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Surprise, Surprise

USC: Trojans earn a berth after thinking the worst about its tournament chances.

March 10, 1997|GEORGE DOHRMANN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

If it had been expected it is likely USC would have done more, or perhaps at least something to celebrate its first NCAA tournament bid since 1992.

Perhaps more than two players at Heritage Hall to watch the announcement on television, maybe even Coach Henry Bibby present to talk about being the 11th-seeded team in the Southeast region and matched against No. 15 Illinois on Friday in Charlotte, N.C..

Instead players were scattered across the Southland. Stais Boseman in Inglewood. David Crouse in Santa Monica. Rodrick Rhodes and Gary Williams at Rhodes' West Los Angeles apartment. Bibby was also missing in action, scouting a junior college tournament in Texas.

The announcement Sunday afternoon indeed came as a surprise to the Trojans . . . quite a surprise.

"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. "When Gary and I saw it on the screen, we started screaming and hugging like two babies.

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.

"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 all across Los Angeles, and all probably looked very much like Walker and Turner's--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 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 most of last night and Sunday if they were impressive enough.

"Last night and this morning I was doing anything to make the time quicker," Crouse said. "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 Croues got the news, his celebration was much like his teammates'

"I was at a restaurant in Santa Monica," Crouse said. "I saw Cal's name go up and was a little dissapointed 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.

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

The Trojans played at the Charlotte Coliseum earlier this season, losing to North Carolina and defeating North Carolina-Charlotte in a tournament in December. It has not, however, seen much of Illinois, which defeated both Cal and UCLA this season, finishing tied for fouth in the Big Ten Conference with Wisconsin at 12-6, 21-7 overall.

"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."

A high school teammate of Rhodes' at St. Anthony's in New Jersey, Halim Abdullah, plays for the Fighting Illini, and Rhodes said: "I've got to find Halim's phone number. If I don't call him, I'm sure he'll get ahold of me."

Illinois Coach Lon Kruger was equally in the dark about the Trojans, knowing Rhodes but not much more.

"I have not seen them on television," Kruger said. "I know Rhodes is very good. I know Henry Bibby has stepped in and done a good job."

For the most part, USC was thinking little about who it was playing and instead what it had accomplished. Rhodes talked about a conversation last March with Crouse after the final 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 annoucement] he was one of the first people I called. I got his answering, but I left him a message. I told him, 'We're here. We did it.' "

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