For his final season of collegiate eligibility, 6-foot-9 forward Charles Buggs chose to make another move.
The 23-year old continued his trip around the United States that began at Martin High in Arlington. He left the southern part of the country for the East Coast. After a year at Hargrave Military Academy in Virginia, he took a four-year sojourn to the North to play for Minnesota.
To complete his ‘Around the States in Seven Years’ journey, Buggs traded in the frigid winters of Minneapolis for the sunshine of Los Angeles, transferring to USC as a graduate student over the summer.
“It's like my life is a big vacation right now,” Buggs said with a smile, “because you're just here for a couple of years. I think L.A. is pretty good. It's just a lot warmer.”
The weather has been the biggest change for Buggs. He is from Texas, but he isn’t used to it being sunny almost the entire year, though he has been surprised by the amount of rain that has cascaded down upon the City of Angels as of recent.
“That’s pretty crazy, but it’s a good experience,” Buggs said. “It's just a lot warmer and I'm meeting a lot of different new people around this time.”
Transitioning from the snowy winds of the Great Lakes to the gentle breeze of the Pacific Ocean in Southern California hasn’t been difficult for Buggs, but making the change from the physical, precision half court offenses of the Big 10 to the run-and-gun, finesse Pac-12 has created a different challenge. There is a familiarity offensively where Golden Gophers head coach Richard Pitino wanted to get the ball up and down the court similar to Andy Enfield's desires, but not the defensive end where there is a drastic change.
“I feel like just being here it's similar in the way how we played in Minnesota, but it's a lot different than the whole Big 10,” Buggs said. “It's just the whole physicalness of the game is a lot different just cause the Big 10 like you said is slow it down while we're trying to push.”
Offensively, Buggs is still trying to find his bearings in the USC offense. He is averaging 2.5 points and 2.2 rebounds with the Trojans while playing more in the post. He is learning how to be the big man on a smaller team rather than the “4” on a Minnesota team that featured 6-foot-11 centers each of his years playing.
Unfortunately, a balky knee has stymied his progression. Buggs had arthroscopic knee surgery in September, but his knee has continued to swell throughout the season, forcing him to have to get fluid drained on a consistent basis.
“I feel like that's been the biggest issue this year because in the past I've had knee injuries, but it's been a lot worse this year where I've had to sit out practices and sit out games because of that. It just swells so much.”
Most aggravating for Buggs is that at times he’s got the knee drained every two weeks and not had issues, but then sometimes two days after removing the synovial fluid, Buggs will begin to have issues with the knee, such as was the case in Thursday’s game against Arizona. Buggs started the game and played nine minutes in the first half, but only played two in the second half. He picked up his third foul quickly after halftime and then spent the rest of the game riding a stationary bike behind the Trojans’ bench in the tunnel that leads to their locker room. The knee kept him from practicing on Friday.
Missing time has been an issue. Buggs has missed three games and only been available for a handful of minutes in others. In the 17 games he’s played, he is averaging 10.1 minutes. He has been trying to learn USC’s offensive and defensive sets, yet he missed almost the entire preseason camp and has been limited on and off throughout the season.
"He's learning our system," Enfield said last month. "It's tough when you play three years in another system and to come in and learn everything brand new. He's like a freshman as far as that goes, but thank goodness his experience level gives him an advantage over the newcomers."
“The transition here has been okay. I feel like it's still a struggle every once in a while. You have to learn new plays and you've got all these 50 plays from Minnesota or from the other school and now you come to the new school. It's getting rid of all of those and learning a whole new system.”
It doesn't help that Buggs is a kinesthetic/tactile learner.
“Sometimes it's easier, especially for me, to run a play I have to be in the lineup and actually running the plays on the court,” Buggs said. “It’s hard sitting here trying to watch and just learning by watching instead of actually [being] out there doing it. I feel like that's been a big hindrance this year. I'm kind of starting to finally get the plays now, but it's just slowly.”
Buggs has learned enough that Enfield has put him in the starting lineup for the last two games. For the redshirt senior, starting isn’t a big deal, but bringing positive energy is.
“It's more of how you come in the game and how you produce when you get in the games,” Buggs said. “Make sure you bring energy, help your team out anyway you can on the offensive boards, defensive boards, doing that and playing good defense. That's the biggest thing I really strive to do.”
With starting forward Bennie Boatwright still hobbled by a knee injury, Buggs will continue to have a big role as the Trojans close in on the stretch run of Pac-12 play.
"We're a great team -- great offensive team, great defensive team. We've just got to stick what we're doing at all times. We've just got to keep our heads in the game. Sometimes we kind of put our head down when things are going bad, but just keep to what we're doing and keep on pushing."
Even through a little transition.
Watch Charles Buggs, below, talk about transitioning to Los Angeles, USC and the Pac-12 while trying to play with a knee injury that has stunted his ability to stay on the court.