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Category: Kevin O'Neill

Shabazz Muhammad's mom is puzzled about Long Beach State

Shabazz Muhammad
Kevin O'Neill was all over top prep basketball prospect Shabazz Muhammad, or at least as much as the USC coach could be given the recruiting restrictions his program faced after NCAA sanctions.

O'Neill had an "in" with Muhammad that probably made many other college coaches envious: Muhammad's father, Ron Holmes, played for the Trojans from 1981 to 1985.

So what's Dan Monson's excuse?

Muhammad's mother, Faye Muhammad, was a track and basketball star at Long Beach State. She openly wondered why the 49ers weren't recruiting her son, a 6-foot-6 senior-to-be at Las Vegas Bishop Gorman  who is the consensus No. 1 player in the country.

"I would have liked to see them come in and get involved and see what happened with that," Faye Muhammad said.

Asked about his recruitment of Muhammad while sitting courtside at a Las Vegas club tournament game Sunday afternoon, Monson smiled like a man who knew he faced an uphill climb. Like Mt. Everest. Monson cannot comment on recruits who have not signed letters of intent.

Told that Monson probably thought her alma mater had no shot at a player of her son's caliber, Faye Muhammad said, "Maybe. But I would have been a major ally."

Allies are not always enough, though. Muhammad is not headed to USC either, despite his father's valiant efforts. Muhammad actually could become a Bruin, as he is listing UCLA among his possible destinations.

ALSO:

Top point guard prospect Dominic Artis commits to Bruins

Malcolm Lee is leaving Las Vegas ... eventually

-- Ben Bolch in Las Vegas

Photo: Prep basketball phenom Shabazz Muhammad lists UCLA among his possible college destinations. USC and Long Beach State, where his parents went to school, did not make the cut. Credit: Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times

USC basketball: Forward Ari Stewart transferring from Wake Forest

Lhikmenc Ari Stewart, a 6-foot-7 forward who played two seasons at Wake Forest, is transferring to USC, Trojans basketball Coach Kevin O’Neill announced Friday.

Stewart averaged 8.5 points and 4.9 rebounds per game last season as a sophomore. He started 16 games and scored a career-best 18 points and had seven rebounds in a 90-69 loss against Virginia Commonwealth, which eliminated USC from the NCAA tournament to start its run to the Final Four.

Under NCAA transfer rules, Stewart must sit out the 2011-12 season. He will be eligible in 2012-13 and have two seasons of eligibility remaining.

“He is going to have a great year of development during his redshirt year and is going to be a great contributor to our success once he becomes available," O’Neill said in a statement. "He has a tremendous upside as a player and I’m convinced he can raise us to another level.”

Stewart, from Marietta, Ga., averaged 7.3 points and 3.2 rebounds per game as a freshman. He chose Wake Forest over offers from Oregon, Virginia and Xavier as a high school senior.

ALSO:

Jim Larranaga hired as basketball coach at Miami

Malcolm Lee to forgo senior season, enter NBA draft

--Gary Klein

Photo: Ari Stewart, left, formerly of Wake Forest, takes a shot against Georgia Tech's Daniel Miller during an NCAA college basketball game in Winston-Salem, N.C. March 3, 2011. Credit: Lauren Carroll/AP

USC basketball: A first look at the Trojans' 2011-12 nonconference schedule

Kevin At this time of year, college basketball officials from every team are wheeling and dealing to finalize their schedules for next season. Some proposed deals go through, some fall through.

Under Kevin O'Neill, who just finished his second season as USC men's basketball coach, the Trojans have made aggressive attempts to beef up their nonconference schedule with plenty of heavyweights.

For instance, in O'Neill's first season, USC played at Texas and Georgia Tech and then in the Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu.

And this past season, the Trojans hosted Texas, played at Kansas and  Tennessee and also played in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Classic, which included games played on participants' home courts and also in Springfield, Mass.

Though there are still a few kinks to work out of the schedule for the 2011-12 season, such as tipoff times and opponents for a few games, people close to the program have provided details as to the Trojans' nonconference schedule -- and this is the most finalized version of it as of Thursday.

(Note: The opposing school's overall record from its 2010-11 season is posted next to that school's name. USC finished with a 19-15 record last season and advanced to the NCAA tournament, where it lost to eventual Final Four participant Virginia Commonwealth.) 

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

Neel On the TruTV pregame NCAA tournament show Wednesday afternoon, analyst Seth Davis said he was surprised USC Coach Kevin O'Neill had gotten a suspension for O'Neill's confrontation last week with a University of Arizona fan and seemed to defend O'Neill's rambunctious behavior.

Davis said, "KO (Kevin O'Neill) is not exactly a water-off-the-back guy. One of the unfortunate things that came out of this was the impression this was like a bar fight. This was in the hotel lobby at 7 o'clock at night, KO was not staying in the hotel, the team was, but he lives a couple of blocks away in Los Angeles....

"I talked to Kevin.... It didn't matter where they were. If he had seen this particular gentleman, it would have been an unfortunate confrontation."

Well, OK then. Whenever, wherever O'Neill sees this particular person there's going to be a confrontation? So there's the lesson for you college athletes. Any time, any place you meet up with someone you feel has done you wrong, get right to confronting them.

USC will play its first-round NCAA tournament game at 6 p.m. PDT Wednesday on TruTV against Virginia Commonwealth.

RELATED:

Kevin O'Neill talks altercation suspension, once again

Charles Barkley has advice for Coach K

-- Diane Pucin

Photo: USC basketball coach Kevin O'Neill. Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times

USC Basketball: Kevin O'Neill talks altercation suspension, once again

Oneill USC Coach Kevin O'Neill is going to face questions about his recent altercation and suspension in the Pac-10 tournament in every interview for maybe the next three weeks. 

In case you missed it, O'Neill served a one-game suspension during the Pac-10 tournament after he was involved in an altercation with an Arizona booster Thursday night in a hotel lobby. O'Neill missed USC's Pac-10 tournament semifinal game against Arizona, which the Trojans lost, 67-62

It was certainly a topic during Tuesday's media day session in Dayton, Ohio, where the Trojans (19-14) will face Virginia Commonwealth University (23-11) in the first round of the NCAA tournament on Wednesday night.

"Let's get it out of the way right off," O'Neill began in his address to reporters.

"I want to apologize once again for getting suspended during the Pac-10 tournament. [Athletic Director] Pat Haden and our administration did absolutely the right thing at the right time. I'm held to a high standard, the highest standard as the leader of our team. I didn't live up to that."

O'Neill was also asked if he feared losing his job at any point this past weekend. 

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USC basketball: Kevin O'Neill reinstated as Trojans' men's basketball coach

Kevin-oneill_600

USC men's basketball head coach Kevin O'Neill has been reinstated after a one-game suspension for an altercation he was involved in Thursday night in a hotel lobby with an Arizona booster, USC Athletic Director Pat Haden announced in a statement Sunday morning. 

The quick reinstatement officially debunks rumors that O'Neill was going to be fired, as the website that first reported his altercation, pointguardu.com, alleged Friday and still claimed as of Sunday morning. 

O'Neill was suspended for the first time in his career, he told The Times on Saturday, which forced him to miss USC's semifinal game of the Pacific Life Pac-10 tournament at Staples Center against top-seeded Arizona.

The Trojans, coached by associate head coach Bob Cantu in that game, fell to the Wildcats, 67-62

Here are Haden's remarks in the statement: 

“Coach O’Neill and I have talked numerous times these past few days. He has continued to express his regret and embarrassment over the incident that led to his suspension from any remaining games of the Pac-10 Conference Tournament. He understands that his inappropriate actions and resulting suspension from the tournament’s semifinal game and potential championship game put his team in an extremely difficult position. Further, he understands that he let them down as their role model and leader. He has apologized to his team, as well as to me, our administration, our fans and the Pac-10.
 
“It was a difficult lesson for Coach O’Neill. I believe the suspension served its purpose and will eliminate any such inappropriate behavior by Coach O’Neill in the future. Although he has been reinstated, Coach O’Neill knows that he still faces additional institutional discipline and a fine.
 
“Our players were the innocent victims in all this. I was proud of how well they and our assistant coaches responded in our Pac-10 semifinal game. We now need to provide our players with the best chance of moving forward through post-season play. Having their head coach back gives them that opportunity.
 

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USC basketball: Leftovers after the Trojans' 61-51 loss to Oregon...

Usc2_300 It's all over here at the Galen Center: Oregon 61, USC 51. 

The Ducks improved to 13-12 and 6-7 in Pacific 10 Conference play.

The Trojans fell to 13-12 and 5-7 in the Pac-10, dropping a spot to eighth in the conference standings. 

How it went down: Oregon had a 10-0 run from the six-second mark of the first half until the 2:10 mark of the second to go up 32-19. USC then used an 11-2 run to cut into that, but the Trojans made only one field goal in the next 6:40 to again fall behind by double digits. Ball game.

The dagger statistic for USC was three-point shooting.

The Trojans missed 16 of 19 attempts from behind the arc.

Junior forward Nikola Vucevic led USC with 22 points and a career-high-tying 16 rebounds to earn his Pac-10 leading 14th double-double.

But his teammates provided little support, as has been the case for most of the season. 

Guards Donte Smith and Maurice Jones were the Trojans' next-highest scorers; they each had nine points. 

Oregon was led by guard Malcolm Armstead's 14 points. 

And here are your postgame quotes, though, it's worth noting that all the USC players sneaked out the back and only Vucevic was made available to speak to reporters:

From USC Coach Kevin O'Neill on the game:

"We're not going to win many games shooting the ball like we did. We didn't have many turnovers (12), but going 3 for 19 on threes is not going to get it done. They were all good looks."

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USC basketball: More from Kevin O'Neill and Pat Haden on team's progress moving past sanctions

As I wrote in Thursday's edition of The Times, USC second-year Coach Kevin O'Neill has received a lot of criticism lately for the way his basketball team is performing, especially from fans via e-mail.

But if you compare USC, which is 12-11 overall, 4-6 in Pacific 10 Conference play and has lost five of seven games entering Thursday night's game against Oregon State, with other schools that have faced sanctions, the Trojans are really doing pretty good, as they have a 28-25 record under O'Neill. 

I delve into this subject much more in the story, so please check it out, but here are some tidbits that didn't make it in from my interviews with O'Neill and USC Athletic Director Pat Haden.

O'Neill on whether USC hired him to fix a program that faced sanctions:

"They never really said that, but I think it was understood. When I talked to them, I said, 'Listen, I’ve been through this.' And I’d much rather have a grizzled, veteran guy [for this]. I’ve been fired three times in the NBA. I’ve been through ups, downs, ins, outs -- all that kind of stuff. It makes you more realistic in your approach."

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USC basketball: Night practice, embarrassing film session fire up Trojans as they head into UCLA rematch

On Monday night, USC held basketball practice at 8 p.m. It was the team's first night practice of the season, but it was the only time conflicting class schedules allowed everyone to meet.

Coach Kevin O'Neill began that practice with a 30-minute film session on the team's defensive lapses against Arizona on Saturday, a game the Trojans lost 82-73 largely because the Wildcats shot a season-high 61.2% (30 for 49) from the field.

O'Neill pointed out the defensive mistakes USC made -- and did so emphatically, using the vitriol for which he has long been known, preaching defense, defense, defense between swear-filled barks. 

Following the fiery film session, the Trojans had a spirited practice, arguably their best of the season, "A battle," as senior guard Donte Smith described it, but also a night-and-day contrast with the lackadaisical effort USC has displayed off and on all season long.

"We definitely needed that," junior forward Nikola Vucevic said. "We needed something to make us angry and to make us play harder." 

It carried over into Tuesday, when USC held a shorter practice, but one that was still high-energy, with players shouting, hitting the floor, running harder and crashing into each other, limbs flying on defense. 

O'Neill said he was pleased with the team's effort in the two practices and that he wasn't averse to more night practices this season, if for nothing else than to make sure that the players maintain their focus. 

"We're not just doing it for this week or next week," he said. "We have to establish an identity in our program that we're going to play hard all the time."

O'Neill said he hopes that's the case as USC enters Wednesday night's game against UCLA at Pauley Pavilion.

Paramount among his concerns is defense.  

"This is a fact: If we don't defend, we could lose to anyone," O'Neill said. "If we do defend, we have an opportunity to beat anyone."

The statistics agree: USC is 10-1 when holding opponents to less than 40% field-goal shooting, 2-9 when it does not.  

One could blame the team's up-and-down play on the fact that its thin roster limits the Trojans to just a seven-man rotation, forcing several players to play more minutes than they should. 

But the players don't use that excuse, however valid it may be, and graded the team's overall performance quite low as USC stands near the halfway point of its conference schedule. 

"A D-minus," Smith said. "We're barely passing. We're just not getting it done right now."

Said senior forward Alex Stepheson: "I'd give us about a D too. We have a lot more potential than that. We could be a lot better."

Said junior guard Jio Fontan: "Probably around a D-minus. Not an F, because we beat UCLA."

Smith had previously said it's hard to pinpoint what's behind USC's inconsistent effort -- the team played brilliantly in upsets of ranked Texas and Tennessee, but dreadfully in losses to Rider, Bradley, Texas Christian, the Oregon schools and Arizona -- except to say that the Trojans are too easily satisfied.  

"Just like KO said earlier how we can't handle success," Smith said. "We get one win and we just let up after the next game. It's not like last year where we went on a nine-game winning streak.

"We just had that killer instinct to keep winning. This year, we let up so easy after one win. We've just got to keep that same edge and keep it going." 

But considering where USC is at this point in the season, having posted a 2-4 record since beating UCLA on Jan. 9, it's not lost on the players how much a win against the Bruins is needed on Wednesday night to have something to build on as the Trojans enter the home stretch of their schedule.

"We need a win we can build from, and this would be a great time," Vucevic said. "It’s the first game of the second part of the conference, and it's at their place and it's a rivalry game."

-- Baxter Holmes

USC basketball: What would the Trojans be like if former signee Derrick Williams had stayed?

Hypotheticals are fun, especially in sports. 

For example, what if LeBron James had stayed in Cleveland?

(Then the Cavaliers wouldn't have lost 19 straight entering Saturday, one short of a team record...)

And what if he hadn't destroyed his credibility, as many have said, by the way he left

(Then we wouldn't have awesome spoof videos, such as this and this, a rebuttal to his Nike spot...)

Staying along the lines of basketball, and how teams would be if certain players had stayed, we turn to USC, which on Saturday night will face Arizona, a team that features three former USC commits, namely star forward and potential college basketball player of the year candidate Derrick Williams.  

So, if the uber-athletic Williams, who averages 19.8 points and 7.9 rebounds per game, leads the Pacific 10 Conference in field-goal percentage (62.7% -- 121 for 193), leads the nation in free throws (204) and made free throw (153), and is also shooting an incredible 67.7% (21 for 31) from three-point range, was playing for USC, how good would the Trojans be, hypothetically speaking?

"Pretty damn good," USC senior forward Alex Stepheson said, laughing. 

Which is why his absence hurts USC, a team that's 12-9 with a 4-4 record in Pacific 10 Conference play, so much. 

First, the background.

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USC basketball: Trojans' 'MoJo' returns against Arizona State, USC hopes it stays

Maurice-jones_600

There's not much to USC freshman point guard Maurice Jones.

Just about 65 inches and 155 pounds of soft-spoken, Michigan-tough, speed, quickness and uncanny basketball skill. 

But what little there is has not only hit a freshman wall this season, it has begun to wear down under the heavy playing time -- a Pacific 10 Conference high 36.8 minutes a game -- bestowed by USC Coach Kevin O'Neill.

The stats are misleading, as Jones had scored in double digits in three of USC's last four games entering Thursday's game at Arizona State, but USC had lost each of them.

"For us to win, he's got to be more aggressive and do more things," O'Neill said.

In other words, "Mo," as he's known, is USC's "MoJo," and as he goes, so goes USC.   

Leading up to the Arizona State game, O'Neill pleaded with Jones nearly three times a day at practice, and met with him twice in his office. He asked if Jones wanted fewer minutes. Jones said no. He asked why he wasn't being more aggressive. Jones gave his answer, which is simple.

"In high school, I had to score, I had to make plays for us to win," Jones said earlier this week. "Here, I don’t have to do as much, so I feel like if I don’t have to do it, I just don’t do it.

"[O'Neill] wants me to do more, so I just have to incorporate that into the flow of the game."

One factor Jones said had often slowed him down is that when he brings the ball up court, he has to slow down for USC's 6-foot-10 forwards, Alex Stepheson and Nikola Vucevic, who are each focal points in the Trojans' offense.

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