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USC basketball: Kevin O'Neill and Nikola Vucevic discuss Vucevic's NBA draft prospects

March 17, 2011 |  8:11 pm


USC junior forward Nikola Vucevic doesn't know yet. His season just ended Wednesday. All he knows is that he's tired. "To be honest, I really haven't given it any thought," the 6-foot-10 Montenegro native said by phone Thursday.

But many USC fans are very curious about whether Vucevic, who averaged 17.2 points, a Pacific 10 Conference-high 10.3 rebounds and had 22 double-doubles this season, will leave USC early for the NBA.

"I want to take a couple days off from basketball and then I'll meet with my parents and KO," Vucevic said. "My decision is probably not going to happen for a week or two." 

He can enter his name in the draft up until April 24. If he does, a group of nearly 20 NBA general managers and others will give him a private evaluation of his NBA draft potential.

For that reason, USC Coach Kevin O’Neill (known as "KO"), who has a decade of coaching experience in the NBA, said he "would advise" Vucevic to file.

O’Neill said he will call several NBA GMs soon to gain their opinion of Vucevic, too.  

From this information, Vucevic will then determine whether he wants to keep his name in the draft or withdraw it; the deadline to withdraw is June 13.

Vucevic has said he wants to be a first-round pick, but that even if some say he is, that doesn’t mean he’ll go pro.

One thing that hurts him is that he's played poorly in his last three games of the season, all of them tournament games in which numerous NBA scouts were in attendance.

He had only seven points in 27 minutes in USC's 70-56 win against California, 16 points and 12 rebounds in a 67-62 loss to Arizona, and then 11 points and 14 rebounds in USC's 59-46 loss to Virginia Commonwealth.

He did have double-doubles in two of those games, but most of those points and rebounds came when the game was decided. In all, he was rather ineffective in the last three games because opposing defenses double-teamed him and completely took him out of the game.  

O'Neill said he's not spending a great deal of time trying to "recruit" Vucevic to come back to USC.

"Everybody says, ‘Recruit Nik back,' " O’Neill said in his office. "That would be insulting to Nik. I’m going to tell him facts. Nik's a smart guy. If I was to try to give him some schmoozy recruiting pitch, it ain’t going to work."  

O'Neill said if Vucevic believes he'll be selected in the first round, he'll leave USC, but that he's not pressuring him into any decision. "I'm leaving him totally alone the rest of the week," O'Neill said.

O'Neill said he'll have a team meeting Tuesday afternoon and then individual meetings after that. The two talk about the NBA in passing, O'Neill said. Vucevic asks about what it's like to play back-to-back games, who he might be able to guard, what position he'll play. 

O'Neill rattled off more than a few things that Vucevic needs to improve upon to be an NBA player.

"His strength, his conditioning, and the key, for me, for Nik to make it in the NBA, he has to become a proficient NBA three-point shooter, which is a much harder shot than the college three," O'Neill said. "And he’s not a totally proficient college three-point shooter, yet. He’s got to be shooting four times a week, 1,000 NBA threes a day. That’s what he needs."

O'Neill said if Vucevic returns next season, USC will be "extremely good."

Does that mean the Trojans will be top-25 good?

"That remains to be seen, because we're still losing three starters off a 19-win team," he said. 

If Vucevic leaves, he said USC will be "about like this year, but next year we're going to have depth. It's the first time since I've been here that we'll have our full complement of players. And I think people forget that in the whole thing, that we haven't had any depth or scoring or anything for two years." 


Breaking down the Trojans' breakdown against VCU

Seth Davis: Give USC's Kevin O'Neill a break

-- Baxter Holmes

Photo: USC junior forward Nikola Vucevic leaves the court after the Trojans were eliminated from the NCAA tournament by Virginia Commonwealth on Wednesday night. Credit: Gregory Shamus / Getty Images