USC men's basketball: Kevin O'Neill stressing defense in practice
That's the typical atmosphere a USC men's basketball practice entails with Kevin O'Neill at the helm. He's not afraid to call you out by name and dissect what went wrong. He appears open to questions, but ready with answers.
In preparation for the Trojans' (2-1) Sunday afternoon matchup with Nebraska (3-1), sophomore forward Nikola Vucevic and junior guard Donte Smith were the main recipients of such feedback during Saturday's practice. Vucevic appeared tentative and often allowed sophomore forward Leonard Washington and junior forward Alex Stepheson to impose their will in the paint. Smith often struggled fighting through screens.
Interestingly, each player had different takes on his acclimation level with the team.
"Basically, it starts with me," said Smith, who has been the Trojans' starting point guard. "I have to communicate with my guys so we’re all on the same page. If everybody is not on the same page, it’ll be hard to win games. I’m getting the hang of it and I’m getting more comfortable out there with Coach O’Neill. I’m real comfortable."
"Coach O'Neill likes to coach a lot and likes to explain stuff well to make sure we know everything that we do," said Vucevic, who has led the Trojans through three games, averaging 17.33 points. "I think that’s good so we don’t mess up.... I’m pretty comfortable with it. He explains it well."
Throw in that Stepheson and forward Marcus Johnson played in only one game so far and you have a team mastering O'Neill's defensive schemes that he describes is "average at best."
"I think it takes a while," O'Neill said. "It's one of those things we're trying to piece together."
When asked how he would judge the team's chemistry thus far, senior guard Dwight Lewis said, "I don't know."
"I guess I could tell you after tomorrow's game," he said. "I'll probably have an answer to that question then."
Check for more USC men's basketball coverage later at latimes.com/sports.
-- Mark Medina
Photo: USC forward Marcus Johnson blocks the shot of Coppin State's Lenny Young during the first half on Friday night. Credit: Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press