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Surprise, Surprise

USC: Trojans Earn Berth as No. 11 Seed in Southeast After Thinking Worst About Their Tournament Chances

March 10, 1997|GEORGE DOHRMANN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

David Crouse was in a Santa Monica restaurant. Rodrick Rhodes at a West Los Angeles apartment. Stais Boseman was rumored to be somewhere in Inglewood.

And USC Coach Henry Bibby, on what turned out to be the biggest day in his coaching career, was scouting a junior college tournament in Texas and was not heard from.

But all of them, at least from later accounts, were doing the same thing at approximately 3:40 p.m. on Sunday.

"We were going crazy," Rhodes said.

It must have been a sight, that is if anyone had seen the celebrations that took place across the Southland and in a small gym in Dallas when USC learned that it had earned its first NCAA tournament bid since 1992.

No one had expected it, not even the Trojans, who if they known might have done more--or at least something--to celebrate the announcement that they are the 11th-seeded team in the Southeast region and matched against sixth-seeded and 15th-ranked Illinois on Friday in Charlotte, N.C.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday March 11, 1997 Home Edition Sports Part C Page 7 Sports Desk 1 inches; 27 words Type of Material: Correction
College basketball--In a story in Monday's editions, Illinois was erroneously credited with a victory over California. Cal beat the Illinois in double overtime Dec. 3 at Berkeley, 89-88.

Perhaps more than two players would have come to Heritage Hall to watch the announcement on television. Maybe even Bibby would have showed, or at least made himself available for comment. But neither was the case Sunday.

Expecting disappointment, the Trojans hid Sunday, and then good fortune brought them out.

"Up until I saw our name on the [TV] screen, I felt we weren't going to get in," said Rhodes, who watched the announcement at his apartment with teammate Gary Williams. "But when Gary and I saw it on the screen, we started screaming and hugging like two babies.

"Gary didn't believe it. He thought maybe it was South Carolina, but I kept saying, 'it's us, it's us.' "

The only Trojans who watched the announcement at Heritage Hall were Jarvis Turner and Danny Walker, both freshman. And Walker admitted being there had everything to do with being a freshman.

But there were mini-celebrations everywhere, and all probably looked very much like that of Walker and Turner--much hugging, jumping and screaming.

"This feels good," said Walker. "We deserved it."

Said guard Elias Ayuso, one of three players who trickled in to Heritage Hall after watching the announcement elsewhere: "I'm very surprised. But we made it. We're the real deal."

Apparently real enough for the NCAA selection committee, which made USC (17-10) one of five teams selected from the Pacific 10 Conference.

"We liked the fact that they played very well in a tough conference on the West Coast," said Terry Holland, chairman of selection committee. "They had some solid wins against very good teams.

"They seemed to be a team as the season went along that got stronger. We were favorably impressed with USC."

Most USC players wondered Saturday night and Sunday if they were impressive enough.

"Last night and this morning I was doing anything to make the time go quicker," Crouse said Sunday. "Crazy things I would never have done. Cleaning my apartment, working on my car, calling people trying to kill time that way."

But when the time eventually came and Crouse got the news, his celebration was much like his teammates'.

"I saw Cal's name go up and was a little disappointed because I thought we were competing against them for the last spot, but then I saw that they were a pretty high seed [fifth] and thought that was a positive," Crouse said.

"And then [I and two teammates] saw our name up there and went nuts. People [in the restaurant] started staring at us, but we didn't care."

The Trojans played at the Charlotte Coliseum, Friday's first-round site, in December, losing to North Carolina and defeating North Carolina-Charlotte. It has not, however, seen much of Illinois, which defeated California and UCLA this season, finishing tied for fourth in the Big Ten Conference with Wisconsin.

"I don't know anything about them," said Crouse. "I know they have an exceptional guard in Kiwane Garris, but that's about all I know."

Because the Trojans were unprepared for Sunday's surprise, most of the day was spent reflecting on the accomplishment, not thinking ahead to Friday.

Rhodes talked about a conversation last March with Crouse after the final team meeting, ending what was a dismal 1995-96 season.

"David told me, 'Rod, I want you to help us get to the tournament,' " said Rhodes. "So after [the announcement] he was one of the first people I called. I got his answering machine, but I left him a message. I told him, 'We're here. We did it.' "

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