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USC's Daniel Hackett wants to have a say in it

COLLEGE BASKETBALL

The junior guard's outspoken nature has led to some confrontations this season, and he acknowledges he is deeply competitive. His team is relying on that passion in the Pac-10 tournament.

March 10, 2009|Chris Foster

Daniel Hackett, his father says, was raised "to say how he feels and say how he thinks."

Those playing against USC's basketball team get it. Those playing for USC accept it. Even those officiating USC games have had to turn a deaf ear to it.

Just this season, the junior guard has: goaded UCLA freshman Drew Gordon into swinging what was later described as an "inadvertent" elbow; called out a Pacific 10 Conference official after a close loss; and had an intense and somewhat public argument with fellow Trojan Dwight Lewis.

Hackett acknowledges that his past includes many such confrontations, incidents in which he describes his part as "stupid." Yet, try to find anyone around USC's basketball program who thinks the team could do without him.

"I know who Daniel Hackett is," Coach Tim Floyd says. "He's a winner."

He will need to be, all this week.

USC, which plays California in the Pac-10 tournament Thursday at Staples Center, needs to win out -- three games in three days -- to grab the league's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

Hackett is already at work, saying the Trojans "owe" the Golden Bears for an overtime loss two weeks ago and promising to "play with a chip on my shoulder."

"That," teammate Keith Wilkinson says, "should make you worry."

Asked whether there was anything new about his playing with a chip on his shoulder, Hackett laughs and jokes, "This is a cinder block."

Lifting that from Hackett's shoulders would be akin to removing the jump shot from his game. Pushing and shoving are a way of life.

Sometimes it's internal, as when he rushed to graduate from Bellflower St. John Bosco High a year early because the Trojans needed him after point guard Ryan Francis was killed.

Sometimes it's external, as when he and Lewis got into a fight during practice their freshman year.

"Yes, I've seen my share of drama," Hackett says. "I'll tell you one thing about my episodes -- they were stupid. But it comes from my competitive nature."

Hackett's father, Rudy, the strength and conditioning manager for USC's basketball team, says, "It's one thing to teach principles and reasoning, it's another when emotions are involved. You still can't get through the impulsiveness that's innate in a person. Daniel has made great strides the last two years."

Besides, he adds, "You have to be careful with players. You don't want to take the fight out of them and make them all lambs."

Daniel Hackett's education has an eclectic history.

He grew up in Pesaro, Italy, at the feet of his father, who played and coached basketball in Europe.

"He learned the winning and losing from me and the other American players," Rudy says. "If you played well and your team lost, you could be sent home. You're not talking about a kid who is 10 years old watching the NBA and saying, 'I'd like to play basketball.' You're talking about a kid who learned it from being in a house with someone who had to live that day in and day out."

The family is one with a single-minded focus. Rudy spent 15 years playing basketball in Europe, "proving I belonged to be there every game."

Rudy's wife, Katia, was so set on her child being born in Italy that she flew home from Turkey, where Rudy was playing at the time, even though she was beyond the time when pregnant women are allowed to fly. She covered her stomach with a blanket to fool airline personnel.

So when Daniel, at the age of 15, said he wanted to come to America to pursue a basketball career, his parents knew it wasn't idle chatter.

The 6-foot-5 Hackett has been a starter for the Trojans since his freshman season, and his impact this season is clear. Against Arizona State, he held James Harden, the conference's player of the year, without a field goal in a USC victory. Two days later, he made a 15-foot jumper to tie the score against Arizona with 14 seconds left, then made a free throw with one second remaining to win the game.

"Whether we're up 20 or down 20, he is out there competing," Wilkinson says.

Which does spill over on occasions. After a tough loss at Arizona State, Hackett, upset with the officiating, intimated that players called referee David Hall "No-Call Hall."

Against UCLA, Hackett jawed in Gordon's ear after the UCLA freshman clipped him with an elbow.

"I said keep that stuff out of here," Hackett recalls, adding, "I might not have said 'stuff.' It was just some basketball slang."

As for whether Hackett's in-everybody's-face style gets annoying, UCLA's Josh Shipp says, "For some players it does. They're not used to seeing that."

But, Shipp adds, "he's playing as hard as he can and you've got to respect that."

Says Hackett, "Somebody has to make something happen. I want to be the guy who either takes the blame or carries this team."

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chris.foster@latimes.com

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

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Who's in

Teams with automatic bids to the NCAA basketball tournament:

MEN

Chattanooga, Southern Conference

Cornell, Ivy League

East Tennessee State, Atlantic Sun Conference

Gonzaga, West Coast Conference

Morehead State, Ohio Valley Conference

Northern Iowa, Missouri Valley Conference

Radford, Big South Conference

Siena, Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference

Virginia Commonwealth, Colonial Athletic Assn.

WOMEN

Austin Peay, Ohio Valley Conference

Charlotte, Atlantic 10 Conference

East Tennessee State, Atlantic Sun Conference

Gonzaga, West Coast Conference

Marist, Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference

Maryland, Atlantic Coast Conference

Ohio State, Big Ten Conference

Central Florida, Conference USA

Vanderbilt, Southeastern Conference

Western Carolina, Southern Conference

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