USC Hoops Preview

Over the next several weeks DevilsDigest.com will bring you a comprehensive breakdown of the upcoming 2002-2003 basketball season in the Pacific-10 conference. Included in this analysis will be the projection of team records, and post-season individual awards. The sixth section of this multi-part series looks at the University of Southern California Trojans.

USC Trojans (Los Angeles, CA)

2001-02 Record: 22-10 (12-6)
Postseason: NCAA
Returning Starters: 2

Projected Starting Lineup: (Returning Starters in Bold)

PG-Brandon Brooks, 6'1, 170 Jr. (JUCO transfer)
SG-Errick Craven, 6'2, 190 So. (11.8 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 2.13 spg, .450 FG%, .347 3Pt%)
SF-Desmon Farmer, 6'4, 225 Jr. (9.5 ppg, 3.3 rpg, ,468 FG%, .386 3Pt%)
PF-Nick Curtis, 6'8, 220 So. (limited minutes)
C- Rory O'Neil, 6'11, 240 So. (4.3 ppg, 2.3 rpg, .485 FG%)


Key Returning Reserves:

Robert Hutchinson, 6'1, 185 Sr. (2.0 ppg, 1.6 apg)
Derrick Craven, 6'2, 200 So. (limited minutes)
Jerry Dupree, 6'7, 200 Jr. (3.7 ppg, 1.8 rpg)
Kostas Charissis, 6'11, 260 Sr. (2.3 ppg, 2.8 rpg)


Recruiting Class:

Brandon Brooks, 6'1, 170, PG (Indian Hills CC)
Roydell Smiley, 6'4, 195, SG/SF (Southeastern Iowa CC)
Jonathan Oliver, 7', 230, C (Ventura JC) Jeff McMillan, 6'8, 250, PF (Fordham University)

Despite losing over half of its offensive production from a season ago with the departure of seniors Sam Clancy, David Bluthenthal and Brandon Granville, the USC Trojans are relatively well-positioned for another run at a NCAA tournament berth. Head Coach Henry Bibby added elite JC transfer Brandon Brooks at the point guard position and when paired with shooting guard Errick Craven, the duo should be about as athletic and talented as any in the conference. Robert Hutchinson and Derrick Craven should also see time at the point, particular early in the season if Brooks struggles to adapt to the advanced level of play or perform up to the demanding standards of Bibby. Errick Craven will play the bulk of the minutes at the shooting guard position and he's the team's leading returning scorer and rebounder. Craven is a strong, quick guard, unstoppable off the dribble and deadly pulling up for the jumper, with a rapidly improving three-point stroke. The small forward position will be filled primarily by Desmon Farmer and Roy Smiley. Both are athletic 6'4 players capable of taking the ball to the basket or shooting for out to 20 feet. Farmer is the second-leading returning scorer and rebounder and the only Trojan besides Errick Craven to average more than 20 minutes per game.

In the front court, the key player is sophomore Rory O'Neil, a wonderfully skilled offensive player with an excellent face up mid-range jumper and extremely fluid moves in the post. O'Neil is equally adept at either center or power forward and is perhaps most effective using his athleticism in the open floor and on the fast break. Last year's stating center, Kostas Charissis, missed the final portion of the season with a broken ankle but has recovered quickly and may or may not start alongside O'Neil. Charissis is more of a half-court player, providing a big body and defensive skills in the post when needed. Jonathan Oliver should also see time at center and he's an entirely different look from Charissis. Oliver is an athletic shot blocker who runs the floor well and is still developing on the offensive side of the ball.

When the Trojans go with a bit of smaller, quicker and more athletic lineup the power forward spot will be manned by either Jerry Dupree or Nick Curtis. Dupree is an extremely long-armed player with explosive athleticism and an offensive game that is still a work in progress. He's reportedly worked hard on his ball handling and jump shooting in the off-season and an improvement in those areas should elevate his game exponentially. Curtis is a player who started several games early in his freshmen year before being relegated to mostly mop-up duty. He's gained a significant amount of size and strength in the past year and also shown enough versatility in his perimeter game to have the coaching staff even consider playing him some on the wing. If the Trojans do decide to go with a big lineup, expect either Dupree or Curtis to play at the small forward spot alongside O'neil and either Charissis or Oliver.

Recruiting Class Grade: B

Brooks is one of the top Junior College point guard transfers in the country, and should be able to replace Brandon Granville's production with not much of a drop off. He is a true floor general with excellent ball skills and court vision who thinks pass first. More of a scorer than a shooter, Brooks is very quick and can break down just about anyone off the dribble and either distribute or finish with his excellent athleticism. Smiley is an athletic wing, very similar to starter Desmon Farmer stylistically in his ability to shoot the long-range shot as well as slash to the basket. He should be able to contribute immediately at either wing spot. Jonathan Oliver is an extremely talented, athletic center with unlimited upside, but is somewhat raw fundamentally. He's further along on the defensive end where he'll provide solid defense in the post and the ability to block shots. Perhaps the biggest haul of the class is Fordham transfer Jeff McMillan who will have two years to play after sitting out as a redshirt this season. McMillan is a big, strong player, capable of dominating the glass at both ends and scoring in the low post.

Noteworthy:

-Rory O'Neil has gained 25 pounds in the off-season in an attempt to be more of a physical force in the paint.

-Errick Craven led the Pac-10 in steals as a freshmen, averaging over 2 a game in conference play.

-USC will compete in the Wooden Classic at the Pond in Anaheim against Missouri on December 7th.

-Charissis spent part of his summer playing with the Greek National team in his native country.

-Dupree will miss at least the first 6 games of the season due to undisclosed academic reasons.

-Henry Bibby reportedly was a candidate in the off-season for the Denver Nuggets head- coaching vacancy

-Shooting guard Errick Craven is the team's leading returning rebounder at a mere 4.4 per contest.

2002-2003 Outlook:

This is a team that should prove to be remarkably resilient despite losing its three star players from last season in Clancy, Granville and Bluthenthal. Brooks should work well at the point with the improved athleticism of this team and Errick Craven is an emerging star with a realistic chance at making the all-conference team. O'Neil should prove to be nearly unstoppable from within 15 feet on the offensive end, though defensively he's not quite as advanced. The post position opposite O'Neil could prove to be the biggest question mark. The Trojans could go small and quick with Jerry Dupree or Nick Curtis at power forward, or shift O'Neil to power forward and pair him alongside either Charissis or Oliver. Expect Henry Bibby to experiment with many lineup variations and only Errick Craven is a guaranteed starter early in the season. Overall, USC's talent is certainly there for another run at a NCAA berth should this team play up to its potential.

Pac-10 Prediction: 10-8
Postseason: NCAA

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