Southern California loaded with newcomers

Associated Press  |  Last updated October 26, 2011
(Eds: Adds details, quotes. With AP Photos.) By BETH HARRIS AP Sports Writer Kevin O'Neill had Southern California's offensive scheme set for the season, using guards Jio Fontan and Maurice Jones to run pick-and-rolls as part of one of the Pac-12's best backcourts. Throw that idea out the window. Fontan is expected to miss the upcoming season after tearing a ligament in his left knee during the Trojans' exhibition trip to Brazil in August. The team's heart may as well have been ripped out, too. ''It changes everything we do and puts us in a position where we need to play off more movement and more inside than we planned on doing with Jio,'' said O'Neill, starting his third year as coach. Fontan only played the second half of last season after transferring from Fordham, but he quickly made an impact. The point guard led the team in assists during that stretch and finished second in scoring with a 10.5 average. Named team captain, he scored 57 points in USC's first two games in Brazil before he landed awkwardly on his way to the basket and suffered the injury. Now it's up to Jones to run the offense alongside freshman Alexis Moore, who made an impressive debut in Brazil. The 6-foot-2 guard showed he can score off the drive or from long range and can guard different spots on the perimeter. Jones, who averaged 9.9 points and set a school freshman record with 69 steals last season, is ready for his new role. ''I'm going to handle the ball more, and I've got to be more vocal and be more of a leader,'' he said. ''And I'm going to need to score more.'' O'Neill is comfortable with putting the ball in Jones' hands. ''We're going to sit him out as much practice time as we can without hurting the team, but he has to play 40 minutes a game,'' the coach said. The Trojans were 19-15 last season and tied for fourth in the league before earning a berth in the NCAA tournament. They lost leading scorer Nikola Vucevic to the NBA draft, along with Marcus Simmons, Alex Stepheson and Donte Smith. Even with the departures, O'Neill has a lofty goal in mind. ''We plan on being an NCAA tournament team,'' he said. Besides Moore, 7-footer Dewayne Dedmon and Greg Allen - both junior college transfers - Iowa transfer Aaron Fuller and freshman Byron Wesley are among the newcomers who figure to get major minutes. ''There is going to be a big learning curve. Everything is a first for these guys,'' O'Neill said. ''I hate to say it, but many of these guys are basketball virgins at the college level. Their first road trip, staying in a hotel is going to be brand new.'' O'Neill plans to experiment with playing three big men at the same time, using Dedmon, Fuller and 7-1 James Blasczyk, a former Texas A&M player who was in junior college last season. ''If we do go to that big lineup, I feel that we can dominate the offensive glass,'' Fuller said. ''Our bigs do a tremendous job of rebounding, getting good position and getting guys open shots. Any of us out there, it will be a good thing.'' Dedmon could be the Trojans' most intriguing player. Already O'Neill, a former NBA coach, predicts he will eventually make it to the pros. Dedmon didn't start playing organized basketball until he was a senior in high school. He averaged 6.6 points and 7.8 rebounds at Antelope Valley (Calif.) Community College before transferring to USC. He practiced the second semester with the Trojans, holding his own in the paint against Vucevic and Stepheson. Since then, Dedmon has bulked up and O'Neill expects him to be a force in the paint. The Trojans open the season at home Nov. 11 against Cal State Northridge. The highlight of their non-conference schedule is a visit by Kansas on Dec. 22, with other games against Minnesota, New Mexico and Georgia, before beginning Pac-12 play at California on Dec. 29. ''We're going to surprise a lot of people in the Pac-12 and even in the beginning of the year, there's going to be some teams people don't think we're supposed to beat,'' Jones said.
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