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Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Projecting the 2010-2011 basketball depth chart

By Pedro Moura

In an ongoing post-season look at the USC basketball team, we take a glance at what next year's depth chart might look like. This assumes that recent reports that say Leonard Washington will transfer are accurate and that no other departures will occur:

GUARDS

Donte Smith(redshirt senior) — Smith started the first eight games this season before Mike Gerrity became eligible and had some success. His best performances came against Loyola Marymount (10 points, two assists) and UC Riverside (12 points, two assists), but he also scored 12 points off the bench against UCLA and nine against Oregon in conference play. USC coach Kevin O'Neill has said Smith is not a true point guard, but he won't have to be next season — as he'll be allowed to play the bench-energizer role he's better suited for.

Marcus Simmons (senior) — Simmons is a tried-and-true defensive ace for the Trojans but has never proven to be a threat on the offensive end of the ball. Reports had him improving his shot greatly this past offseason, only to have him suffer a setback with a wrist injury that forced him to re-learn his new shooting motion. Simmons opened and closed the season well, averaging 12 points in the first two and last two games of the year, but he put up just 1.6 points per game in his other 25 appearances. Nevertheless, he'll be a key cog in next year's squad — especially if he can improve his shot.

Jio Fontan (redshirt sophomore) — Fontan very well might be the leader of next year's squad. As a freshman with Fordham, he averaged 15.2 points and 4.7 assists per game as the team's No. 1 scoring option. He will have to sit out during the fall semester but will almost certainly be counted on to start upon return. He gained a reported 15 pounds before reporting to USC in January after deciding to transfer in December but appeared to lose most of it by the end of the season.

Maurice Jones (freshman) — An excerpt from Wednesday's Saginaw News, Jones' hometown paper: "Maurice Jones couldn't do everything. But he tried." A 5-foot-7 combo guard, Jones has been a scoring machine at the high school level — including a 32-point performance in a quarterfinal playoff loss Tuesday in Grand Blanc, Mich. that the article refers to. From his recruiting scouting report: "Jones will be a pain in the neck for opponents in the Pac-10...Jerome Randle of California and Tajuan Porter of Oregon come to mind."

Bryce Jones (freshman) — Jones, who we featured here, can be a scoring two-guard a la the departed Dwight Lewisas soon as next season on a talent basis, but he might be a little raw physically. The 6-foot-5, 175-pounder would not best be described as sinewy and could stand to put on a few pounds if he hopes to have success with his penetrating-style game at the college level. His defense is already up to O'Neill's standards, though.

FORWARDS

Alex Stepheson (redshirt senior) — Stepheson had a disappointing season this year, his first with USC, averaging just 8.4 points and 7.2 rebounds. He had his moments, like a 19-point, 15-rebound performance in a win over Tennessee and 15 points, six rebounds and two blocks in a win over Washington, but a propensity for foul trouble did him in often as the season went on. Stepheson has a lot of pure ability — he went to North Carolina out of high school — but has yet to truly harness it at the college level. O'Neill will count on him to improve in the offseason.

Evan Smith (sophomore) — Despite averaging 25 minutes in USC's first three games this season, the Calabasas High product didn't play in a game after December when O'Neill realized his defense handicapped his team's primary strength. Smith is long (6-foot-7) and athletic, but his offensive skills aren't terribly impressive, so his defense will need to improve in the offseason. O'Neill has said, though, that Smith always plays hard.

Curtis Washington (freshman) — An out-of-nowhere first commit for O'Neill at USC, Washington has the size at 6-foot-9 and 210 pounds, but his game is questionable. He never started a full season of high school basketball, coming off the bench his junior year and starting only six games this year before leaving the team during a January game. He had been averaging eight points and 7.6 rebounds. Reads his recruiting scouting report: "Curtis is a work in progress with a ton of upside."

Garrett Jackson (freshman) — Jackson was named 2010 Gatorade State Player of the Yearin Oregon after a senior season in which he put up averages of 19.3 points, 8.7 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.8 steals and 1.0 blocks. Jackson was not highly recruited by other Pac-10 schools, but he could be a sneaky-good player as a freshman. He's just the type of all-around, all-effort player that O'Neill likes to have in his rotation.

Nikola Vucevic( junior) — The Pac-10's most improved playerthis season, Vucevic can set his sights firmly on the NBA if he continues to improve like he did between his freshman and sophomore seasons. In 2008-2009, he averaged 2.6 points and 2.7 rebounds per game. In 2009-2010, he averaged 10.7 points and 9.3 rebounds per game. Vucevic was also second on the team in blocks, but he could stand to work on his defensive presence.  He sometimes appears lost or disinterested on the defensive end, but his size (6-foot-10, 220 pounds) and instincts give him the chance to be a difference maker there.

Davis Rozitis (sophomore) — Rozitis is undoubtedly the rawest of raw prospects, a sophomore to-be who played a total of just 29 minutes this season. He worked extensively with assistant coaches during the season and showed some improvement in practice near the end of the year, but the 7-footer has a lot more work to do. Rozitis did average 15 points and 9.5 rebounds in leading his Latvian high school to a state title as a high school senior.

And a projected starting five upon Fontan's return, with backups in parentheses:

G: Fontan (M. Jones)

G: Simmons (D. Smith)

G: B. Jones (Jackson/E. Smith)

F: Stepheson (Washington)

F: Vucevic (Rozitis)