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Farmer Resorts to Class Action

Emotional leader of USC, which opens play today in the Pacific 10 tournament, is usually the target of jeers.

March 11, 2004|Paul Gutierrez | Times Staff Writer

He has heard it all.

And as his scoring average began to rise, so did the derisive, singsong chants aimed at Desmon Farmer.

He has listened to the Arizona faithful shout obscenities at him enough times that the McKale Center public address announcer had to scold the crowd.

He has learned to endure numerous vulgar chants by flashing a toothy grin from beneath his customary upside-down headband.

He has been advised to see a dentist -- another favorite jeer by opposing student bodies -- and stared down a sea of raised middle fingers after making a three-point basket. Yet only one ridicule has given Farmer pause.

"It was at UCLA," Farmer said, the smile disappearing from his face as quickly as it appeared. "It was real quiet and somebody said, 'Farmer, have some class.'

"That kind of hit me. I was just thinking, 'Do these people think I'm cocky?' They think I'm out there being cocky. But I'm not.

" 'Farmer, have some class?' They don't know me."

Still, it would be easy to think Farmer was cocky, what with the way he bobs his head to his own groove and breaks out his George Jefferson strut, arms flailing at his backside, or how he sashays back down court like an airplane, arms extended as wings after making clutch shots.

"I'm just out there having fun, entertaining," said Farmer, who is averaging 20 points as a senior after averaging 6.4, 9.5 and 18.7 his first three seasons. "I play with class. I'm emotional, an entertainer. That's what I am, an entertainer."

They don't know him?

Few do.

At times he's USC's favorite cartoon character, an out-of-control, 6-foot-5, 220-pound shooting guard who's the best player on a bad team.

At others, he's a Trojan superhero, beating the bad guys with aplomb by dropping 40 points on Arizona and single-handedly defeating UCLA with 11 points in overtime while giving USC hopes of an NCAA tournament appearance.

The Farmer Show, equally electric and enigmatic, is in its final days and could come to a close tonight against Arizona at Staples Center in the Pacific 10 Conference tournament.

"He's an unbelievable kid, the most emotional kid I've ever had," Coach Henry Bibby said. "He's a kid I can depend on every night. I don't worry a lot about Des. He's steady, stable."

It wasn't that long ago that Farmer, who went from bench-warmer to USC's fourth career leading scorer with 1,602 points, was anything but that. Before the crowds got involved, the fickle Farmer was Bibby's favorite target.

To punish him for what he perceived as a lack of effort as a sophomore, Bibby sat him for a game at Bradley, where dozens of Farmer's family had traveled from Flint, Mich., to watch him play.

Last year, in the Pac-10 tournament title game, with Farmer's lighting up Oregon in the first half, Bibby did not like how Farmer sulked after Errick Craven missed him on consecutive fast-break opportunities. So he benched him again.

"There's been ups and downs, hard and good, but I got through it," Farmer said. "I got frustrated at times. I'd go home and cry, cry to myself. My first two years, my mind was just wondering."

And wandering. He admits to contemplating a transfer. He was a highly recruited high school hotshot who initially garnered interest from the likes of Connecticut, Kansas, North Carolina and other traditional powers. But they shied away after Farmer injured his left knee before his senior year.

The Southern California weather and a chance to branch out -- even if his mother Sharon Jackson lived in Las Vegas and his brother Tim joined him at USC as the Trojans' director of basketball operations -- swayed him.

Farmer leaned on his brother when Bibby's ways made little or no sense to him.

"I definitely went running to him with my problems," Farmer said. "Sometimes he was confused.

"[My family] told me to just trust [Bibby] ... and he basically told me to work hard, that everything's not just given to you. That helped me become who I am now."

So did Bibby's support as a surrogate father. When Farmer was an infant, his father Earl was injured by a gunshot to the head that left him handicapped and severely altered his ability to speak. Farmer and his father never fostered a relationship. It was a bittersweet reunion at the Trojans' season opener at Western Michigan in November when Earl saw Desmon play for the first time.

"It was good that he was there but he was never around when I was growing up," Farmer said. "I mean, it ain't like he can approach me or talk to me, so how are you supposed to act?"

Instead, Bibby has been there for Farmer.

"I'm so proud of him and in what he's done," Bibby said. "He still gets in his little funks, like we all do. He has to be with people who love him. I do that for him."

As do opposing crowds, with their endless storm of chants and taunts.

"Definitely, I hear every word," Farmer said. "I take that as a positive, though, that they actually love me.

"Then that's when I blow a kiss to them and tell them, 'I still love you too.' "

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