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Midnight Strikes Without Key Pair

October 13, 2002|Paul Gutierrez | Times Staff Writer

As the clock neared midnight Friday, 10 lonely cars and an RV sat in a parking lot at Figueroa and Jefferson.

It was on these grounds that a standing-room-only crowd was supposed to be assembled, soaking in the ambience of the school's sparkling new events center while celebrating the advent of another college basketball season.

But with the long-talked-about USC arena still in the planning stages, the throng packed itself into the quaint on-campus Lyon Center for the Trojan version of Midnight Madness for the third consecutive year.

Four of the eight Southland area schools with Division I programs -- USC, UC Irvine, Loyola Marymount and Pepperdine -- held fan-friendly proceedings that included intra-squad scrimmages, slam-dunk and shooting contests to commemorate the official start of practice. At USC, two of the more exciting and high-flying Trojans -- junior forward Jerry Dupree and sophomore guard Errick Craven -- were reduced to being sideline cheerleaders.

Dupree, suspended by Trojan Coach Henry Bibby for the first six games of the regular season to help him concentrate on his studies, sat out because he has been experiencing debilitating stomach pains lately. Craven also felt Bibby's wrath and was in street clothes, suspended from the event for missing a team meeting.

And only Bibby would call a timeout in the middle of the 10-minute free-for-all scrimmage that resembled a street-ball game to call set plays and to calm down his amped-up team, which is heavy on junior college transfers after losing three senior starters.

Madness indeed.

"It was all a miscommunication," said a sheepish Craven, the team's returning leading scorer and an all-Pacific 10 Conference freshman selection last year. "I missed a meeting and [Bibby is] trying to make a point to the younger guys that you can't miss anything, making an example of me. But that's OK, just as long as I don't miss any games."

Dupree, who became a fan favorite during the Trojans' run to the championship game of the resurrected Pac-10 tournament at Staples Center last March, would have been the favorite to win the slam-dunk contest. But with Derrick Craven missing dunks, walk-on Eze Burts won.

"This is a growing experience and it's going to make me more hungry for when I do come back," Dupree said.

Dupree spent four days at the university hospital last week because of stomach pains.

"The doctors don't know what it is," Dupree said. "I'm thinking it's a pulled muscle."

It would have been easy for Dupree's running mate, junior guard Desmon Farmer, to have suffered from a bruised ego after losing a three-point shooting contest to USC junior guard Rometra Craig.

But the eclectic and emotional Farmer was having none of it on this night.

"Coach has asked me to be a leader and I've accepted that role and I hope to produce," Farmer said. "He's been telling me since I was a freshman that this was going to be my team one day but I was just hardheaded and wanted it early. This is exciting."

Some would call it maddening.

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