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Kevin O'Neill's solution to USC basketball struggles: work harder

USC Coach Kevin O'Neill recognizes the obvious: The Trojans are offensively challenged. So he's introduced a grueling new drill in practice, with the aim of improving their conditioning and effort.

December 27, 2011|By Baxter Holmes
  • USC Coach Kevin O'Neill wants to see his players to show more intensity at the start of games.
USC Coach Kevin O'Neill wants to see his players to show more intensity… (Julie Jacobson / Associated…)

The basketball drill is called "Deep 6." To complete it, each member of a team must finish six consecutive full-court sprints in a given time — usually 35 seconds.

If anyone doesn't, they all start over.

For years, Kevin O'Neill began his practices at Tennessee, Marquette, Northwestern and Arizona with the drill. He liked the tone it set.

But it wasn't until Tuesday that he used it at USC.

"We've got to take it to another level," O'Neill explained.

O'Neill said he's proud of his players' efforts this season, but that he needs more — now.

"We've just got to learn to give about 10-15% more," he said, "because if you're struggling scoring, you've got to find a way to hold people to less or rebound more or do whatever it takes hustle-wise to make up for it."

O'Neill hopes the drill will teach his team to start games with more intensity. The Trojans have routinely struggled in first halves and are averaging a Pac-12 Conference-worst 55.8 points per game.

"We're that close," guard Byron Wesley said. "If we just get that extra push we need, we can be a real good team."

USC is 5-8 heading into its Pac-12 opener Thursday at California (10-3), and injuries and inexperience have been its biggest issues.

"Because of our youth and lack of experience, we're incapable of finishing games right now," O'Neill said.

Younger players have struggled to maintain strong efforts throughout games, something they didn't have to do in high school.

"In high school, you can let up some plays," said Wesley, a freshman from Etiwanda High. "Here, if you let up one play your man is going to beat you and you're going to be out of the game."

O'Neill said the loss of senior guard Jio Fontan, the team's leading scorer last season, to a season-ending knee-ligament tear last August had a devastating impact.

"It's ugly to watch sometimes," O'Neill said of the Trojans' offense, "but it's kind of the facts of life as to where we're at."

Still, O'Neill has lofty goals entering league play.

"We should be trying to win the league," he said, "because that's what's expected."

baxter.holmes@latimes.com

twitter.com/baxterholmes

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