LOS ANGELES -- He looked around the arena, soaking it all in, and gave his one of wide-mouthed smiles. He had the look of a man ready to start off a season.
But, inside, Dewayne Dedmon was freaking out.
Just before tip-off of USC's 2011-2012 season opener against Cal State Northridge on Friday at the Galen Center, Dedmon, the Trojans' 7-foot sophomore forward, tensed up for a second and realized what he was about to do.
In seconds, he'd officially be starting a game for the USC Trojans and getting his basketball career truly underway. He's played at other places -- a few minutes here and there in high school and as a post presence but little else for one season in junior college -- but never before was he counted on in such a big way.
Dedmon knew how important he was to his team's success -- both in Friday's game and in the 2011-2012 season in total. And that freaked him out, momentarily. Then he discarded those thoughts, won his team the tip-off and got to work on making his debut a success.
"After that, it was just, 'Let's get out here, and let's play,'" Dedmon said later.
He played, alright. Dedmon had his first points just 95 seconds after the tip when he dunked in a pass from point guard Maurice Jones, and he had eight points less than nine minutes into the game after he converted three straight jumpers.
Dedmon, who didn't start playing organized basketball until he was 18, finished the game with 16 points, eight rebounds and three blocks in 25 minutes, leading the Trojans to a 66-59 win over Cal State Northridge.
"I thought he played very well for the first time playing," USC coach Kevin O'Neill said after the game. "I mean, that's more than he scored his entire high school career.
"This guy's never played. I don't know how to compare it, he's just never had a chance to play at this level."
There certainly were issues: He didn't box out well at all and lost out on several rebounds as a direct result. His right hand, which had been in a cast for much of the last month until this week, appeared to betray him on occasion. He got in foul trouble and had to sit out the final eight minutes of the first half and then had to come out of the game in the second with cramps in his right leg.
USC (1-0) didn't play particularly well as a team, either. Dedmon was one of three players with 16 points for the Trojans -- forward Aaron Fuller and guard Maurice Jones were the others -- but O'Neill's squad turned the ball over 20 times and let visiting Cal State Northridge take a 4-point lead with five minutes to go.
From there, Dedmon and Jones combined to score 12 of USC's final 16 points to secure the victory.
"We're happy to get any win," O'Neill said. "It beats the alternative."
Player of the game: Fuller quietly dominated the paint for the Trojans, putting up a team-high-tying 16 points and a game-high nine rebounds.
USC ran very few plays for him, but he managed to come up with points just fine. He said O'Neill instructed him to make himself available near the top of the key to Maurice Jones.
He did it often, and didn't miss many of his shots either, going 5-of-7 from the field and 6-of-7 from the free-throw line.
"I thought Aaron Fuller had a great night," O'Neill said. "He really stepped up and made some great clutch plays."
"I thought Aaron did a great job getting to the middle of the court in the meat of their defense and making plays around the basket, getting to the basket and then getting to the foul line and making a few shots too."
Stat of the game: USC shot 15 3-point attempts and didn't convert a single one, good for precisely zero percent shooting from long range.
Jones and freshman guard Alexis Moore were the biggest perpetrators, each throwing up seven shots from deep. Walk-on Eric Strangis had the other failed attempt.
O'Neill has said all preseason that his team clearly lacked outside shooting, but nobody knew it was going to be this bad. He played Moore extensively -- 31 minutes -- because of his 3-point shooting acumen, but he wasn't pleased with a few of the freshman's shot selections.
"Obviously (0-for-15) is unacceptable," O'Neill said. "But I'm not worried about that at all. For the most part, I thought we had wide-open 3's. It's just somewhat we're going to have do, and we will. That's all there is to it."
Trend of the game: O'Neill started Strangis at shooting guard in a clear message to the other competitors for the spot that more was expected from them, but USC's lineup in the final seven minutes made it clear who O'Neill sees as the team's top-five players at this point in time.
The five: Jones, Moore, Wesley, Fuller and Dedmon. Asked about that trend afterward, O'Neill went off on a mini-rant on his displeasure with Moore's poor play of late.
"You know, Alexis isn't playing very well -- hasn't played very well in practice the last couple weeks, and he didn't play very well tonight," O'Neill said. "But he's a freshman, and when you're a freshman like that, you're just not going to play well. It's just the way it is.
"Unless you're one of these super guys that can drop off the moon like some of North Carolina's freshmen ... I know these guys are gonna struggle, but we've gotta play them."
Quote of the game: "Our guys think this is a kung-fu match. They think the harder I chop a guy, uh, boy, I'm a tough. I'm really tough, because I double-chopped him to the ground. Wow. That's not toughness. That's not smart basketball. What these guys need to understand is tough means doing the right thing all the time." -- O'Neill
The third-year USC coach was upset about his team's 20 turnovers and other various errors and was referencing the tomahawk-chop gesture Dedmon demonstrated after each of his three blocks.
Notes: Former USC stars DeMar DeRozan and Taj Gibson sat courtside for the game and were shown on the video board during the first half. DeRozan, who plays for the NBA's Toronto Raptors, was accompanied by teammate Ed Davis...Because the game was not broadcast on television, arena operators were able to keep the curtains open on the north side of the Galen Center, allowing for a view of the nighttime skyline in Downtown...The men's game was preceded by the women's basketball season opener, which the No. 23 Women of Troy won over Fresno State, 65-57...The announced crowd was 5,172.