LOS ANGELES -- The 2011-12 USC mens basketball season ended hundreds of miles away from the USC campus.
No, it wasnt during any type of postseason tournament. It was actually during a preseason exhibition in Brazil when star guard Jio Fontan suffered a torn ACL.
Last year the feeling around our program went downhill as soon as Jio got hurt in Brazil, said USC head coach Kevin ONeill. It was a long, drawn-out process. It wasnt any fun for anybody.
USC finished the season 6-26 and last in the Pac-12.
The Trojans have their sights on going from worst to first.
Our goal is to win the league and thats something that we want to do, ONeill said.
The fourth year head coach feels he has the horses to get it done. Theres not much resemblance between this years squad and last years squad. The 2012-13 edition of the Trojans is one ONeill calls the deepest team hes ever coached.
ONeill says he has 14 players he would feel comfortable starting. The same couldnt be said last season.
A lot of those guys shouldnt have been starting ever at our level, ONeill said. They were put in tough positions.
Fontan is back for his senior season and is the leader of the team, without a doubt. Hes joined by a bunch of new faces.
Transfers Omar Oraby, J.T. Terrell, Ari Stewart, Eric Wise, and Renaldo Woolridge lead a group of nine players that didnt suit up for the Trojans last season. Of the group, Oraby is the only one awaiting clearance from the NCAA. He transferred to USC from Rice last month, making 10 of the 13 scholarship players transfers, thus the name The Second Chance Kids.
We actually talked about it, ONeill said. Including myself, a bunch of rejects. Lets face it. But these guys all have one thing in common, they want to win.
Its one of those things where a lot of guys are in second chances and last chances and theyre going to want to be good individually as well as, as a team and Im all for that. Im all for our guys having success individually, but it can never supersede whats important for the basketball team.
This team will be challenged out of the gate with a tough non-conference schedule that includes Long Beach State, San Diego State and a visit to New Mexico -- all NCAA Tournament teams from a season ago. USC will also be in the field at this years Maui Invitational.
The health of Fontan is going to be crucial to any success the team has this season. He is cleared completely, according to ONeill after missing all of last season.
Of all of the newcomers, Terrell is the most talented. He averaged 24.4 points a game last season at Peninsula College in Washington. The junior began his collegiate career at Wake Forest where he started 18 games and averaged 11.1 points as a freshman in 2010-11. He set a school record for points in a first game when he scored 26 in his debut against Stetson. He once hit seven three-pointers in a game which is also a school record for a freshman.
The challenge for Terrell, ONeill says, is going to be being able to play hard, especially on the defensive side of the floor.
Wise, another transfer, has completely changed from the player he was at UC Irvine. Hes lost 45 pounds and is down to 232 pounds.
His game has completely changed, ONeill said. His bodys changed. Im sure hes more popular with the chicks now that hes down 45 (pounds). Hes more athletic.
(He) might be our best shooter on the whole team.
Other returners from last year include Byron Wesley, Dewayne Dedmon, and Aaron Fuller. ONeill says this team is versatile enough to play different styles, another luxury they didnt have last year.
Ive always said you play as fast as your car would let you drive, ONeill said. Last year we didnt have a Maserati.
I would expect us to be a much different team.