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USC basketball: Kevin O'Neill calls Arizona star Derrick Williams "the most protected dude I've seen since Michael Jordan"

February 22, 2011 |  7:31 pm

Coaches know that when they're talking to reporters, they're really talking to the public at large. So, obviously, most coaches are pretty cautious about what they say.

Here's an example of one being cautious and one not being cautious.

(Funny how both are Indiana coaches, ain't it?) 

But, sometimes, coaches subtly insert certain messages into their public statements that they hope are clearly understood by one specific audience: Referees.

On Tuesday after practice, USC Coach Kevin O'Neill made such a statement when he called Arizona sophomore forward Derrick Williams, whom his team will face Thursday night, "the most protected dude I've seen since Michael Jordan."

O'Neill was referring to how Williams leads the nation in free-throw attempts per game (9.2), and compared him to Jordan, who in his NBA career received so much star treatment from officials that conspiracy theories ran rampant. (Jordan averaged 8.2 free throws during his 15-year NBA career.)

Last April, Sam Smith, the longtime NBA reporter who once covered Jordan's Bulls for the Chicago Tribune, brought up this issue in reference to then-Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James, who is also said to receive star treatment from officials.

"We always joke about stars getting all the calls, and we heard plenty of this in Chicago in Michael Jordan's era," Smith wrote. "Now, I'm not saying there's some sort of conspiracy. But James may well be the most protected star we've ever seen."

To O'Neill, James isn't the new Jordan when it comes to getting friendly foul calls, either for or against him; Williams is. 

"If the guy walks across the court, it's a foul," O'Neill said. 

Then O'Neill became more diplomatic about the Arizona star and former USC signee who averages 19.7 points, 8.1 rebounds and is considered a strong candidate for national player-of-the-year honors.  

"So we've got to be careful not to foul, show our hands. He's very good at drawing contact. He spins. He does all that kind of stuff. He's going to get to the foul line. He's the best in the country at it. What we've got to do is to avoid dumb or crazy fouls."

To be sure, it might not matter what USC does, foul or no foul. Before O'Neill called Williams "protected" he dumped a truckload of praise on the 6-foot-8 La Mirada native. 

"There’s not a lot of defensive tricks we can do," O'Neill said. "We don’t have a matchup for Derrick Williams. We do not. I’ll make that clear. He’s going to probably have his way with us. So what we need to do is make sure we give a lot of help. He’s too quick and too good a shooter.

"I mean, the guy is shooting 68% from three (67% from three-point range, actually). Nobody on the planet is shooting 68% from three. He’s obviously a special player. He helps everybody on his team get shots because you have to concentrate so much on him. And if you play him one-on-one, he’ll get 25. It’s a dilemma to guard those guys. It really is." 

-- Baxter Holmes