Gerard Martinez |

Just Sayin' . . . early April look

Basketball closes, baseball opens but Trojan football rolls on as Ronald Jones, above, is put through his paces by running backs coach Deland McCullough, left.

It is the one constant around here. Basketball comes and goes, although we hope it's more on the come than we've seen in a while at USC. And baseball is back for you Dodgers and Angels fans.

But we'll take two more weeks of spring football and let that carry over to a summer of heightened expectations for the fall.

Time to talk some ball -- mostly football.

*** One thing we're looking for is that if the five early entry guys, four freshmen and a JuCo transfer, are any indication -- DL Marlon Tuipulotu, QB Jack Sears, OL Andrew Vorhees, LS Damon Johnson and until he was injured, LB Tayler Katoa -- what can USC expect from the 18 newcomers arriving this summer . . . Just Sayin'.

*** In baseball parlance, that's a pretty good batting average -- two potential starters and three who might have been in the mix before Tayler's injury . . . Just Sayin'.

*** Now no way anyone should ever expect that kind of immediate impact, especially on a roster that's nearly fully scholarshipped up, from virtually the entire group of first-year guys-- you know the names. But the spring success of all five is encouraging as heck considering some of the special talents still to come in the secondary, at running back, linebacker, D-line, O-line, tight end and wide receiver . . . Just Sayin'.

*** Get one rookie at each position to come through, to find a way into the rotation, and this is one of the deeper teams USC has seen in a decade, maybe as deep as any we've seen . . . Just Sayin'.

*** But as we have often said, freshmen should never make the difference. This USC team needs the veterans, the guys like Josh Fatu, Malik Dorton and Christian Rector on the D-line, Isaiah Langley and Ykili Ross in the secondary, John Houston and Olajuwon Tucker at linebacker, Chris Brown and Cole Smith on the O-line, to come through before anything and that's pretty much been happening this spring. They do seem to see the opportunity . . . Just Sayin'.

*** They're not alone among the upperclassmen whose return is required. There's the rehab group of Kenny Bigelow, Toa Lobendahn, Nico Falah, Steven Mitchell, Nathan Smith and Jonathan Lockett where there's optimism about them by the end of the summer, at the latest . . . Just Sayin'.

*** It doesn't end there. How about the redshirts -- Cary Angeline, Jamel Cook, Michael Brown, Matt Fink, Velus Jones, Josh Imatorbhebhe and Tyler Vaughns to name just a few . . . Just Sayin'.

*** Not counting the freshmen, that's 21 Trojans for not all that many open spots. But it's more than the number that matters here, it's the competition those numbers guarantee, which is the surest route to in-season improvement which is the path to the postseason -- and postseason success . . . Just Sayin'.

*** If that's a pretty positive outlook, there is this downside. There are no guarantees. If this doesn't happen, if a number of these "if coming" players do not come through, 2017 could be a hard pull. They simply must come through and we haven't seen that at a championship level within a season -- not yet, even if what we're seeing this spring is encouraging . . . Just Sayin'.

*** And as much as the key will be competition, the other component of that is consistency. Every day. Every practice and meeting. That's how you get it done every game. Haven't seen that yet . . . Just Sayin'.

*** Not from the young guys, as you might expect. They're young guys. Sure, we're seeing flashes. We're seeing bursts. But as Clay said Saturday, we're not seeing Deontay Burnett, exactly, who is there every moment quietly doing everything he possibly can at the highest possible level. He's the model for these guys. Let's see if they're smart enough and mature enough to take to Tay's ways. . . Just Sayin'.

*** They're getting coached up to that point. We get to see Neil Callaway and Deland McCullough work up close now joining Tee Martin and Ronnie Bradford whose work we've been able to watch from their and our practice field locations. And we know the detailed way Clancy Pendergast, John Baxter and Kenechi Udeze do things so the approach there does seem geared to helping these guys get there -- but not giving them anything if they don't. It's up to them ultimately . . . Just Sayin'.

*** The big advantage for this coaching staff this time around is that they've set the standards and everyone knows the deal, and the schemes, so no more of the months-long adjustment of 2016. Coaches and players almost all seem to be on the same page. The road map is there for them. Now it's just about getting there . . . Just Sayin'.

*** But it isn't our plan here to ignore basketball. Andy Enfield's USC program clearly has a chance to get in the game, really in the game, right now. No program in the nation has a more favorable location -- in the center of the nation's top high school recruiting hotbed, where an improving Pac-12 conference sits (at the top anyway, except for its unsatisfactory TV contract), where USC is vis-a-vis the NBA and where its LA campus and Galen Center's potential should help it recruit against almost anybody . . . Just Sayin'.

*** What will determine USC's ability to move up in basketball, to be a perennial NCAA participant, Pac-12 contender and Top 25 member, will be determined now by Enfield & Co.'s coaching in a sport where ultimately it comes down to that when lots of people recruit good players . . . Just Sayin'.

*** Getting those players to stay, getting them to be fundamentally sound, getting them to be tough-minded and physically tough, and more than anything, getting them to play the kind of consistent play-to-play, game-to-game defense the teams that made it to this year's Final Four play, is what will matter more than anything . . . Just Sayin'.

*** Here's the pitch we'd like USC to be able to make to basketball recruits: Come here and get ready for the NBA in terms of toughness, fundamentals, defense and rebounding. And in the process, the kind of team success that allows North Carolina to keep players three and four years . . . Just Sayin'.

*** Although USC can never promise and never would or should the way a UNC basketball program clearly can that the NCAA should look the other way, then hem and haw for seven years about what to do after allowing two decades of athletic-inspired academic fraud to sustain a UNC program through back-to-back championship game appearances and before that, two national titles . . . Just Sayin'.

*** For as much as basketball can be worth to a university or an organization and its $800 million annual TV contract, it's not worth selling your soul -- as UNC and the NCAA seem to have here. So no, USC may not be able to expect to ever be equally competitive at the very top as long as those conditions exist for some programs and the NCAA continues to look the other way . . . Just Sayin'. 

You can follow me on Twitter at @dweber3440 or email me at

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