- Jason King
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Finally, some good fortune is starting to fall on the USC basketball team.
The Trojans were informed Thursday that Omar Oraby -- a 7-foot-2, 265-pound transfer from Rice -- has been cleared by the NCAA to compete this season. Oraby broke Rice’s single-season blocks record last year, but, strangely, played just 11 minutes per game and averaged only six points.
USC coach Kevin O’Neill said Oraby will play a major role for the Trojans.
“The sky is the limit for this guy,” O’Neill told ESPN.com Thursday. “He can catch, he can shoot, he can pass and block shots and rebound. He’s still developing, but he’s a legit player.”
USC finished 6-26 last season and set a school record for losses. But that was mainly because the Trojans lost four starters to season-ending injuries.
This year’s team will look completely different. All of the players who were hurt last season are healthy again, and O’Neill signed a handful of transfers who are expected to catapult the Trojans from one of the league’s worst teams to one of its best.
No one is ready to say that USC will challenge Arizona and UCLA for the Pac-12 title. But finishing in the upper half of the conference and earning an NCAA tournament berth are realistic goals.
Especially with the addition of Oraby.
“Our team was ecstatic when we gave them the news,” O’Neill said. “We’ve all seen how good he can be at practice. There are times when he’s been dominant.”
“He’s been working out with us,” O’Neill said. “He’s up to speed. He could end up starting for us in the near future.”
If anything, Oraby provides even more depth to a frontcourt that wasn’t hurting for bodies. Besides Oraby, Dedmon and Wise, USC is expected to get major contributions from veterans Aaron Fuller and James Blasczyk, who is nicked up and probably won’t play against Coppin State.
O’Neill said sophomore Byron Wesley will be the team’s starting small forward Friday while former Wake Forest starter J.T. Terrell gets the nod at shooting guard. Jio Fontan, who missed all of last season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament, will be the Trojans’ point guard and will be backed up by freshman walk-on Chass Bryan, who has been the team’s biggest surprise during preseason workouts.
“We knew he was coming, but we didn’t know how good he was,” O’Neill said of the 5-9, 165-pound Bryan. “He didn’t have a great senior year of high school, but he’s shown us something. We think he’s really good.”
Bryan’s emergence couldn’t have come at a better time. Maurice Jones, USC’s starting point guard the past two seasons, was declared academically ineligible and transferred to Iowa State. The Trojans are confident in Fontan, but depth was an issue before Bryan became a factor.
After experiencing so much adversity last season, O’Neill was asked if the “basketball Gods” were finally showing some compassion for USC.
“You never want to think that because you don’t know what can happen,” he said. “But to get two guys late like this that are going to be high in our rotation, we feel pretty lucky.”