USC Hoops Primed for Pac-10 Title Run...Without O.J. Mayo

Mitchell GoldenCorrespondent INovember 11, 2008

All that USC Coach Tim Floyd wants is a spot in the tournament: “Get yourself to the NCAA Tournament and make something happen.” Those words, spoken among USC’s numerous National Championship trophies in Heritage Hall, couldn’t be any truer.

In a conference that has contributed the most NCAA tournament teams over the last two seasons, USC is primed to make a run for a top seed.

It won't be easy, though. Standing in Southern California’s way is not only UCLA’s number one recruiting class, but also a Pac-10 full of contenders. Talent is not hard to find in the Pac-10, and ‘SC is at a disadvantage in pure talent recruiting.

Last year, USC placed fourth in the nation’s strongest basketball conference. This year, though, the 18th-ranked Trojans hope to make a run not just for a tournament bid, but the whole conference championship.

Last year, O.J. Mayo led the Trojans to the Pac-10 Semifinals, only to lose by three points. He was disappointing in the NCAA Tournament, failing to bring his team a victory. Fans hoped for another year out of the top wingman—surely Mayo yearned for another shot at the championship. After all, you can only play college ball once.

But what seems to be tough luck for ‘SC fans truly is a blessing in disguise.

Enter DeMar DeRozan. Filling in for the departed Mayo, DeRozan is hailed by teammates as the consummate team player. Spending most of last year watching the Trojans practice and play, he is extremely prepared mentally for ‘SC basketball.

His teammates praise his work ethic and athletic ability. His coach lauds him as more athletic than Mayo and echoes the praise of his teammates.

Not to mention, DeMar brings with him best friend Percy Miller, better known as “Romeo” to the common public. Romeo doesn’t seem to have the skills to start in the Pac-10—and some even doubt his ability to compete at the D-I level—but at least we know the sideline entertainment will improve.

USC’s hope doesn’t end with DeRozan. Several players are just as key to Southern Cal’s success.

Returning big man Taj Gibson is bound to play a big role in the team’s Pac-10 championship hopes, as he attempts to improve on his 10 points and eight rebounds per game. His leadership as a junior will prove essential to keeping the team together and helping DeRozan develop.

Alex Stepheson, a defensive machine who transferred from UNC Chapel Hill, will also play a role.

Two players to especially watch out for are Marcus Simmons and Leonard Washington. Simmons, who missed last season with an injury, was originally considered by Floyd to be a potential starter as a freshman. Washington, who finally arrives at ‘SC after a year of academic ineligibility, provides a strong inside presence for the Trojans.

The Trojans look hopeful to compete in the strong Pac-10 despite strong recruiting by other teams, namely UCLA, thanks to the multitude of returning players.

Their recent exhibition victory against Azuza Pacific showed the potential for a Trojan team concentrated on a full team effort. DeRozan, even while showing complete unselfishness in his game play, managed to score 21 points and grab seven rebounds. Taj Gibson showed his experience with 19 points and 14 rebounds.

If this strong team play continues, the season looks bright for the Southern California Trojan basketball team.