Small roster is no laughing matter for Southern Cal

29 Oct

Southern Cal will need Maurice Jones to stay healthy all year. That's no joke. (PHOTO: OC Register)

By Justin Young
National Hoops Report

Kevin O’Neill is a funny guy but the only laughter that he’s letting out these days is in the form of a nervous chuckle.

The Trojans will be a brand new team this year. It was a fire sale, of sorts, around Trojan-land over the last two years and the Galen Center will have new faces running up and down the hardwood. It is never easy to project a team that has no base to judge a team on.

O’Neill doesn’t really have a clue either.

“Through two weeks of practice or two and a half weeks, we’re kind of a — I would say, a work in progress right now. We return 11 points and three rebounds,” O’Neill said.

Well, there’s only one way to go from there, right?

Here’s what he does know. Maurice Jones will play. The sophomore point guard was a pleasant surprise last year, posting 9.9 points, 3.2 assists, 2.6 rebounds and 2 steals a game. Southern Cal was his only high major offer coming out of high school. O’Neil said he’ll lean heavily on the smallest player on the team.

“The guy to my left is the only guy that played more than ten minutes,” O’Neill said, pointing to the Michigan native. “He is playing 40 minutes a game this year. I’m informing him of that right now, because he’s going to have to.”

O’Neill also knows his rotation will be thin. The team won’t go deeper than eight or nine player. O’Neill has made no secrets about the importance keeping Jones healthy. Luckily for Jones and USC, the point guards in the league aren’t very big.

Evan Smith is down for nearly three months with a shoulder injury. Curtis Washington is gone for the entire season with a shoulder injury, too. Dewayne Demon is practicing with a cast.

The biggest injury was the loss of point guard Jio Fontan. The Fordham transfer was in line to have a big year for the Trojans and even compete for a place as an All-Conference type of player.

“We’re not going to be able to replace him,” O’Neill said. “He was our point guard, our leader. Our leading returning scorer. A guy that had 30 and 29 in two games against pro teams in Brazil before he got hurt, and a guy that really made us go. We don’t have a second ball handler now.”

Now the responsibility of running a team falls on Jones. O’Neill makes no secrets of what that means for Jones.

“I told Mo last night on the phone, I called him and said here’s the deal. We need you to go back to in high school, play like you’re in high school and average 30 and 10 and be an attack guy all the time,” O’Neill said of his replacement point guard.

“I need him to do more all the time. Because of the make-up of our team, he has to be in attack mode all the time. He’s going to be a great defender. He’s got to be prepared to play 40 minutes a game. He’s got to lead. That is a hard thing to do for a guy that’s just starting his sophomore year.

“But his impact on our team with Jio out is unbelievable. If he’s in trouble and gets hurt, we’re in real trouble. Don’t come to the games, it will be ugly, don’t show up. Because if we don’t have this guy, it will be difficult for us to be competitive in major college games.”

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