USC guard Jio Fontan, playing against Lehigh and guard Mackey McKnight… (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)
Instead of breaking in his young men's basketball team with some cupcake exhibition opponents before the season starts, USC Coach Kevin O'Neill is taking the Trojans to Brazil for 10 days starting Friday for games against local professional teams.
The Trojans, who have eight returning players but only two returning starters, are scheduled to play four games and a scrimmage.
"We're going to have a hard time winning any games down there because of the people we're playing," O'Neill said. Still, he hopes it expedites the learning process and better prepares the Trojans for the season that starts with a Nov. 11 game at the Galen Center against Cal State Northridge.
The Trojans' first exhibition game is Sunday against a second-division pro team in Sao Paulo. They'll play two more first-division teams in Sao Paulo, scrimmaging against one Monday and playing another in a game Tuesday.
USC then travels to Rio de Janeiro on Wednesday and plays one game each on Thursday and Friday against pro teams.
USC's season is starting early because the NCAA allows teams to take foreign exhibition tours once every four years. USC's last such tour was to Mexico before the 2007-08 season.
The Trojans have some sightseeing planned, such as trips to Sugarloaf Mountain and the Christ the Redeemer statue, but senior point guard Jio Fontan said getting a look at all the team's new players is the most important part of the tour.
"It will boost their confidence and let us know where we're at right now, what moves we have to make," said Fontan, a key contributor on a USC team that won 19 games last season and advanced to the NCAA tournament.
All eight returning players and the team's four newcomers are eligible to participate in the trip, but transfers Ari Stewart, from Wake Forest, and Eric Wise, from UC Irvine, who will both sit out next season in accordance with NCAA transfer rules, won't be going.