USC: Shaun Brown

Basketball: A conversation with newcomer Eric Wise

July, 25, 2011
In preparation for its Aug. 12 trip to Brazil, USC will hold 10 official practices beginning later this month in a scheduling quirk allowed by the NCAA.

All of the incoming freshmen will be able to get on the court with their new teammates for those sessions, but new transfers Ari Stewart (Wake Forest) and Eric Wise (UC Irvine) will be forced to sit on the sidelines and watch because of NCAA transfer regulations.

Both players are playing in local leagues during the summer, though -- Stewart at the Sayno Classic at LA Trade Technical College, with many of his teammates, and Wise at the Drew League in South Central.

We caught up with Wise last week after he spent much of a game guarding the Warriors' Dorell Wright. Here's the text of the conversation, complete with Wise's hour-by-hour recounting of the day he signed with the Trojans and his opinions on a couple USC coaches.

PM: Your situation’s kind of unique to most transfers. You’re moving between schools less than an hour away and jumping up a level from UC Irvine to USC. Was this a case of attempting to move up in the world for your final year in college?

EW: Yeah, pretty much. I didn’t have anything against UCI. I just thought it’d be best for me, in the long run, to go to another school, and that happened to be at USC.

PM: You contemplated transferring a year ago, right? After your sophomore year at UCI. What made you decide to stay?

EW: Yeah, that’s right. I was thinking about it last year but then ended up staying for my junior year. I was real cool with my teammates – they were like my brothers – and I wanted to try to win with them. I wanted to try to win the Big West tourney.

PM: How did the season go?

EW: We didn’t end up having a good season. We had some losses that we should have won. We had a couple memorable wins, though. We beat Long Beach [State] on Homecoming.

PM: And you played USC, right? At the Galen Center in November?

EW: Yeah, we did play them, early in the year. That was one of the games I got hurt in. I missed a couple games because of that.

PM: So your recruitment, as I understand it, was a bit abnormal this May. You told your coach, Russell Turner, in April you wanted to transfer away from Irvine but then stayed pretty quiet on it until late May when, all the sudden, you had signed your scholarship papers with USC and were going to be a Trojan. Take me through that.

EW: It all happened in like, a day. I don’t really know -- I think it was the last day of the period they could talk to somebody. I had to give them my release so they could talk to me, so I remember running around that day. And it happened to be the day of the big compliance meeting in Arizona so all the compliance people were gone, from both schools, so I remember I was running around all day trying to get it cleared and get it faxed. I ended up driving up there from Riverside around 5 o’clock on a Friday.

PM: About Riverside -- you went to high school with Kawhi Leonard, a 2011 first-rounder of the San Antonio Spurs. Is his ascent from not being seriously recruited by any big schools, at first at least, to the Sweet 16 and nearly the lottery an inspirational story for you as a former teammate?

EW: Mmhmm, exactly. I remember nobody – none of the big schools were recruiting him, but he actually wanted to go to USC out of high school. But they weren’t interested in him. And so he happened to go to San Diego State and then ended up working out for him. We all knew he could play -- I don’t know why everybody else couldn’t see it.

PM: What about you? Who else recruited you out of high school?

EW: Cal Poly SLO, Montana State offered me my junior year but they took it away my senior year, Boston University. A couple of other schools did but I lost contact with them; the only ones I stayed talking to were Irvine and SLO.

PM: If you had to guess, now that you’re at a Division I program, what would you say is the reason you couldn’t attract big-college interest out of high school?

EW: I think it was the size. They didn’t think I was athletic enough. They didn’t think I’d be able to play down low at the Division-I level.

PM: And what about USC? Do you get the idea that they pay more attention to basketball skill, as opposed to size? Their top two guards (Maurice Jones and Jio Fontan) are listed at 5-7 and 6-foot. Aaron Fuller’s no taller than 6-6 and a power forward.

EW: Yeah, they do. It just doesn’t matter to them as much. You see, Maurice, when we played them in November, he was the one that did the most damage against us, so I could tell they didn’t care how tall he was or anything. He’s like 5-6 or 5-7. If you can play, you can play for them.

PM: Two of those undersized players transferred in to USC over the last couple of years. Have you talked to them about the process at all? It’s not generally a happy time, to be sitting out a full year and all.

EW: Yeah, that’s what they said. They said it’s kinda hard but it can be beneficial if you work out and use the time to your advantage. Aaron said he lost 15 pounds and put on a lot on a muscle.

PM: You and Aaron are sort of similar players, it seems like. Both undersized forwards, both pretty productive at other schools…How would you compare your two games?

EW: We both are kinda undersized but can shoot the jumper and go from the inside out. Right now he’s a lot stronger than me, so hopefully by the time my year comes I can get in the same shape he’s in.

PM: Speaking of shape, the stylings of USC’s strength and conditioning coach, Shaun Brown, have gotten a lot of publicity from the guys on the team on Twitter. They’re always saying this and that about Shaun and how he’s working them out way harder than they’re used to. Are you ready for that?

EW: It’s gonna be hard, but it’s gonna be worth it. He’s really good. He worked in the NBA for a couple years, and he knows a lot.

PM: About the NBA, that’s one of the things recruits cite as the appeal of USC’s head coach, Kevin O’Neill. He’s been a head coach in the league, he’s been an assistant. Now, as a college basketball coach, he knows how to prepare you guys for the league. Were you interested in that?

EW: Yeah, exactly. He knows how to get there and he knows what it takes. You have to listen to him. He’s been where everybody wants to be.

Sitting, waiting, wishing

March, 13, 2011
It was a funny sight inside the Galen Center, where all the USC basketball coaches huddled to wait for the 3 p.m. NCAA tournament selection show to hear official word on the next week of their lives.

Associate head coach Bob Cantu, who coached USC's Friday game against Arizona in Kevin O'Neill's absence, and assistant Dieter Horton sat in Cantu's office and watched the end of the Atlantic 10 tournament final intently. Richmond played Dayton in the final, and the Trojans needed Richmond to win in order to save them an at-large bid.

Richmond won, convincingly. Horton stood and did a dramatic fist pump.

USC's players were following the game, too. Junior guard Jio Fontan asked Twitter followers for updates on the game in between "Go Richmond!" tweets. Senior forward Alex Stepheson, in a slight stretch, said he'd been a lifelong Spiders fan.

Now Cantu sat in his office, alone, looking at a bracket report on his laptop. Horton and fellow assistant Tony Miller -- along with strength and conditioning coach Shaun Brown -- were leading the Trojans through a weightlifting session 30 feet away.

What was O'Neill doing? A whole bunch of things.

He ran the 2.5 miles to work this morning from his downtown Los Angeles penthouse, hearing a few catcalls from fans and passersby along the way. He's suddenly become a lot more famous, he noted.

He took calls in his office, almost non-stop, thanking well-wishers for their support during what he called the very tough times of the last three days.

Bracket talk was on in every television in the coaches' offices. Preparation for the next opponent must wait, of course, until the Trojans knew who their next opponent was.

They hoped to find out sometime in the 3 o'clock hour, during the NCAA selection show. They could also find out sometime in the 6 o'clock hour, during the NIT selection show. Obviously they were hoping for the former.

If the Trojans do make the Big Dance, they could be asked to play in the new First Four play-in games in Dayton, Ohio, on Tuesday or Wednesday.

ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi was projecting the Trojans as the last team in the tournament and projected them to play Clemson on Tuesday or Wednesday in Dayton as a play-in game for a No. 12 seed.

An interesting note: If USC does make the tourney as one of the First Four -- the last four, technically -- and wins the play-in game, it will play its first- (and possible second-) round game in either Denver or Chicago.

Basketball: No. 16 Arizona 67, USC 62

March, 11, 2011
LOS ANGELES -- It has been a while since USC associate head coach Bob Cantu was the head coach of a basketball team.

Fifteen years, to be exact -- and that was as a JV head coach in his hometown of San Luis Obispo. But when USC head coach Kevin O'Neill was suspended Friday afternoon by Trojans athletic director Pat Haden for his role in an altercation with an opposing booster that took place Thursday night, Cantu took the reins of the squad for which he has served as an assistant coach for the last 10 seasons.

And, going against the class of the Pac-10 in No. 16 Arizona, Cantu's Trojans (19-14) held their own until the final minutes, eventually falling short, 67-62, to the Wildcats in the semifinals of the conference tournament.

“That was unbelievable, in my eyes," said USC guard Jio Fontan, who had seven points and five assists in 28 minutes. "To be honest, I didn’t expect him to do the job he did today. I knew myself, as a leader, I was gonna go out there and try to lead my team -- but Coach Cantu today, that was almost unreal.

"That’s one of the craziest experiences I’ve ever dealt with, throwing a coach into the fire to face a top 15 team just on the fly, two hours before the game."

Cantu said he learned he'd coach the game at 3 p.m., three hours before tip-off. He made plentiful use of his fellow assistants -- Dieter Horton was in charge of substitutions, Tony Miller called out defensive assignments and strength coach Shaun Brown focused on Nikola Vucevic -- but Cantu was the play-caller and the guy in charge of the huddle.

And his players, from Fontan and Vucevic to seniors Alex Stepheson and Marcus Simmons, praised his performance.

"He didn’t show us any sign of fear, any sign of confusion or anything," Fontan said. "He was ready for the moment. He didn’t try to be KO, he was himself. He was different. He was real confident in himself, and I think that’s what made the team go the way we did today."

(Read full post)

Basketball: New-look Trojans look good

October, 16, 2010
There was no hype, no hullabaloo, but the USC basketball team officially opened its 2010-2011 season with a three-hour practice Friday night at the Galen Center -- and the Trojans actually looked pretty good.

Afterward, USC Coach Kevin O'Neill said he was pleased. During? Not so much, as O'Neill was being his usual self, constantly yelling his attempts to whip his squad into shape. The players understood.

"It was a good first day," forward Alex Stepheson said after Friday's practice. "There was a lot to be learned and Coach was really getting into people, but we made some big steps today."

Big steps is the phrase of the year for this team. Big steps will need to happen regularly -- weekly, O'Neill said -- in order for the Trojans' goals to be reached.

Those goals are, in order: to win the Pac-10 regular season, to win the Pac-10 tournament and to play in the NCAA tournament. With only nine scholarship players available for the first 10 games of the season, those seem like unenviable tasks.

"We want to be an NCAA tournament team," O'Neill said. "I don't know if we will be or not, but we want to be."

In the games before junior transfer Jio Fontan becomes eligible and brings the scholarship count to 10 -- Dec. 18 at Kansas -- the Trojans will have to face, among others, Nebraska, Cal State Fullerton and Texas.

Two freshmen guards -- Bryce Jones and Maurice Jones, who are unrelated -- appear to be the key to coming out of that stretch relatively unscathed. Both players looked good Friday and both were lauded by their teammates.

Fontan said Mo Jones has been even better than he expected; O'Neill said he's "everything you want in a point guard."

"He's gonna be able to come in and do things with the ball that a lot of people don't expect him to do right from the jump," Fontan said. "I'm definitely impressed with what he can do."

Jones had a particularly great day Friday, looking much-improved from the summer. He made a number of steals that he converted into layups, and his shot looked good in limited displays.

Fontan has already taken a leadership role on the squad, practicing with the team since January after transferring from Fordham. His ability to create on the court means teammates see him as a leader -- despite the fact he'll be on the bench for almost a third of the season.

"I think he's one of the most respected guys in our locker room -- if not the most -- already," O'Neill said. "But it's difficult when you're not playing. Obviously you can do a lot more with shorts and sneakers on then you can with jeans and dress shoes. It's just the way it is."

Final notes: Weight changes: Vucevic said he's now at 255 pounds, gaining 15 from his playing weight of 240 last season; guard/forward Marcus Simmons also gained 15, from 205 to 220. Credit that to new strength and conditioning manager Shaun Brown. ...Fontan, who said he preferred having a no-frills practice compared to the Midnight Madness event many schools put on across the nation, said O'Neill told the team he would consider doing Midnight Madness next season. Said O'Neill on the topic: "I told them, 'Let's see how good you are. Hey, I'll be happy to practice from midnight to three. If they want to have midnight madness, we'll have madness.'"


USC forward Nikola Vucevic was the most improved player in the Pac-10 last season after he upped his averages by noteworthy margins of eight points and seven rebounds from his freshman season.

This year, he again spent the summer playing for the national team in his home country of Montenegro, going against fellow countryman and Minnesota Timberwolves forward Nikola Pekovic.

See what Vucevic learned over the summer and how he feels about the coming season:


This will be Stepheson's first full preseason with the Trojans, and O'Neill figures it will help a great deal when midseason comes around and Stepheson is in much better shape than he was a year ago.

See what the North Carolina transfer said about his preparation, USC's lack of front-court depth and a variety of other topics after practice Friday:

Changes for USC basketball

May, 21, 2010
Guard Percy 'Lil' Romeo' Miller has left the team, the school announced Friday.

Miller, a sophomore, spent two seasons with the squad after joining the team as a recruit in the class of 2008. Miller played in a total of nine games as a Trojan, logging 19 minutes of play. He scored five points and recorded three rebounds and an assist.

The school also formally announced that forward Leonard Washington and center Davis Rozitis will transfer.

Additionally, the school announced the hiring of Shaun Brown as strength and conditioning manager. Brown spent five seasons working in the same capacity at Virginia and previously worked with the NBA's Toronto Raptors while USC coach Kevin O'Neill was the head coach.

Brown has worked with a reported 19 players who went on to be selected in the NBA draft.



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