USC basketball: More on Nikola Vucevic's decision and what's next for the Trojans
USC junior forward Nikola Vucevic awoke Friday morning knowing that in the afternoon he'd announce his intentions to forgo his senior season, sign with an agent and enter NBA draft. He was nervous.
"Like, this is the day my life is changing," he said he realized. "I'm not a college kid anymore. I've got to be an adult. I have to take care of everything myself. It's a huge change."
He said he'd miss USC, a school he came to as an unknown from Simi Valley Stoneridge Prep after leaving Montenegro as a teenager.
And because Vucevic signed with agent Rade Filipovich of BDA Sports Management -- a longtime family friend who said he has known Vucevic's father, Borislav, for more than 30 years -- his departure from USC is final.
"I believe he's going to be a high draft pick," predicted Filipovich, who said among his clients are Golden State Warriors forward Andris Biedrins, Indiana Pacers and former UCLA guard Darren Collison, Milwaukee Bucks guard Brandon Jennings and Toronto Raptors forward Linas Kleiza.
Filipovich said Vucevic, who is 6-foot-10 and 260 pounds, will begin working out for NBA teams after the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament, which runs April 6-9. Vucevic is projected to go in the second round of several NBA mock drafts.
USC Coach Kevin O'Neill, who has coached in the NBA for a decade, said he has talked to several people in the NBA and has received varied opinions as to where Vucevic might be drafted.
It is no doubt a special day for Vucevic, who has said he hopes to become a professional player like his father, a professional player for decades in Europe.
"He told me, I think you’re ready, I think you can make it to the next level," Vucevic said of his talks with Borislav. "I think by him telling me that, it really made me really confident about it."
Vucevic is boosted by the fact that June's NBA draft is expected to have one of the weakest draft classes in several years.
"If there’s a draft like LeBron (James), Dwyane Wade, it’s hard to make it," Vucevic said. "But the draft is kind of lower this year. There’s a lot of great players, but it’s not like that draft. I think I have a chance. There's a lack of big guys. Every year there’s not that many big guys. I think I’m different than other big guys."
But one thing that goes against him, potentially, is the possibility of a looming NBA lockout.
"If there is a lockout," Vucevic said, "I’m from Europe so I have a chance to go and play overseas."
O'Neill said Vucevic needs to add strength and become a 40% three-point shooter from NBA range -- which is about three feet further from the basket than the college arc -- to become an effective player at the next level, but that he's a rare talent defensively because Vucevic can guard both power forwards and centers.
"I was joking that I’m really looking forward to his first couple days of training camp," O'Neill said. "I will make sure I’m there because I know what rookies are in for. But I do think the guy is going to be in the NBA for a long time."
O'Neill also said, "For a 20-year-old, if you’re 265 pounds with 4 percent body fat, you have pretty good upside," O’Neill said. “His potential to get better is definitely there."
USC has two open scholarships now and the Trojans expect to sign at least one player in the coming weeks.
"We anticipated this could potentially happen so we’ve had guys on the radar that we’ve been talking to that we’ve seen, so we’re going to go back and see those guys," said associate head coach Bob Cantu, USC's lead recruiter.
Cantu said the most likely players USC will sign are junior college players and players who signed a national letter of intent with a school that might soon make a coaching change.
Still, regardless of who USC is able to add, no one will be able to compare with who it lost.
"It’s the second year in a row that we’ve lost four of our top six and 70% of our scoring during sanctions," O'Neill said. "My job is to make sure we’re better. Whether we can do that or not, I don’t know.
"The first two years were survival in the worst of circumstances and Nik was a big part of our survival. Now we’re truly starting to rebuild the program going forward because we’re finally getting numbers in (recruiting) classes."
USC will use transfers James Blasczyk (7-1), Dewayne Dedmon (7-0), and Aaron Fuller (6-6) to replace Vucevic and 6-10 senior Alex Stepheson.
"We’ve still got size and we’re still going to play inside-out, try to establish the post from start to finish, but we’re going to have a different kind of feel because Nik’s not in there anymore," said USC freshman guard Maurice Jones, who added that USC should be able to play more up-tempo next season.
O'Neill said previously that if Vucevic returned, USC had a chance to be "extremely good," and that if Vucevic left, the team would be about like it was this season, when it finished with a 19-15 overall record and advanced to the first round of the NCAA tournament. It seems doubtful that USC will be able to advance to the NCAA tournament next season, considering it will be bringing in many newcomers.
Despite the severity of the loss, O'Neill said he never tried to talk Vucevic into staying, which Vucevic said he appreciated.
"He just told me, whatever you decide, I will support you,'" Vucevic said. "He told me, 'I believe that you’re good enough, I believe that you’re a good player. It’s on you to decide.' He told me what the advantages would be of me coming back, what the advantages of me leaving. He just gave me facts.
"He never told me, ‘Oh you should come back, it will be better for you, we’ll be top 15 next year.’ He never told me that. He just gave me facts. I really appreciate that he was honest with me and that he never tried to recruit me. He was just honest and he supported me and not a lot of coaches would do that."
-- Baxter Holmes
Photo: Nikola Vucevic fields a question from a reporter as USC Coach Kevin O'Neill watches during a news conference on Friday when Vucevic announced he would enter the NBA draft. Credit: Kirby Lee / US Presswire