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COLLEGE BASKETBALL / 2000-2001 PREVIEW | The Trojans'

Versatile Scalabrine Is the Most Obscure Great Player in Pac-10


He begins his senior season as the symbol of USC basketball, a 6-foot-9, 250-pound center with arguably the most complete game in the Pacific 10 Conference.

But because he plays at USC, there probably still are many--even in Los Angeles, where neighboring UCLA casts a long shadow--who don't know how good Brian Scalabrine is.

"I think he's one of the best big men in the country," Arizona State Coach Rob Evans said. "He can play inside and outside. He runs the floor very well. For a guy his size, he brings a lot to the table."

Washington Coach Bob Bender said, "He is probably the hardest matchup in the league because of his versatility in scoring. But what great scorers can do that makes them a harder matchup is, they can pass. He can pass out of the low post in double teams, and not just directly back to the guy who gave it to him."

Scalabrine's game does not have the jaw-dropping athleticism of fellow Trojan senior Jeff Trepagnier, or the bull strength of Shaquille O'Neal. His cross-over dribble would never leave a defender with broken ankles, and he's not the kind of defender who hermetically seals the opponent's best center or forward.

Yet pull up the stat sheet after the game, and you're likely to see 18 to 22 points, five to eight rebounds, three to five assists, and a blocked shot or two after Scalabrine's name.

It's the kind of effort Scalabrine has constantly made since coming to USC from junior college in 1998.

"He's not a 'quantum leap' kind of guy," USC Coach Henry Bibby said. "He gets better inch by inch, not yard by yard. When he got here, he was already pretty good. And he looks the same way now as he did when he first got here. The things he does well, he does very well. He understands his strengths and weaknesses, and he knows what he has to do to get better."

As Scalabrine prepares for his senior season, he is getting peer recognition of his abilities.

"My first year, I got a lot of those kinds of looks of 'Who is this guy?' " Scalabrine said. "But last year I got a lot of 'Man, I respect your game.' I guess [opponents] respect I wasn't this high school All-American, and I've worked hard."

Both the Trojans and Scalabrine want that hard work to pay off.

As in winning 18-20 games and finishing in the top five in the Pac-10. As in getting the Trojans' first NCAA tournament bid since 1997.

Just as important to Scalabrine is seeing the No. 23 Trojans reach their potential, whatever it is.

USC's starting lineup-- Scalabrine, Trepagnier, Sam Clancy, Brandon Granville and David Bluthenthal--returns intact and flows like merlot. It's a group that last season started fast but faltered at the end, in part because of injury. But it is battle hardened and ready to challenge for the conference title, something the Trojans last won in 1985.

"We were devastated when we didn't even get invited to the NIT," Scalabrine said. "We thought it was a lock. But I believe that [snub] changed everybody's mind. We didn't have to be ranked this year, but our guys would have worked just as hard. I saw more people working hard this year than any year I've been here."

And Scalabrine, who has started all 58 games of his USC career, is one of the leaders. Last season, he was their top scorer at 17.8 points a game, an average that rose to 19.4 points in conference play. He led USC in shooting percentage, 53.1%, tied for the team lead in three-point percentage, 40.3%, was second in assists 2.83 a game, and fourth in rebounds, averaging six.

He is on the Playboy preseason All-American team and is a candidate for the 2001 Wooden and Naismith awards.

"When I was an assistant at Oklahoma State, we tried to recruit Brian," Washington State Coach Paul Graham said. "He's tough, hard-nosed and a hard matchup because he can play inside and outside. He's got a great body and he plays hard. He plays hard. People talk about speed and quickness, which is a great attribute, but what I like is a guy who's hard to guard. And that's Brian."

Adds UCLA Coach Steve Lavin: "He has an old-school style. For his size, he has a tremendous set of offensive skills. He can create shots for himself and others. He can stretch defenses and pass. He can play with his back to the basket or step outside. He has great hands, and is nimble, even though he's husky."

The best description of Scalabrine is that he is not so much an artist as a master craftsman. He ratchets a little here, plugs in something over there, rotates to where the Trojans need him the most and puts the polish on the finished product.

"I'm not the kind of guy who will break his man down one-on-one and take my team to the next level," Scalabrine said. "It's more like, when people see me play, they see I screen to get people open. I make the pass to the open man. I play hard. More of the little things that hopefully matter in the world of basketball."

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