USC: Leonard Washington

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

November, 13, 2010
11/13/10
5:29
PM PT
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.

Jackson, Jones join USC-led squad in summer league

June, 28, 2010
6/28/10
6:31
PM PT
Two more Trojan signees joined the party over the weekend during Week 2 of the Nike Sayno Classic at the Hangar Athletic Xchange.

Small forward Garrett Jackson (Portland, Ore./Westview) and point guard Maurice Jones (Saginaw, Mich./Arthur Hill) played in their first games for Salvatori's Squad, joining teammates Bryce Jones, Aaron Fuller and DeWayne Dedmon, who each made their debuts last week.

But whereas the opening weekend featured dominating wins by the Trojans, Saturday's and Sunday's games were a lot tougher.

Salvatori's Squad — featuring the USC five, plus former USC guard Kyle Austin, UC Irvine guard Patrick Rembert and juco forward DeQuan Brown — lost both games on the second weekend, to Salvatori's Shooter and West Coast Hoops.

Once again, Austin was the team's best player, controlling the flow of the ball on the majority of offensive possessions. Bryce Jones struggled with his shot again and had a bit of a temper flare-up late in the second half of Sunday's 67-54 loss.

Fuller looked similarly tentative and failed to take control of play at any point in the game, but he did put his crafty rebounding skills on display once again. Dedmon showed more his tantalizing potential in grabbing two blocks but was a complete non-factor on the offensive end.

When on his game, Jones looked more than capable of running the offense. Listed on USC's official site at 5-foot-7, 155 pounds but appearing smaller, his distributing skills were by far the best of any player on the floor, and he nailed multiple shots from 3-point range with a textbook stroke. He also showed an early connection with Jackson, connecting with the 6-foot-6 forward on a number of plays — including one lay-up alley-oop that came from a half-court pass.

Wearing knee pads that appeared to limit his mobility, Jones looked to be calibrating himself to the game's fast-paced play, something he confirmed afterward. Jackson was the best of the USC players on the floor, showing a clear willingness to trust his shot and get back on defense.

With the Trojans likely needing either Bryce Jones or Jackson to start on the wingfrom day one in November, it appears Jackson is the early favorite — at least based on summer-league play.

Playing for West Coast Hoops was former USC forward Leonard Washington, who was dismissed from the team by coach Kevin O'Neill in March. Washington got the ball in the post against Fuller on a few sets but wasn't able to score.

Washington, looking slimmer than he did while weighing in at 230 pounds for USC, did score on a thunderous alley-oop slam late in the game. He has yet to decide on a new school.

The Sayno Classic continues on for three more weeks with a break for July 4 weekend. All five USC players plan to stick with the squad; it is currently unknown if the final Trojan signee, forward Curtis Washington (Elizabethtown, Kent., Elizabethtown), will play at any point.

After Sunday's game, Jackson talked about his first experience with his Trojan teammates. The 2009-2010 Gatorade Player of the Year in Oregon, Jackson said he flew in on Saturday and was just beginning the settling-in process at school and on the court.

Asked what his goals were for this season considering O'Neill's handling of freshman forward Evan Smith a season ago, the 6-foot-6, 195-pound Jackson sounded confident.

"I feel like I can contribute," he said. "I still have a lot of things I need to learn defensively, but I feel like I have the tools. I just need to work with Coach O'Neill and see what I need to get better at.

"I just want to learn."

Here's the full video with Jackson:

One-on-one with Aaron Fuller

June, 2, 2010
6/02/10
2:19
PM PT
Forward Aaron Fuller made the decision to transfer to USC from Iowa last month after a successful 2009-2010 campaign that saw him earn Honorable Mention All-Big Ten honors. The 6-foot-6, 230-pound Fuller is a bit undersized as a forward but compensates above-average scoring ability and a knack for rebounding. He describes his play as "very versatile."


A Mesa, Ariz. native, Fuller narrowed his choices down to USC and Arizona State after first requesting a release from Iowa in early April. Ahead on credits, he will enroll at USC in August for the fall semester but must sit out but the 2010-2011 season due to NCAA transfer rules.

Fuller makes for the biggest get of a somewhat tumultuous offseason for USC coach Kevin O'Neill, who has seen three players (Leonard Washington, Davis Rozitis and Percy 'Romeo' Miller) leave the program for a variety of reasons but has also signed Fuller and junior college transfer DeWayne Dedmon. Fuller answered some questions by phone Wednesday as he prepares to play with a number of USC teammates later this month in the Nike Say No Classic.


Question: O'Neill tells me you two first met in an interesting circumstance. I guess he was in Chicago in April and heard you had your release granted from Iowa and he decided — on a whim — to make the four or five hour drive out to Iowa City and meet you at a diner and just talk basketball. Was that a big reason you ended up deciding on USC?

Answer: Definitely. You could tell he was really serious about me playing there and when he got to Iowa City, we really saw eye to eye and had the same visions on how I could expand my game and all that. I know he is the guy who is going to help me do that, and we had a really great conversation. He kinda sold me right away.

Q: Step back to before you decided on USC. At Iowa, you were a very productive player (12.3 points, 7.6 rebounds in conference play in your sophomore season) but you choose to transfer, sit out a year, and move over to a different school. Why did you want to transfer?

A: I just felt like I wanted to be closer to home. These past few seasons when I was out there haven't been the greatest for me — we had two losing seasons. I just felt like I needed a change and a place I could expand my game a little bit more, and that's why I made the decision to transfer.

Q: What do you see from this current USC roster? Obviously you won't be able to suit up with them in game situations for over a year, but what stands out on this team that you can see yourself working well with?

A: They definitely have a lot of solid big guys. I really like that they have a lot of big guys down there that can kinda take care of the rebounding down there and allso I can work on different aspects like my outside game that I wasn't able to back at Iowa.

Q: Besides O'Neill, what sold you on USC? Everyone has their own reasons and it's particularly interesting to hear them from transfers and athletes that decide to come midway through their college careers.

A: You know, they're in the Pac-10. Yes, I wanted to be closer to home, but I definitely wanted to still play at a high level. The whole coaching staff is just top-notch and everything just went great on my visit. I definitely wanted to be a part of it — the whole school. The players are all great guys too. The whole thing just really sold me.

Q: I assume you've heard that the impending NCAA sanctions that will affect the athletic programs at USC are expected to be announced sometime soon, reportedly even this Friday. How much of a factor in your decision to come to USC was the possibility that something could happen to the basketball program that would harm its success?

A: Yeah. It was a little concern but the positives just outweigh the negatives by so much. It didn't affect my decision at all, really.

Report: Washington dismissed from team

March, 19, 2010
3/19/10
9:25
PM PT
USC forward Leonard Washington has been dismissed from the team, according to a Los Angeles Times report that cites multiple sources close to the situation.

According to the Times, Washington was dismissed on March 7, the day after USC’s season-ending double-overtime loss to Arizona.

Washington, a sophomore recruited by former coach Tim Floyd, missed the first 10 games of the season because of academic ineligibility, returning at the Diamond Head Invitational in Hawaii after fall semester grades were released.

In the 20 games after his return, Washington posted averages of 6.2 points and 4.4 rebounds off the bench. The Louisiana native had been regarded as a pleasant surprise after a freshman season in which he shot 50 percent from the field and grew into a key reserve role.

Contacted late Friday, a USC basketball spokesperson said no roster changes were official.

USC on top in the early going

February, 27, 2010
2/27/10
5:13
PM PT
Through 12 minutes of play, USC leads visiting Oregon State, 19-10, behind solid defense and timely shooting. Dwight Lewis and Leonard Washington have six apiece for the Trojans; the Beavers' Seth Tarver leads his team with three points.

Oregon State's swarming zone defense has been effective, but the Trojans' defense has been even better. The Beavers are shooting just 31 percent from the field.

It's senior day at the Galen Center. The Trojans honored senior guards Mike Gerrity, Marcus Johnson and Lewis — as well as forward Kasey Cunningham, who won't be returning for his fifth year of eligibility — pregame with a plaque and a bouquet. Lewis was also presented with a poster by Athletic Director Mike Garrett's young son.

Not a loud atmosphere here, though, with the student section no more than half full. The challenge now for Kevin O'Neill's team is avoiding the same type of letdown that occurred Thursday against Oregon.

Final: Washington State 51, USC 47

February, 20, 2010
2/20/10
4:36
PM PT
This one didn't end well for the Trojans.

USC fell victim to a sluggish performance Saturday afternoon in Pullman, Wash. struggling to a 51-47 loss against Washington State.

Trojan guard Dwight Lewis led all scorers with 14 points on 5-of-13 shooting, but the senior couldn't hit a 3-pointer in the final seconds that would have tied the game at 50. Forward Nikola Vucevic added 12 for USC and reserve forward Leonard Washington pitched in eight points.

For the Cougars, guard Klay Thompson had the worst game of his career, shooting 0-for-12 from the field and scoring just two points. To top it off, Thompson also turned the ball over five times and shot just 2-of-5 from the free-throw line.

But sophomore guard Abe Lodwick was surprisingly effective for Washington State, scoring a team-high 12 points on six shot attempts. Lodwick was scoreless when the two teams played at the Galen Center last month.

Washington State led by four, 23-19, at halftime, before USC quickly tied the score at 23 early in the second half. But the Cougars proceeded to put together a 9-0 run -- the game's longest -- and take a 32-23 lead.

The Trojans closed the gap to just one point, 45-44, with 1:33 to go in the game, but Washington State's Reggie Moore (11 points) hit a big 3-pointer on the next possession. With seven seconds left, Lewis' last shot to tie the game was no good, and the Cougars took home the victory.

The loss pushes the Trojans (16-10, 8-6) back to, at best, a tie for second in the Pac-10. A win, tied with a Cal loss to Oregon today and an Arizona State loss tomorrow, could have put USC alone in first.

Meanwhile, coach Ken Bone's Washington State team earned just its second victory in its last eight tries. The Cougars (16-11, 6-9) still rank near the bottom of the conference.

Next up for USC is a flight home to Los Angeles and preparation for a Thursday night game against Oregon. The Ducks are currently last in the Pac-10, but they managed to beat the Trojans last month in Eugene, Ore.

Notes: Former men's basketball coach Tim Floyd's job is done at the NCAA hearings in Tempe, Ariz., our Ted Miller reports. But USC's appearance before the NCAA's Infractions Committee continues...While Washington State has lost 17 straight times to UCLA at home, the Cougars have beat the Trojans six of the last seven times the teams played in Pullman.

Halftime: Washington State 23, USC 19

February, 20, 2010
2/20/10
3:03
PM PT
It hasn't exactly been an eventful first half in Pullman, Wash.

After 20 minutes of play, Washington State leads USC 23-19 at the Beasley Performing Arts Coliseum. WSU's Marcus Capersand USC's Dwight Lewis each have seven points to lead their respective teams, but scoring has been at a premium thus far.

The game started off well for the Trojans, as forward Alex Stephesonconverted a layup on the game's first possession. But USC wouldn't score again for nearly five minutes, when a Nikola Vucevic dunk tied the score at 4-4.

USC did manage to pull in front, 19-18, on a Leonard Washington dunk with 90 seconds to play in the half, but a 3-point play from Capers and jumper from DeAngelo Casto gave the Cougars the 23-9 lead at the half.

Interestingly, WSU's Reggie Moore and Klay Thompson — the high-scoring duo we highlighted pregame) have combined to go 0-for-9 on field goal attempts. Moore made two free throws late in the half, but Thompson's been held scoreless.

Only four players have scored for the Trojans. Point guard Mike Gerrity is 0-of-4 from the field as USC has collectively shot just 35 percent.

Trojans prepare for UCLA's 'young talent'

January, 16, 2010
1/16/10
8:09
AM PT
USC and UCLA will match up on Saturday for the first time this season.

Both teams are dealing with some serious issues.

The Trojans are on a two-game losing streak and are ineligible for postseason play; the Bruins are having their worst season in years, plagued by injury and transfer.

But the cross-town rivals have had six days to prepare for each other now, and changes are a'coming.

At practice Thursday night, USC coach Kevin O'Neill emphasized to his team something that seems obvious but wasn't in evidence against Stanford and Cal: the importance of maximizing what they're good at and minimizing their weaknesses.

Simply put, that means getting the ball into the post, early and often.

And letting everything else run through there.

O'Neill said the performance of his forwards — Nikola Vucevic, Alex Stepheson, and Leonard Washington — are impacting the rest of his team's offense. Upon point guard Mike Gerrity's debut against Tennessee and in the Diamond Head Classic, O'Neill's team did just that.

But against Stanford and Cal last weekend, the Trojans struggled to get the ball in the post at all. Part of that's due to defensive adjustments by opponents. Part of it's USC's post players not responding to those adjustments.

"People are really zoning up on us now because of the talent of our bigs," O'Neill said. 'That, and the fact that we're shooting 28 percent from three.

"That makes it harder on our bigs."

O'Neill expects his team to overpower UCLA in the post. But he also stressed that Ben Howland's Bruins have plenty of talent on their roster.

UCLA (7-9, 1-2) just hasn't utilized it all yet, he said. O'Neill still expects the Bruins to be an improved team next season — and perhaps even sooner.

"They've got a lot of talent — per se — on their team," O'Neill said. "But a lot of it's young talent.

"That's sometimes a difficult obstacle for teams to overcome, but I think as the season goes on they'll get a lot better."

In falling to the Bay Area schools, the Trojans' offensive numbers were just about average. But defensively, well — ask Dwight Lewis:

"We just didn't play any defense," he said Thursday. "That's how we lost."

Now, there's a bit more on the line for both schools Saturday. There's some sentiment among the Trojans that USC's performance against rival UCLA will be one of the primary determinants of their success this year — especially given the lack of a postseason. UCLA, still holding out hope for a tournament appearance in March, needs the victory for its tournament resume.

"The bottom line is: we should prepare for this game like any other game," O'Neill said. "But, hey — we know it's a rivalry game."

We'll have more on the blog in advance of Saturday's 4:30 p.m. start.

Notes: Forward Kasey Cunningham, who tore his left ACL and medial meniscus in November, had successful surgery this week. This is the third serious knee injury he's had during his basketball career. He's currently walking with a brace on his right knee...Guard Jio Fontan, who transferred from Fordham and enrolled at USC this Monday, reported to practice this week 15 pounds over his goal weight. He said the main reason for it was an inability to access gym facilities since he decided to transfer just before Christmas — and the holiday season. Fontan, who's been in Los Angeles for less than a week, called the USC campus a "whole other city to get used to itself," but said he was quickly acclimating himself to the L.A. lifestyle.

USC beats No. 20 UNLV to win tournament

December, 26, 2009
12/26/09
11:48
AM PT
Behind strong performances from Mike Gerrity, Dwight Lewis, and Marcus Johnson, USC handled No. 20 UNLV, 67-56, to win the inaugural Diamond Head Classic on Christmas Day.

Johnson led the Trojans with a career-high 19 points on 8-of-14 shooting. Lewis added 14 points, and Gerrity had 13 points and three assists while earning Tournament MVP honors. Johnson was also named to the All-Tournament team.

The Trojans (8-4) seemed to improve game-by-game in the tourney, held on the Hawaiian island of Oahu. USC trailed 27-18 at halftime of its first-round game with Western Michigan, but a late run by Gerrity and co. allowed the Trojans to sneak past the Broncos by a 55-51 score. Against a solid St. Mary's team, USC pitched perhaps its best defensive performance of the young season, holding the Gaels to 49 points — 35 below their season average.

But against a Runnin' Rebels team favored by most to win the tournament, USC played well all-around in a comfortable victory. Seven Trojans scored, and USC held UNLV to just 34 percent shooting, as only Westchester High product Oscar Bellfield scored more than seven points (17). UCLA transfer Chace Stanback had just five points on 1-of-5 shooting.

It was perhaps a bit ironic, even, that a UNLV team coached by NBA and NCAA veteran Lon Kruger — whom many wanted as the next USC coach instead of now-coach Kevin O'Neill — was so dominated by O'Neill's Trojans.

Defensively, O'Neill's team is undeniably stout. Friday's 56 points from UNLV (12-2) were the most scored on the Trojans since a December 5 loss to Georgia Tech, and Gerrity and Johnson have showed a serious penchant for steals in recent games.

This tournament performance was not a fluke. USC displayed defense and sheer athletic ability that will surely keep them in the top half of an admittedly weak Pac-10 conference this year regardless of offensive ups-and-downs. With seven experienced rotation players, the Trojans aren't exactly deep, but they're not so shorthanded either.

The return of forward Leonard Washington on Wednesday added another dimension to the USC offense, which could prove important with the seeming disappearance of Alex Stepheson. Stepheson had only 10 points in the entire tournament and seemed entirely out of it tonight. O'Neill said last week that Washington (nine points today) was his team's second best playmaker, behind only Gerrity.

USC's next contest is a New Year's Eve date with Pac-10 rival Arizona, who boasts a roster crowded with former Trojan recruits — Solomon Hill, Lamont Jones, and Derrick Williams.

USC powers past St. Mary's, 60-49

December, 24, 2009
12/24/09
9:20
AM PT
USC punched its ticket to the championship game of the Diamond Head Classic with a well-rounded performance against St. Mary's, using balanced scoring from eight players to beat a talented Gaels team, 60-49.

Point guard Mike Gerrity again led the Trojans with 17 points on 7-of-10 shooting, and center Nikola Vucevic added 15 points and seven rebounds to provide an inside-outside punch.

The Trojans (7-4) held the Gaels (10-2) to a season-low 49 points on just 16 made field goals. Senior center Omar Samhan, averaging 21.5 points and 11.6 rebounds per game, was held to 13 and 10. The only other Gael to put up double figures was guard Mickey McConnell (17), and once again, USC held its opponent to only five scorers.

For coach Kevin O'Neill, the contest marked the first time this season he had the use of all eight of his projected contributors. Interestingly, he played Leonard Washington almost exclusively at the power forward spot — as a substitute for Alex Stepheson. Washington just became eligible when first-semester grades were posted this morning.

Washington made a big play almost as soon as he entered the game, jumping to steal a pass fromMcConnell and taking it in for the open-court dunk. He had 10 points, six rebounds, and two blocks in his season debut. With Stepheson virtually invisible for the second consecutive game, it wouldn't surprise me to see O'Neill starting Washington in the very near future.

Late in the second half, St. Mary's mounted a comeback to get the score as close as 47-43, but Vucevic defended a Samhan shot from the right block and Gerrity hit a big three-pointer to give the Trojans a 50-43 lead. From there, USC finished off the victory and secured a spot in the title game against the winner of the No. 20 UNLV-Hawaii game at 8:30 tonight.

UNLV (11-1) was the favorite coming into the tournament. The Rebels have beat some solid teams in Arizona and Louisville this year.

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