Kevin O’Neill couldn’t fathom the season he had in 2011-12. USC was slammed with an unbelievable amount of injuries, transfers and lack of cohesion among his squad and it ended with a school record 26 losses.
If you compare last season’s team to this year’s, there’s barely a resemblance. Point guard Jio Fontan returns after tearing his ACL prior to last year, along with five Division I transfers getting eligible, including Rice transfer Omar Oraby, who was granted a waiver for immediate eligibility on Thursday.
The pair are just two of a total of 10 transfers on the Trojans squad, and six have just one season of eligibility left. With 10 transfers that makes up over half of their 17-man roster, USC bares resemblance to Missouri and their 11 newcomers this season. They have their own version of Phil Pressey in Fontan, a Fordham transfer who will be one of the best point guards in the Pac-12 Conference this season.
But this a bit of a stretch. USC has eight Division I transfers and two junior college transfers (center Jame Blasczyk and guard J.T. Terrell spent time at both).
It’s a model that’s tough to win with, but we all remember last season’s Iowa State team that took a team of transfers, both new and old, to the NCAA Tournament third round last year, led by Minnesota transfer Royce White (who didn’t even suit up for the Golden Gophers) and others like Chris Babb from Penn State and Marquette defector Scott Christopherson and others. It can be done.
But I think it’s clear that Kevin O’Neill is putting a lot of his career on the line with this season. While it’s obvious there wasn’t a ton that O’Neill could’ve done last season to make things better, a 6-26 record is tough to overcome if the next season isn’t a lot better in big-time college basketball. O’Neill understands that. As Baxter Holmes from the Los Angeles Times writes.
He said most coaches — unless they’re Kentucky’s John Calipari, North Carolina’s Roy Williams or of that stature — are always only two bad seasons from being fired.
“So I’m one [season] into that,” [O’Neill] said.
This could definitely work for the Trojans this season. A number of those transfers, some who have already played a season, are coming from big-time programs such as Wake Forest (Terrell and Ari Stewart), Texas A&M (Blasczyk), Aaron Fuller (Iowa) and Tennessee (Renaldo Woolridge) and contributed. Others come from smaller programs and are looking for tougher competition like Fontan, Oraby and UC-Irvine transfer Eric Wise. They know what it takes.
The one problem is, it’s a one-year fix for O’Neill. What happens in 2013-14? Well, I guess he could watch what Fred Hoiberg does this season with the Cyclones. But USC has taken a calculated risk with this team. It’s only two seasons removed from an NCAA Tournament berth, and this is a move to at least make sure they get back.
David Harten is the editor of The Backboard Chronicles. You can follow him on Twitter at @David_Harten.