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USC BASKETBALL

There'll be anxious times ahead

Next several months will be a window into what the future holds for the Trojans.

March 24, 2009|Chris Foster

This next year will be the continuation of a great era for USC basketball -- NCAA tournaments, Final Fours, maybe even a national title.

Or . . .

This will be a year of shuffling the roster, plugging holes and hoping the next one-and-done freshman takes the team just a little bit further.

Such is the precarious perch where the Trojans rest after a 74-69 loss to Michigan State in the second round of the NCAA tournament Sunday.

They are not alone, as college basketball teams across the nation are still trying to figure out how to gain traction when players are racing to get to the NBA.

But this seems a watershed moment for Trojans Coach Tim Floyd.

His teams have reached unprecedented heights, getting to the NCAA tournament three consecutive seasons and winning the Pacific 10 Conference tournament.

Yet, as Floyd said recently, "The more you do it, the more you have players able to move on to better opportunities, you see guys go on to live their dreams."

USC didn't look as if it was going anywhere this season, except maybe the NIT, until a five-game winning streak took the Trojans from the middle of the Pac to their first conference tournament championship. Then came an upset win over Boston College in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

"This season, we learned how to be a team," junior guard Daniel Hackett said. "We learned how to be united no matter what people are saying outside. I'm proud of the way some guys responded. As far as [the Michigan State] game, we should be proud of the way we played."

Now the question is, can they keep it going? The Trojans could return all five starters and have new talent available. But on the Internet, mock NBA drafts indicate the potential for plenty of turnover.

DeMar DeRozan could be USC's third one-and-done freshman in two seasons, joining O.J. Mayo and Davon Jefferson from last season. DeRozan, who elevated his game the last three weeks, is projected as a high first-round pick.

Hackett and forward Taj Gibson are projected as second-round picks. Hackett is the team's point guard and Gibson led the Trojans in scoring and rebounding.

All three players said they would make decisions after consulting with their families and Floyd. Hackett seems to be the hardest to replace, as the Trojans are lacking point guards and recruited none for next season. Mike Gerrity transferred from North Carolina Charlotte -- having transferred there from Pepperdine -- but he won't be eligible until midseason.

Losing all three players could detour the Trojans, who have three consecutive 20-win seasons for the first time. Floyd seems to be expecting at least some turnover. Even though the NCAA scholarship limit is 13, he has plans to bring in five recruits to join the 12 players who are eligible to return.

"You have to have players," Floyd said. "We stayed true to the model we had when we got here, to recruit high school players who could play at Arizona. They were the team to copy back then and now you can put UCLA into that mix. We want to try to get players who could play for those guys."

Some are already at USC, such as redshirt Alex Stepheson, a 6-foot-9 transfer from North Carolina. Floyd is also hoping forward Kasey Cunningham recovers from a knee injury and that Marcus Johnson, an effective reserve, will have a year of eligibility restored -- he played six minutes in one exhibition for Connecticut in 2007-08.

Renardo Sidney, a 6-10 center, is considered the prize of the recruiting class, though he has yet to take the SAT. If he does become eligible, he could be the next one-and-done freshman.

"We're just trying to get something established, where we can look back in a few years and say these were the key years," Floyd said.

--

chris.foster@latimes.com

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