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USC BASKETBALL

Trojans hope their future includes more tournament games

USC plays Boston College in the first round of the NCAA tournament Friday, with many of its players facing big decisions about next year.

March 20, 2009|Chris Foster

MINNEAPOLIS — There are few certainties about tonight's NCAA tournament first-round game between USC (21-12) and Boston College (22-11), which seems a match right down to the teams' red-and-yellow outfits.

And for USC, the questions will extend beyond the game. Win or lose, the Trojans are not sure who will be back for more next season.

A few Trojans will face the should-I-stay-or-should-I-go decision. They enter the tournament with a five-game winning streak, produced by a coalition that has filled specific roles -- Marcus Simmons likely drawing the toughest chore tonight: trying to contain Eagles guard Tyrese Rice.

"We stuck together when things were tough," USC forward Taj Gibson said.

How long they remain together is to be seen.

"There was a lot of buzz about O.J. [Mayo] last year," guard Daniel Hackett said. USC lost to Kansas State in the first round, and Mayo did a quick dribble-drive to the NBA draft.

Said Hackett: "The buzz this year is about us being Pacific 10 Conference [tournament] champions."

But there is a definite hum about other things.

Freshman DeMar DeRozan could be a one-and-done. Juniors Gibson and Hackett may be in the three-and-flee category. And Coach Tim Floyd is dealing with the now yearly speculation that he could go elsewhere: four-and-out-the-door?

The elephant in Floyd's room Thursday was Alabama, which is looking for a coach and is reportedly willing to pay up to $2 million a season. Floyd is on the Crimson Tide's wish list, the Birmingham News reported, though he is said to be a longshot candidate.

Floyd gave a safe answer to the question on the eve of the game.

"All those things, the speculation of who may leave to play in the NBA or anything like that, are never discussed," Floyd said.

Floyd went through this a year ago, when Louisiana State officials made contact during their search for a coach, and his comment then was, "This is my last job, at SC."

What the players will do is more uncertain.

DeRozan, billed as a first-round pick for the past year, has elevated his game to that level, averaging 21.6 points and shooting 62% in the last five games.

"I've been asked about that all year," DeRozan said about whether he would jump to the NBA. "I've tried not to think about it and focus on the games. That gets easier now. We've worked to get to this point."

Gibson, who leads the Trojans in scoring (14.3) and rebounding (9.4), is projected as a second-round NBA pick. Hackett, who pushed and shoved the Trojans through the conference tournament, is now on the pro league's radar, with a number of scouts saying that he could go in the second round.

After a recent practice, Hackett waxed poetic about the recruits coming to USC in the fall, saying, "There are a lot of great players coming who I will never get to play with."

Asked later if he was joking, Hackett said, "I don't know. I look at all the great players I've gone against, Brook Lopez, Robin Lopez, Kevin Love, Kevin Durant, and I've been able to learn a lot. . . . It's something of a dream, playing in the next level, seeing those guys there."

But, he said, "I gave Coach Floyd my word not to think about it and do my best every day. At the end of the season, we'll meet and decide what the right role is for me."

Hackett and the Trojans will try to delay that little tete-a-tete. Whether Boston College cooperates will be determined a lot by Rice, a 6-foot-1 senior point guard who has improved his draft status by directing a group of players barely old enough to pledge a fraternity.

Boston College went through this last season with Rice. But a 14-17 season left him with a bitter aftertaste.

"After last year, I had already decided to come back," said Rice, who is projected as a second-round pick in the NBA draft.

"I couldn't go out 14-17. If I was leaving my teammates like that, I would be leaving them dry."

--

chris.foster@latimes.com

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