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MARCH MADNESS / NCAA TOURNAMENT | J.A. ADANDE

Trojan Keen to Make Leap

Trepagnier wants to finish frustrating senior season in style, then take his high-flying act to the pros.

March 17, 2001|J.A. ADANDE

UNIONDALE, N.Y. — Jeff Trepagnier has learned quickly. Give him that. Work the system, use it to your advantage.

He has turned a situation that jeopardized his college eligibility into a reason to get married. And he appears ready to turn the high-pressure, high-visibility platform of the NCAA tournament into his personal showcase, a last-ditch opportunity to gain entry to the world of professional basketball.

Trepagnier gets another chance today when the Trojans play Boston College in the second round of the East Regional.

The frustrations of a senior season that was delayed by injury, then by NCAA eligibility questions, a year when his scoring average dipped to half of the previous season's output, seemed like a distant memory in USC's first-round victory over Oklahoma State on Thursday.

Trepagnier had 17 points and eight rebounds. He had four assists, two steals and two blocked shots.

And he did it with the most high-flying, acrobatic display of the tournament. Suddenly, the buzz is back.

The game was an ordinary one-point contest when USC point guard Brandon Granville lofted a pass toward the left side of the rim. Trepagnier soared, caught the ball, hung in the air, reached back with both hands and then slammed the ball through the hoop.

The Nassau Coliseum crowd buzzed. The Trojans were off to a 25-2 run that gave them command of the game. The spurt included two more dunks by Trepagnier.

"It helped my confidence early in the game," Trepagnier said. "I kind of got a couple of easy baskets. Then with the alley-oops and dunks and things like that, I think it got our team going, also."

The Trojans were inspired to do all kinds of things. Brian Scalabrine jumped to catch an entry pass at the high post, and in one motion blindly flipped the ball over his head to Trepagnier for a dunk.

"I've never done that before in my life," Scalabrine said. "But when Jeff cut backdoor, [Oklahoma State guard] Maurice Baker's only 6-1, so I knew he was going to be down. Usually you throw a bounce pass. For some reason, I just wanted to go over the head. Jeff, he catches everything. And when he catches it, he dunks it."

"I knew he was going to get the pass to me," Trepagnier said. "I just didn't know how. Whether it was a bounce or a chest pass or behind the head, I knew I was going to catch it and finish it."

The Trojans figured that would be the formula all season. Throw it to Jeff, let him finish it. Celebrate the victory and watch the highlights at 11.

But a hairline fracture in his left foot kept him out of action for the first three games. Then came word that the NCAA was looking into the 2000 Cadillac Escalade Trepagnier was driving.

The car loan was co-signed by Warren Edmonson, the father of Trepagnier's girlfriend, Malika Edmonson. The problem was, Warren Edmonson's wife was a volunteer track coach at USC, which technically made them representatives of USC and the car loan an "extra benefit" to an athlete. Trepagnier's solution was to marry Malika, a member of the USC track team whom he had dated since they were freshmen. They planned to do it anyway, so they just sped up the timetable. That made Warren his father-in-law, which made the loan legal under NCAA rules.

By then it was January, and Trepagnier had missed the entire nonconference schedule. He joined the team for the start of Pacific 10 play, but didn't return to the starting lineup until his fourth game. But he scored in double figures only six times in 17 games and averaged 7.6 points.

The team did not live up to preseason predictions and the early-season rankings that had the Trojans as high as No. 12 in the Associated Press poll.

"I take full responsibility because I feel like I let my team down," Trepagnier said.

"With me getting suspended in the beginning of the season, it kind of messed up the chemistry. When I got back in the middle of the season, players already had their roles and things like that. When I came in it took us a little while to figure it out."

Even the highlights were sparse. Last year he had 52 dunks. This year he had only 12 during the regular season.

"A lot of people know me from last year," Trepagnier said. "They know I can jump and get a lot of alley-oops. They play me closer now. They don't let me get the backdoor. Oklahoma State, this was the first time playing me. I haven't had that many dunks this year, so maybe they didn't know."

The Cowboys also didn't seem to be aware that Trepagnier ranked second on the USC career steals list with 195. He kept sneaking around and knocking balls loose, stalking like a cat before reaching in with that long left arm of his.

He figures that defense represents his best chance at the NBA now. Do that and everything else, from the dunks to the attention from scouts, will follow.

"When I first got back, I tried to do a lot of things," Trepagnier said. "But I settled down a lot. I figured that if we get into the tournament and had good games, that would help me out. I just take my time now, get my shots through the flow of the offense and don't try to do anything on my own."

He plans to attend the NBA's predraft camps, in Portsmouth, Va., and Phoenix. He hopes for a little more exposure during the dunk contest at the Final Four in Minneapolis.

Meanwhile, he's settling in to married life.

"It's been great right now," Trepagnier said. "So far, so good. We live together, so we see each other a lot. We drive to school together, things like that."

Although he loves his wife, at the moment he is not in a rush to leave the East Coast. Not with the East Regional moving to Philadelphia next weekend.

"We're not ready to go home," Trepagnier said.

He's where the spotlight is, trying to make the most of it.

*

J.A. Adande can be reached at his e-mail address: ja.adande@latimes.com.

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