Marcus Simmons is a stopper on defense, but he wants to be more than that.
So, the summer before last season, he didn't leave the gym each day until he made 1,000 shots.
His dedication was commendable. However, the extra work didn't pay dividends. Simmons averaged just three points a game and USC Coach Kevin O'Neill considered him a liability when opposing defenses played zone, closing down the key and opening up the perimeter.
"I probably hurt his confidence last year, when you think about it," O'Neill said.
This summer, Simmons shelved the machine gun-style shooting and concentrated on making sure the ball left his hands the same way every time.
"When my form wasn't there, I didn't have confidence to shoot the shots I was taking," Simmons said. "Right now, I'm taking the same shot every time and I'm gaining confidence every practice."
O'Neill thinks Simmons, a 6-foot-6 senior guard, can help fill the void left by Dwight Lewis, who completed his eligibility. Lewis had double-digit averages in scoring in each of his last three seasons.
"Marcus Simmons is going to shoot the ball great from anywhere inside the three," O'Neill said. "His three-point shooting has improved, but his pull-up shooting and his inside game has really gotten a lot better."
His defense looks like it will still be there, too. Simmons has gained about 12 pounds of muscle — up to about 220 pounds — to help him bully opposing players.
The NBA recently banned a new kind of sneaker that claims to increase vertical leap. The shoe was created by twins Adam and Ryan Goldston, both former walk-ons to the USC basketball team.
Because the NCAA hasn't banned the shoe, college teams are free to wear it. And O'Neill said if the shoes were made by Nike, which has a contract with USC, he'd be glad to see his players wearing them.
"If they were done by Nike, I'd have no problem," he said. "I'd be all for that. It would get [Nikola Vucevic] a couple extra inches of vertical."
With only nine eligible scholarship players on its roster until transfer guard Jio Fontan is cleared to play in mid-December, the Trojans will practice in a three-days-on, one-day-off cycle until the season begins.
After that, O'Neill said the team will switch to "NBA mode" and have a full practice only once a week.