USC: Evan Smith

Basketball: G Jones academically ineligible

September, 1, 2012
LOS ANGELES -- USC Trojans guard Maurice Jones, the Trojans' leading scorer in 2011-2012, is academically ineligible for the upcoming season and has been dismissed from the university, a program source told on Saturday.

Jones, a Michigan native, averaged 13 points and 3.5 assists for USC as a sophomore last season. He was slated to slide into a key sixth-man role this season, with senior Jio Fontan and transfer J.T. Terrell taking over as the starting guards.

Jones' departure means all five of the players from Trojans coach Kevin O'Neill's first two recruiting classes are no longer with the team, including Jones, forwards Evan Smith and Garrett Jackson, guard Bryce Jones and forward/center Curtis Washington.

USC begins its 2012-2013 season on Nov. 9 against Coppin State.

Basketball: USC hosting Woolridge on visit

April, 6, 2012
Former University of Tennessee forward Renaldo Woolridge is visiting USC this weekend to consider a potential one-year transfer to the Trojans, a program source told on Friday.

Woolridge, a lanky 6-foot-9 forward with an inside-outside game, is the son of former Los Angeles Lakers player Orlando Woolridge. He signed with Tennessee out of Harvard-Westlake in the class of 2008 and started 20 games over four seasons with the Volunteers but was granted a medical hardship waiver this offseason because of an ankle injury he suffered his junior year that limited him to only eight games.

He is a Sherman Oaks native and tweeted last week that he is "definitely leaning out West" for his next destination.

Woolridge averaged 4.4 points and 3.3 rebounds for Tennessee in roughly 14 minutes per game. All were career-highs. He memorably went 5-for-5 from 3-point range in the first half of Tennessee's road loss to top-ranked Kentucky in January to finish with 17 points.

USC has one available scholarship slot left for the 2012-2013 season created by the departures of Garrett Jackson, Alexis Moore, Curtis Washington and Evan Smith, the signings of J.T. Terrell and Strahinja Gavrilovic and the commitment of Brendyn Taylor.

The Trojans are also pursuing UConn transfer Alex Oriakhi and Arizona Western College forward Renan Lenz to fill that slot, among others.

Basketball: Washington, Smith also on the way out

March, 21, 2012
USC announced last week that forward Garrett Jackson was transferring away from the Trojans and we reported Tuesday that guard Alexis Moore was joining him in departing.

Well, two more 2011-2012 Trojans are also leaving the basketball team, according to multiple program sources. Forward Curtis Washington has requested his release and will receive it this week and forward Evan Smith will leave the team via a medical retirement, staying in school and on scholarship but not counting against the team's 13-scholarship limit.

Both of the moves have been expected for some time.

Washington played 11 total minutes during his freshman season in 2010-2011 and then tore the labrum in his left shoulder last August, which forced him to miss all of last season. Smith played in four games for the Trojans last season before re-injuring the shoulder that has bothered him on and off since his arrival to USC in the class of 2009.

USC now has four open scholarships, two of which will be filled by 2012 signees J.T. Terrell and Strahinja Gavrilovic upon their summer arrival. The Trojans also have Woodland Hills Taft guard Brendyn Taylor committed for the third spot and continue to recruit other players for the fourth and final slot.

The spring signing period begins April 11 and lasts until May 16.

Basketball: Where the recruiting class stands

March, 19, 2012
Only one team USC played in 2011-2012 is still around in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament: second-seeded Kansas.

The Trojans played a few other eventual NCAA tourney teams this season, including No. 12-seeded Cal, No. 11-seeded Colorado, No. 5-seeded New Mexico and No. 6-seeded UNLV and San Diego State. They lost to all of them, with the closest thing to a win coming in the third game of the season against SDSU.

But enough about the tournament, which resumes Thursday. Let's take a look at where the Trojans could be next season and, more specifically, let's take a look at the makings of the next USC recruiting class.

Two players already signed in November, during the early signing period: guard J.T. Terrell and forward Strahinja Gavrilovic. Terrell is a junior-college transfer from Wake Forest who's expected to start right away next November. Gavrilovic, from the San Diego area, stands to be a non-factor in his first season with the Trojans.

The third spot is where things start to get interesting. USC had a commitment from Arizona prep point guard Dewayne Russell until a few weeks ago, when he de-committed shortly after the Trojans got another commitment from Woodland Hills Taft guard Brendyn Taylor.

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Basketball: New Mexico 44, USC 41

December, 10, 2011
LOS ANGELES -- If only they could start how they finished, the USC Trojans might actually have a pretty good record at this point.

Instead, they're 4-6 now on the season and need to sweep their remaining three non-conference games to avoid beginning Pac-12 play with a losing record. Saturday's 44-41 loss to New Mexico was just the latest example of what's been an ugly trend for Kevin O'Neill's Trojans this season.

In all six of the losses, USC has trailed early -- and often trailed big. And the Trojans had chances to win late in all but one of them. Against the Lobos on Saturday, the Trojans fought back from a double-digit deficit to take a late lead, 41-40, with 1:51 to go in the game on a 3-point play from Dewayne Dedmon, but they quickly squandered it on the next possession.

USC ended up outscoring New Mexico by five in the second half after entering the break down by eight. A few more minutes and USC might have overtaken the Lobos for good. But the slow start -- the Trojans trailed 23-10 more than 18 minutes into the game -- ended up doing them in.

"I know that," Dedmon said after the game, when asked if the Trojans would be better off with more balanced first- and second-half play. "I know we would have a better record. We just gotta come out strong in the first half like we come out in the second half.

"We've gotta figure out a way to get everybody that second-half mentality in the first half."

After the first five minutes of the game, USC didn't lead Saturday's contest once until the final 111 seconds.

"It's been like that the entire year," O'Neill said. "We eased into the game and that got us into a hole."

Maurice Jones led the Trojans with 19 points. Dedmon added seven. UCLA transfer Drew Gordon had a team-high 13 points for New Mexico and Riverside King product Tony Snell added 10.

The teams combined to make just 30 field goals in the gam and produce 39 turnovers and just 15 assists.

"It was an ugly game," said New Mexico coach Steve Alford. "We came out and wanted to play up-tempo. But then they kind of slowed it down."

Alford added the Trojans "bored" his Lobos with their defensive strategies.

Player of the game: Jones kept the Trojans afloat all game. His 19 points were a game-high, although they did come on 7-of-18 shooting.

Alford spotlighted USC's 5-6 point guard in his postgame press conference, saying he was "quick" and could "get and go." But O'Neill said he envisions his No. 1 scorer shooting the ball even more if the Trojans are going to be successful this season.

"He can always be more aggressive," O'Neill said.

Stat of the game: New Mexico didn't make a field goal in the final 14 minutes and 16 seconds of the contest and still won.

It's rare for a team to go half that long without scoring and pull off a victory. To do it for more than an entire NBA quarter -- at the end of the game, no less -- and still win is simply remarkable.

Trend of the game: The Trojans held the Lobos to their lowest scoring total this season by nine points, proving once again that USC's issues aren't on the defensive side of the ball. The defense is top-notch, really, and, if USC can continue to hold teams under 50 points, some wins will come.

Maybe not a lot, but some.

"Our defense is way ahead of where we expected it to be," O'Neill said Saturday, reiterating what he said at practice this week. "I'm happy with a lot of what we're doing. We're just not able to get wins."

Quote of the game: "Of course we're behind offensively. The day (senior guard) Jio (Fontan) tore his knee in Brazil, we were behind offensively. -- O'Neill

If USC is ahead of schedule defensively yet behind it overall, it must mean the Trojans are severely behind schedule on the offensive end. O'Neill scoffed when asked that question after Saturday's game and then said, "Come on."

81 points in their last two games clearly shows that the Trojans are struggling.

Notes: Redshirt sophomore forward Evan Smith made his season debut in the first half for the Trojans, missing a 3-point attempt on his first possession. He hadn't played in game in two full seasons due to nagging shoulder injuries that required surgery...The 15 points scored by the Trojans in the first half were the fewest in a period in O'Neill's three seasons. The team's previous low was 16, done twice this season in losses to Cal Poly and Minnesota...Announced attendance at the Galen Center for the Trojans' first home game in two weeks was 3,863.

Basketball: Pac-12 media day notebook

October, 29, 2011
Notes and quotes from Friday's Pac-12 media day at L.A. Live not covered in our news story from the proceedings:

Typical O'Neill

USC coach Kevin O'Neill and guard Maurice Jones were the ninth tandem to the take the podium at the Conga Room, following Cal's Mike Montgomery and Jorge Gutierrez and preceding Washington's Lorenzo Romar and Darnell Gant.

As usual, O'Neill entertained the crowd with his jokes about taking care of Montgomery during his bladder-cancer surgery and his on-stage interactions with Jones.

At one point, O'Neill said that he was telling Jones right then -- for the first time -- that he'd be playing every minute of USC's games this season.

"I'm informing him of that right now," O'Neill said. "Because he's going to have to."

Then, in typical O'Neill fashion, he was very blunt about his team's chances for this season with Jio Fontan out for the year, Evan Smith out 6-8 weeks with a re-aggravation of his shoulder injury and Curtis Washington out for the year with a torn labrum.

"We're having our good days and our bad days," O'Neill said. "Sometimes we look good and some days we stink."

A sophomore leader

The good days depend a lot on the play of Jones, O'Neill has said. USC's 5-7 point guard is the team's only real on-court leader as one of only two returning players who played significant minutes last season.

The problem is that Jones can be very quiet. He may have been the least leader-like player on the team last year, often finding himself staying silent in the background while his teammates spoke up.

But that was because he was a freshman then, he says now.

"I've just got to be more vocal," Jones said Friday. "Last year was my freshman year. I was just trying to get my feet wet. This year KO told me to be more aggressive, but still keep that point guard mentality in mind and create for my teammates.

"It's going to be a long season."

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Basketball: Brazil trip begins Friday

August, 11, 2011
Trojans coach Kevin O'Neill and his team practiced one last time Thursday before they jet off for a land far, far away on Friday, as they'll spend the next 10 days in Brazil and land back in Los Angeles Aug. 21.

Thursday's session was quick, lasting under an hour. But it served its primary purpose all the same: to cement O'Neill's vision of the starting lineup and bench roles. Here's what he has planned for the trip, where the Trojans will play four games against Brazilian professional teams and one scrimmage:

PG: Jio Fontan

SG: Mo Jones

SF: Evan Smith

PF: Aaron Fuller

C: Dewayne Dedmon

Off the bench: F Garrett Jackson, G Greg Allen, G Byron Wesley, G Alexis Moore, C James Blasczyk

O'Neill also plans to play walk-ons Eric Strangis, Tyler Sugiyama and Daniel Munoz, all guards. Transfer forwards Ari Stewart and Eric Wise are sitting out the 2011-2012 season and are thus not eligible for the trip, per NCAA rules.

Also making the trip with the Trojans is senior associate athletic director Steve Lopes.

In other basketball news, USC has hired a new director of basketball operations, Jamal Boddie, a 2009 graduate of the University of Arizona who worked as a manager for the Wildcats while O'Neill was the head coach. The previous director, Ryan Hennick, spent two seasons on the job before resigning in the offseason.

Basketball: End-of-year capsules, No. 4

March, 28, 2011
Over a two week period that began last week, we're going over the 10 scholarship basketball players who were on USC's 2010-2011 roster -- one by one, Monday-Friday -- and recap their accomplishments in the now-completed season, no matter how big or how small. We began with redshirt junior forward Aaron Fuller, redshirt sophomore Evan Smith and sophomore Curtis Washington, with the years in reference to what they will be come next season.

We fell behind some last week, so four, five and six will be coming your way Monday, starting with sophomore forward Garrett Jackson.

Jackson had an interesting year at USC as really the only player who played any sort of minutes without playing big minutes. He was the freshman who played a typical role for freshmen, as opposed to Maurice Jones' 34.5 minutes per game. There was also Bryce Jones, but he left the team in January when his minutes were reduced to Jackson's range after Jio Fontan became eligible.

So what did Jackson do well in 2010-2011?

He was a capable scorer, when given the chance. He was the best shooter on the team -- albeit in limited opportunities -- and showed a solid midrange and 3-point stroke. His rebounding was OK -- not where'd you like it to be a for a 6-7 power forward, which is what he most often played, but respectable. His defense needed a lot of work, though, and was the primary reason he didn't get more minutes than he did.

There were times where coach Kevin O'Neill would insert Jackson for one play and then immediately take him out after a mess-up on defense. When asked -- which he frequently was -- why Jackson wasn't getting more minutes, O'Neill would consistently say that he wasn't confident in Jackson's defensive abilities to trust him all situations.

So what Jackson needs to do over the summer is clear: get better defensively. The rest of his offseason focus depends on where the Trojans envision using him. Do they see him as a small forward or power forward in the future?

For next year's team, it makes a bit more sense to use Jackson as the small forward, likely interchanging him a bit with Fuller at power forward.

That's it for right now. Coming up shortly is sophomore guard Maurice Jones.

Basketball: End-of-year capsules, No. 3

March, 23, 2011
Over the next two weeks, we're going over the 10 scholarship basketball players who were on USC's 2010-2011 roster -- one by one, Monday-Friday -- and recap their accomplishments in the now-completed season, no matter how big or how small. We began Monday with rising redshirt junior forward Aaron Fuller and continued Tuesday with rising redshirt sophomore Evan Smith, calling the players by the years they will be next season.

Third up is rising sophomore Curtis Washington.

We knew coming into the season that Washington wasn't going to play much. That is to be expected when an 18-year-old first-year freshman says, just months before his first college game, what Washington said last summer after one of his first times playing with his new USC teammates at the Sanyo Classic in Hawthorne.

"I'm not that confident in my game yet," he told me then. "I just feel like I'm way behind."

But we didn't know he wasn't going to play hardly at all. The 6-10, 230-pounder, who is clearly athletic but also clearly inexperienced, played in only three games during the 2010-2011 season for a total of 11 minutes and did not record a point.

The three games he played in were USC's three biggest wins of the season, back-to-back November wins over New Mexico State and Cal State Fullerton and a January blowout victory over Stanford. His lone stats of record were one offensive rebound against NMSU and two fouls.

With so few minutes, there is some wonder to why Washington wasn't instead redshirted this season and allowed to develop while retaining his eligibility. Regardless, another offseason could do a lot for his development from this point forward, as he simply hasn't played a lot of high-level competitive basketball.

Every little bit helps, although he won't be needed all that much if Nikola Vucevic does return. A redshirt year in 2011-2012 is also a possibility.

That's it for today. Tomorrow is rising sophomore forward Garrett Jackson.

Basketball: End-of-year capsules, No. 2

March, 22, 2011
Over the next two weeks, we're going over the 10 scholarship basketball players who were on USC's 2010-2011 roster -- one by one, Monday-Friday -- and recap their accomplishments in the now-completed season, no matter how big or how small. We began Monday with rising redshirt junior forward Aaron Fuller.

Second up is rising redshirt sophomore Evan Smith.

Smith, a 6-foot-7, 225-pound forward, missed the entire 2010-2011 season after undergoing surgery in December to fix a torn labrum in his left shoulder. He had experienced problems with the same shoulder during his freshman season -- missing the final three months of the season -- but elected not to have surgery in the offseason.

Smith stayed involved with the team during his rehab practices and was consistently standing on the sidelines or working on a stationary bicycle during practices. He also made road trips with the team during the season.

At some point, USC coach Kevin O'Neill is going to need Smith -- the only USC recruit in the class of 2009 who actually signed with the school -- to play a part in the team's rotation, and that point could very well come next season, when USC loses three seniors and quite possibly junior Nikola Vucevic to the NBA draft.

In the eight games he did play in as a freshman, Smith looked far behind on defense but displayed some semblance of an outside shot and ran the floor well. O'Neill had thought of him as a potential backup at the power forward spot this past season prior to his injury, so that could be an eventual landing spot for him next year when he does get healthy.

That's it for today. Tomorrow is freshman forward Curtis Washington.

Year in review: 2010-2011 USC basketball

March, 18, 2011
Oftentimes the best way to judge a season is in comparison to the one just before it.

Did the team improve? Did it decline? Did it stay the same?

From that perspective, the 19-15 year that Kevin O'Neill and the Trojans finished with this season has to be deemed a success, despite their quick first-round exit from the NCAA Tournament with Wednesday's 59-46 loss to Virginia Commonwealth. They finished 16-14 last year.

"I don't want to take away from what this team did this year," O'Neill said. "Nobody should."

[+] EnlargeKevin O'Neill
Doug James/Icon SMIKevin O'Neill is proud of the Trojans' success this season.
At the end of the day, though, how you finish is often what people remember most, so the loss will most certainly take away from the Trojans' accomplishments this year. Still, when evaluating the team's progress, it's as simple as this: USC was slightly better this season than last. The records will tell you that, the film will tell you that, and most in-depth statistical analysis will tell you that also.

The difference came because of USC's late-season run in conference games, winning five of its last six. Because of that, the Trojans were a good amount improved when it came to Pac-10 play this season, improving by two full games off of last year's pace.

Perhaps that's because the Pac-10, overall, declined. More likely, though, it's because USC stayed motivated throughout the 18-game conference schedule and didn't get discouraged halfway through like the Trojans did last year because of sanctions that banned them from postseason play.

At one point, things looked like even worse than last year, with the team 5-7 in conference after a home loss to Oregon in mid-February. But two straight wins in the Bay Area -- the rarity of all rarities for the Trojans -- followed, and soon they were in business again. They swept the Arizona schools at home, split a road trip to Washington and got to the semifinals of the Pac-10 tournament with a win over Cal.

That was literally just enough to get them into the NCAA Tournament, as they snuck in as one of the last teams in, a First Four team in the inaugural edition of the First Four. And they were quickly eliminated.

It's remarkable enough in itself that USC managed to do that, but it's even more remarkable considering the circumstances, with O'Neill suspended just before the Arizona semifinal game because of an altercation with a booster. And the sanctions, of course, which continue to affect scholarship limits and affected recruiting days in the past.

Because of all those things, O'Neill is quite proud of his team's success this year.

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Evan Smith undergoes season-ending surgery

December, 27, 2010
USC sophomore forward Evan Smith underwent season-ending surgery on his problematic left shoulder last week, the school announced Monday.

Smith, the only scholarship sophomore for the Trojans, was limited by an injury to the same shoulder for much of last season but chose not to have surgery over the offseason. He did not play in a game this season. In eight games a freshman, he averaged 1.9 points and 1.1 rebounds. His last appearance in a game for USC came on Dec. 11, 2009.

After USC's season-opening win over UC Irvine in November, Trojans coach Kevin O'Neill announced Smith would be out for an "undisclosed" amount of time. The sophomore forward did not participate in practices after that time, although he did accompany the team on road trips to Massachusetts, Nebraska, Texas, Kansas and Tennessee.

He is expected to make a full recovery for the 2011-2012 season.

USC-Tennessee: Kevin O'Neill's return

December, 21, 2010
Kevin O'NeillAP Photo/Danny MoloshokKevin O'Neill coaches Tennesee for three seasons in the early 90's and compiled a 36-47 record.

What do Lane Kiffin and Kevin O'Neill have in common?

Well, first of all, they are friends. And they're colleagues at USC, where O'Neill coaches basketball and Kiffin football.

But they're also fellow escapees of the University of Tennessee, with both men jumping ship with years left on their contracts to coach another school.

The similarities pretty much end there. While Kiffin left in January to replace Pete Carroll and take his "dream job" at USC, O'Neill fled UT for Northwestern in 1997 after a feud with his athletic director.

At 4 p.m. PT today, O'Neill returns to Knoxville for the first time since his departure, but it doesn't exactly sound like it's the first thing on his mind -- "I don't have any feelings one way or another," he said last week, before admitting that he felt he had improved the program dramatically during his three years there -- considering the circumstances.

Those circumstances? O'Neill's team lost in heartbreaking fashion on the road to Kansas on Saturday and now faces the prospect of heading back to Los Angeles with a 0-2 road trip, 6-6 overall record and little-to-no qualifications for an NCAA Tournament bid.

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Basketball: Kevin O'Neill on USC's 62-49 win over UC Irvine

November, 13, 2010
TUCSON -- Talked to USC basketball coach Kevin O'Neill to pick his brain a bit on his squad's 62-49 season-opening win over UC Irvine on Saturday.

Here's what he said:

On his overall first impressions:

"We lost 70 percent of our scoring, three starters and Leonard Washington, so four of our top six off last year's team. We're replacing these guys with freshmen and transfers and we're still recovering from the whole investigation. I liked the way we played today -- I really did. I was pleased with how we played defensively, and the freshmen got their feet wet and did a pretty good job. We didn't play maybe like other people wanted us to play, but I thought we played very well."

On his intention to run the court more and how it worked out in the opener:

"[Freshman point guard Maurice Jones] played 40 minutes. We'd like to speed up the game, but we can't speed up the game until the other guys start running with the ball. The bottom line is that Nik and Al aren't great runners. We need the other guys to become runners.

On how UC Irvine looked:

"I look at it this way: Illinois, No. 13 in the country, beat these guys by 14 and we beat them by 13, so I'm cool with what we did. I thought UC Irvine played really well; they had good players, were well-coached. A win is a win for me."

On the play of his three key freshmen, Maurice 'Mo' Jones, guard Bryce Jones and forward Garrett Jackson:

"I thought Bryce played very well for his first game as a freshman. Mo really controlled the game in a lot of ways, so I was pleased with those guys in particular. Garrett was the other freshman that got in and he didn't play great, but it's gonna take him a little bit of time because he missed some practice time and all that. There's going to have be more minutes for him as we go along. It's just gonna take a little bit of time for him to catch up and focus on the stuff he missed over that two-week period with a broken nose."

On the play of senior forward Alex Stepheson, who had six points and 13 rebounds:

"Al played 37 minutes, which is [the third-most] he's ever played in a game. He ended up having 13 rebounds, which I'm really pleased with, and as it goes along we can get him a little more rest by giving Marcus Simmons some minutes at the 4. That'll get [Stepheson] an opportunity to become a better player and react a little bit better on the inside."

O'Neill also said sophomore forward Evan Smith, who did not play, is out for an "undisclosed" amount of time with a shoulder injury.

USC basketball: Season primer

November, 12, 2010
It's not often that coaches are willing to pin the success of their entire squad on one or two players.

But second-year Trojans coach Kevin O'Neill is more than willing to do just that with his 2010-2011 squad, which officially begins play Saturday at 1 p.m. at the Galen Center against UC Irvine.

Ric Tapia/Icon SMI
USC coach Kevin O'Neill isn't shy to tell you the Trojans will go as far as big men Nikola Vucevic and Alex Stepheson will take them.

See, O'Neill freely admits his team's success this year will depend -- heavily -- on the big man duo of junior Nikola Vucevic and senior Alex Stepheson. The two combined to average more than 19 points and 16 rebounds a game last season as Vucevic earned conference most-improved honors and Stepheson played his first season for the Trojans after transferring from North Carolina.

Behind them, the Trojans' cupboard is just about completely bare on the front line -- and most other places on the court, too.

"We're gonna go as far as Nik and Alex take us," says O'Neill, who went 16-14 and 8-10 last year, his first on the job. "If they constantly get in foul trouble or get injured, we're gonna struggle. We have two post players with any experience at all on the roster -- after that we'd have to play down-sized with four out and one in.

"It's imperative those guys have a great year. I think they are the types of guys that can really carry a team and lead a team."

And it doesn't stop there. According to O'Neill, USC's success also depends squarely on senior swingman Marcus Simmons, a noted defensive stopper who has struggled offensively in years past. Simmons averaged just three points a game last season while playing consistent minutes, but his shot is thought to be an improved commodity this fall after he spent the summer fine-tuning it.

Says O'Neill: "He's a guy that's going to have to have a solid year for us to be any good at all."

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