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Bluthenthal Stars in Silent Role

USC:He quietly posted meaningful numbers while others grabbed spotlight.


UNIONDALE, N.Y. — If David Bluthenthal had appeared on the old "What's My Line?" TV show, the panel might have tabbed him as a basketball player simply because he is tall.

These days, however, few beyond the core fan base at USC or late-night cable hoop fanatics would recognize the 6-foot-7, 225-pound junior as the starting small forward at USC.

USC's offense mostly starts and finishes with Sam Clancy, Brian Scalabrine and Brandon Granville. Bluthenthal gets his touches here and there, his points where he finds them. His major responsibilities are rebounding and defense.

He is not overtly aggressive on the court, so he often doesn't stand out during the games. And in interviews, he's cordial but cautious. So, you don't hear much about Bluthenthal.

"That's all right," he says. "I'm used to it."

But it's doubtful the 21-9 Trojans would be playing in the NCAA tournament, facing Oklahoma State in the first round Thursday night, without Bluthenthal's contributions.

He's the team's third-leading scorer at 13.2 points, and second-best rebounder at 6.9 a game. His 47 steals--a career best--rank him second on the team. He is tied with Scalabrine in free-throw shooting at .795. His 56 three-pointers tie him with Burt Harris for 11th on the Trojan's single-season list.

The best stat of all: When he has a big game it's a guaranteed win. Seven times this season, Bluthenthal has scored 20 or more points. The Trojans have won all seven games.

Still, he is primarily a role player. And the transition from high school star to complementary player in USC's system hasn't always been easy.

At Westchester High, Bluthenthal was the go-to guy. In his senior season, 1997-98, he averaged 21 points and 11 rebounds. With Trojan teammate Brandon Granville, he helped Westchester win its first L.A. City Section 4-A championship, and was the 4-A player of the year.

His Trojan numbers haven't been as high. Bluthenthal played limited minutes as a freshman and averaged 2.1 points. Last season he rose to 13.9 points, making 47.8% of his shots, and a team-leading 8.3 rebounds.

But last season, Clancy and Jarvis Turner missed much of it with foot injuries. Clancy has been fit and has had an All-Pacific 10 Conference season. Turner, the team's lead frontcourt reserve, has developed into a steady, dependable player.

With Granville, Scalabrine, Jeff Trepagnier and freshman Desmon Farmer also getting their scoring opportunities, Bluthenthal's shots dwindled from 312 last season to 300.

"I had never been a role player before I came here," Bluthenthal said. "The hardest thing was not getting as many shots. I had to work through that.

"But I don't want to be a selfish player. I can still rebound and play defense. I can let the game come to me."

Bluthenthal, whose favorite move is to curl around a screen and fire from a corner, can be streaky shooter. Some games he has torched opponents--he was eight for 11 against Arizona State--and some he has torched himself. He had a 0-for-9 flameout against Oregon State.

That Feb. 22 game against the Beavers, which USC lost, was the low point of the season for Bluthenthal and the Trojans, even worse than the 44-point home loss to Arizona five days earlier.

But that was also the Trojans' turning point.

"We had a team meeting before and after the Oregon State game," Bluthenthal said. "In the before meeting, Brandon and Jarvis talked. After the game, everybody said something. We were confident we had the talent to go to the NCAA tournament, and we would not let the season get away from us."

The Trojans almost slipped again in their next game, against Oregon. Bluthenthal, however, would not let USC lose, scoring 29 points to equal the career high he had set earlier this season against Cal State Northridge. Just as important, after the Trojans had rallied from a 12-point deficit in the final five minutes, Bluthenthal scored the first five points in overtime to give USC a lead it never relinquished.

That is the kind of player the Trojan coaching staff wants to see every game. It might happen too. Scalabrine, Turner and Trepagnier graduate in June and Bluthenthal expects to get a chance to bookend Clancy as a leading scorer in the Pac-10, not just on the team.

But that's next season. This one is not over. And Bluthenthal said the Trojans are confident it will not end Thursday.

"Oklahoma State doesn't have the greatest size, but they're athletic and quick," he said. "They play good pressure defense. It will definitely be a tough game. But we feel better prepared now than we did two weeks ago. We feel we have a good chance."

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