game against UC Irvine, he was 6-for-7 on the floor and had a team-high with 13 points. It was the first time a freshman has led USC in scoring in a season opener since the beginning of freshmen eligibility in 1972.

'I wasn't nervous about my first game--I was excited. I had waited a long time so I looked forward to it,' Pruitt said.

Pruitt's dream of playing college basketball began at a young age after a family move inadvertently set his basketball career in motion.

'When I lived in Whittier I used to play baseball and then I moved to West LA,' said Pruitt. 'The only sport there was basketball. So I played just to play and I started to like it. Since then, I've been playing basketball.'

Pruitt embraced the change of sport and ran with it. He joined several traveling teams including Hoop Masters, ARC, and California Team Select; all the while he continued to perform for his school teams. As a sophomore at Centennial High, Pruitt averaged 15.0 points and 6.0 assists and led his team to the California Division III State final. Another family move led Pruitt to transfer to basketball power Westchester (Calif.) High where he had to sit out his junior season due to transfer rules. In his senior season, Pruitt bounced back from his hiatus. He averaged 22 points per game and earned a spot on the 2004 EA SPORTSTM Roundball Classic West team with current NBA players Shaun Livingston and Robert Swift. Swift, who originally committed to play for USC, was drafted in 2004 by the Seattle Supersonics.

'Robert Swift and I were teammates after high school and we were really close,' said Pruitt. 'I wanted him to come here but I was happy for him [when he was drafted]. Whenever we traveled we were always roommates and we always talked in the room about what kind of moves we were going to make and when I heard his name [on draft day] I was happy for him because that's what he wanted.'

But the loss of Swift has not hampered Pruitt's confidence in USC's recruiting class. He looked forward to the game with UCLA where the often-compared freshmen from both schools went head-to-head. Although the Trojans lost to the Bruins (Jan. 29), 69-72, USC's freshman class outperformed that of UCLA's. Pruitt outscored UCLA's Jordan Farmar 19-7, and Nick Young's 22 points far surpassed the 9 points put up by the Bruins' Arron Afflalo.

'I think we have a better freshman class than they do,' said Pruitt. 'They're good. I'm not going to take that from them but I still think we're a little better. They kind of have a chip on their shoulder. UCLA is a big basketball school and over here we're a football school. We have to make our name. They have their name just because they go to UCLA. So it's kind of like a fight for LA.'

As a Los Angeles native, Pruitt's proximity to his family has smoothed the transition from high school to college.

'I live right down the street from USC,' said Pruitt. 'In high school, my family used to come to all my games so now they can come right down the street,' Pruitt said.

Now his family is able to witness Pruitt live out his dreams.

'I'm the first member of my family to go to college,' said Pruitt. 'All my other family members have always been watching. If I do make it, then I'll be the first to ever go to college and play professional basketball. That has always been a dream of mine.'

To some, Pruitt's dream is not too far-fetched. In a November 2004 article, the Sporting News called Pruitt a 'pro waiting to happen.' Pruitt showcased his ability in the Rainbow Classic, earning all-tournament honors. In Hawaii, the Trojans played against the University of Alabama at Birmingham in the second round in what Pruitt considers to be his favorite game thus far.

'It was my favorite game just because that team was really good and they were supposed to beat us by 30 and we beat them,' Pruitt said. 'When people come in and expect to beat us by a large margin, my teammates and I get emotional and do what we can to win. When I hear that, it inspires me to do whatever I can to get the victory.'

With continuing stellar performances, Pruitt may no longer steal the show--he may just create his own.

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