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Staying Power

Trojans Think They Have Nucleus to Keep On Climbing


A school-record 24 victories. A trip to the NCAA tournament. A future that seems bright.

That was the story of USC basketball.

In 1992.

Nine years later the Trojans find their train has pulled into the same station.

Do they go through deja vu all over again and fall into another stretch of basketball eyesoremetrics, only going to the tournament twice? Or do they go forward and challenge UCLA on being the city's college hoop heartthrob?

That's the biggest question facing USC as it takes a breath from its scintillating NCAA run to the Elite Eight and takes stock of what kind of program it has--and could be.

"It was a great season, a great ride," Coach Henry Bibby said. "I thought we were this good although I never said it to [the media]. But I could see we were pretty good."

The Trojans fashioned their 24-10 record in three acts.

There was a 10-2 nonconference record that kept them nationally ranked (12th being the highest point). They won 11 of 18 Pacific 10 Conference games, and recovered from humbling losses to UCLA, Arizona and Oregon State to finish fourth and earn their first NCAA bid since 1997.

In the tournament USC played its best basketball, winning three games--the most ever by a Trojan team--and reaching the Elite Eight for the first time under the NCAA's present format.

"It was definitely an incredible season for us," said Jarvis Turner, one of four seniors who played their last game Saturday, losing to Duke in the East Regional final at Philadelphia.

"We had our highs and lows. But at the end of the year we started to peak; our mentality changed. Guys like Brandon [Granville], David [Bluthenthal] and Sam [Clancy]--they really grew up and it showed. They should be proud of each other. This was one of the best teams to ever play at USC. That's an accomplishment."

USC loses Turner, Brian Scalabrine, Jeff Trepagnier and Tyler Murphy to graduation. (All four will have their degrees.) Starters Clancy (17.3 points), Bluthenthal (13.5)--both of whom made the East Regional all-tournament team--and Granville (12.4) return.

As of now Desmon Farmer, who started 16 games until Trepagnier (who sat out nearly half of the season because of injury and a suspension) was ready, joins Granville in the backcourt. And Robert Hutchinson, who had a quiet first season but saved USC in the tournament against Kentucky, can back up both.

The fifth starter is uncertain. That player will come out of practice, either from a so-far undistinguished bench that includes Kostas Charissis, Nate Hair and Luke Minor, or next season's recruiting class.

Getting a taste--or rather a big gulp--of the NCAA tournament has fueled the team's resolve to play in it again next season.

"It's important not to be a one-year wonder," Bluthenthal said. 'This was the best time of my life, during the tournament. I'd give anything to be back here next year. It's going to make me work harder in the off-season to get back here."

"I like what we have coming back," Granville said. "We'll be confident; we'll have three of the five starters back, Desmon Farmer's good, we have some good recruits and hopefully someone like Kostas will come off the bench next year and step up big.

"But we'll definitely miss what Jeff and Brian have contributed to our team--that senior leadership they brought offensively and defensively."

Other players will use the 79-69 loss to Duke as their summer motivation.

"We're going to work extra hard," Hutchinson said. "It was a great feeling getting to the Elite Eight. And it hurts to lose. But Duke played so hard. They were beating us to loose balls and hustle plays. They got the extra rebounds and second shots. They showed us what a great team is really about."

Where USC figures to fortify itself immediately is at the guard position with 6-2 twins Derrick and Errick Craven. Both are considered suffocating defenders, and both were instrumental in leading Torrance Bishop Montgomery to the Division III state title.

The incoming height will come from 6-foot-8 forward Nick Curtis of Oxnard High, and 6-11 center Rory O'Neil of Ridgecrest Burroughs High.

Another recruit, 6-7 forward Jerry Dupree from San Bernardino Valley College, has not yet met the academic requirements to enter USC. Should he qualify, the quality of the incoming class rises.

"You're going to miss Brian Scalabrine, Jeff Trepagnier and Jarvis Turner. I don't know if we can get anyone in immediately who can make the difference for those guys," Bibby said.

"But we have the nucleus to start with. And we have some good recruits who can come in and play immediately. But they will be freshmen and there will be an adjustment period."

So, for the time being, the Trojans feel there are enough reasons to look eagerly to the future.

"The program is in good hands," Trepagnier said. "Coach Bibby builds the team a little more each year. We have some good recruits coming in. There is enough to come back to the NCAA tournament again next year."


Reviewing the USC Roster

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