USC's Cantu relishes coaching opportunity

LOS ANGELES — Bob Cantu – the longest tenured assistant coach in the Pac-12 – has seen four coaches come and go from USC since he arrived in 2002.

He's hoping his name doesn't get added to the list.

After former coach Kevin O'Neill was fired on Jan. 14, Cantu was the natural choice to fill in as interim coach. Overwhelmed at first, Cantu sought to simplify things.

"My first goal was to take it day by day and try to get prepared for each practice, each shoot-around and each game," he said after Sunday's 75-59 loss to UCLA.

Soon enough, Cantu's wide-open coaching style started to produce positive results. Two weeks after he took over, the Trojans went on a four-game win streak that included road victories over UCLA and Stanford as well as a sweep of the Washington schools at home.

Junior J.T. Terrell, USC's second leading scorer, said the team's mentality changed drastically when Cantu took over.

"Our style of play changed and some leashes were put back in the closet," Terrell said. "We were allowed to play more freely and you see the outcome."

High-profile names continue to pop up in various media reports as potential permanent replacements, something Cantu doesn't concern himself with.

"I'm just trying to coach the team as best I can," he said. "I'm trying to compete to put ourselves in a position to win games. I've said from Day one that it's about the players and my job is to keep it organized."

Cantu's players are some of his biggest fans. Terrell said he would be "really happy" if Cantu were permanently retained and that the Trojans' recent success could help boost his chances of staying. One television broadcaster went so far as to suggest Cantu could be a candidate for Pac-12 coach of the year during a telecast earlier this week.

After two straight losses, Cantu is back at .500 as the head man with a 5-5 conference record. His time may be running out to capture what he calls his "dream job" but if nothing else, he's relishing the opportunity.

"It's great experience no matter what when you have an opportunity to be a head coach in the Pac-12," he said. "It's a great opportunity and I'm obviously thankful for it. I just try to learn from it every day and be the best I can."

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