Trying to quell the distraction of Mike Williams' decision-making process, USC players and coaches convened Tuesday for a team meeting without the consensus All-American wide receiver.
Williams, who has played two seasons for the Trojans, is mulling whether to take advantage of the recent Maurice Clarett decision that allows all underclassmen to enter the NFL draft. Sources said the 6-foot-5, 230-pound Williams decided Friday to turn pro but has vacillated since Coach Pete Carroll launched a furious offensive to change his mind.
Players have until Monday to petition for entry into the draft, which will be held April 24-25.
"We were just discussing the whole issue with Mike and the draft," quarterback Matt Leinart said after the meeting. "We're just keeping it together as a family and, basically, nothing is going to break us. We support him with whatever he does."
Carroll said Tuesday's meeting was called to inform players about "a frontier" that was created when Clarett successfully sued the NFL over its draft eligibility guidelines. The NFL is appealing the decision.
"It's a new issue, a new time and they deserve to know what's going on," Carroll said after the meeting. "I just gave them a little history and a little background to understand what's just happened.
"Mike Williams isn't the only guy dealing with the question right now, but he's the one that everybody's talking about. It's home to us, so everybody just needed to know what's going on with this whole situation."
Carroll said he did not know if Williams had been told about the meeting, and that he was unconcerned by his absence.
"Mike's got ... some issues to take care of obviously," Carroll said. "Right now, I'm not worried about him being part of this stuff. He needs to get his mind straight on what he's doing."
Williams rocked the program Monday when the Daily Trojan, the campus newspaper, published a story that included critical comments about teammates that were attributed to Williams. The team leadership committee met later in the day to discuss the story and schedule the team meeting.
After a separate, lengthy meeting with Carroll on Monday, Williams said of his published comments: "Maybe they weren't put in the right context or the right way."
Carroll said Williams was one of about 20 players who did not attend Tuesday's meeting, most because of conflicts with classes.
As the draft-entry deadline approaches, Carroll said Williams must start preparing for either pre-draft workouts or USC's 2004 season.
"Time's burning right now and he knows that," Carroll said. "He's very clear about that."