O.J. Mayo, a do-it-all 6-5 guard, leads five Trojans in double-digit scoring at 21.3 points per game, followed by fellow freshman Davon Jefferson (6-8 forward), who averages 13.8 points. Six-foot-five sophomore guards Daniel Hackett (11.3 ppg) and Dwight Lewis (10.7 ppg), and 6-9 sophomore forward Taj Gibson (10.3 ppg, 8.4 rpg) also contribute nicely to the SC attack.
“They struggled in the first game, but I think Tim (coach Floyd) brought up some good points,” Bill Self said. “You've got a guy on the cover of SI (Sports Illustrated), you've got Sporting News doing photo shoots, you've got all that stuff and all the hype surrounding O.J. and the team, and they just don't play as well in the first game. Since then, though, they've been terrific. They have won fast, they've won grind-it-out games.”
“The most impressive win of our college basketball season so far, by anybody, is their win over SIU,” Self added. “You beat Southern Illinois by 25 on a neutral court, that’s like winning by 40 or 45 against anybody else because of the way they play. We were lucky to win on the last two possessions last year. They got it going pretty good right now. ...They’re playing with an aura of toughness and confidence right now. By the end of the season they are going to have a chance to be one of the top ten teams in the county, without question."
Self is impressed with several players on the Trojans roster. Of course, the ballyhooed Mayo is the most important guy KU must contain.
“He could be the best player we’ll play against all year,” Self said. “There are a lot of guys like that, but he’s that good. From a poised, 6-4, 6-5, legitimate one (point) or two (shooting guard), gets his own shot, beats you off the bounce, quick, long, he’s probably as far along (among freshmen) as anyone is in the country.”
Junior guard Brandon Rush agrees.
“I think he’s a great player,” Rush said. “I played against him in AAU a few times. I didn’t guard him, (though). I guarded Bill Walker of K-State.”
The Trojans also have some fine big guards in Hackett and former KU recruit Lewis.
"With these guys, you've got size and speed,” Self said. “They are not your typical big guards that are not as quick as little guards. O.J. is as quick as or quicker than anybody on the court with his first step. That will be a big challenge for us. A very big challenge."
And then there’s big guys up front in Jefferson and Gibson.
“Davon Jefferson is really good, he’s terrific. Taj Gibson is terrific,” Self said.
This game marks a homecoming for KU senior guard Rodrick Stewart, who played his freshman season at USC. He’s having the best year of his career so far, averaging a personal-best 7.3 points and over four assists per game. Stewart is also shooting a sizzling 60.7 percent from the field.
“Rodrick's played well,” Self said. “He's doing what he can do really well. He gives us so much energy and usually great energy and toughness leads to playing well defensively and that's the case with him. Because of all this, he's scoring more because he's not thinking about it. I'm real pleased with Rodrick and his play. He plays with the most energy of anybody on the team."
“Whenever you play against your old school, there is always some extra incentive there,” Self added. "I know this is a big game for him.”
Indeed, it is.
“I’m excited,” Stewart said. “Going back to SC, I haven’t been up there for a long time. I’ll get to see my family, too. They’ll get to watch me play. My brother (twin Rodrick, who starred at USC) will definitely be there.”
And who will Lodrick be cheering for?
“He still supports SC to the fullest, but of course, he’s going to support his twin brother,” Stewart said. “He has to. I think he’ll be cheering for both teams.”
Self was asked during his Friday press conference if the rule that requires players to attend college for at least one year affected the way he recruited.
“It hasn’t affected the way we recruit,” Self said. “I’d love to get a one-year guy that doesn’t go into it saying I’m there for one year, but he performs so good that he has to leave, we’re going to be better off because of it. I can get him for one, and hope he stays two, maybe. If O.J. or Eric Gordon (Indiana) or Derrick Rose (Memphis) or whover there is, there’s no coach in America saying they wouldn’t take him. Those guys are really talented. Our talent level is pretty good, (too). Certainly, we’re not apologizing for that. We think we got as good as players as anybody.”