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USC-Arizona matchup a reminder of basketball recruits that slipped away

From their 2009 recruiting class, the Trojans lost Derrick Williams, Solomon Hill and Lamont Jones to the Wildcats. Williams now leads Arizona in scoring.

January 28, 2011|By Baxter Holmes
  • Arizona's Derrick Williams dunks during the Wildcats' 85-74 victory over UCLA on Thursday.
Arizona's Derrick Williams dunks during the Wildcats' 85-74… (Wily Low / Associated Press )

Reporting from Tucson — USC and Arizona have history together, several chapters' worth.

Trojans Coach Kevin O'Neill was Arizona's head coach in 2007-08 — his last job before he was hired at USC in 2009 — and he was also an assistant here from 1986 '89.

His son, Sean, a graduate assistant for USC, attended Arizona, as did Ryan Hennick, USC's director of basketball operations, and Adam Cohen, USC's video coordinator/director of scouting.

But there's another chapter of USC-Arizona history that will be revisited Saturday night at the McKale Center, and it's one that hurts USC's staff more and more.

The top three scorers for Arizona (17-4, 6-2 in the Pacific 10 Conference) are sophomores Derrick Williams (19.8 points), Solomon Hill (8.5) and Lamont Jones (8.3).

And all three could have been at USC.

Each committed to USC. They were supposed to be the jewels of the 2009 recruiting class.

But that spring, about the time USC coach Tim Floyd abruptly resigned and the NCAA began investigating alleged improper benefits to former USC star O.J. Mayo, the three backed out of their commitments and Arizona scooped them up.

"We had no head start," Arizona Coach Sean Miller said. "We entered the race at the same starting point as every other school that wanted them — and believe me, there were quite a few — and we won."

The loss hurts USC (12-9, 4-4) plenty this season. The Trojans are short on talent and down to a seven-man rotation.

The loss that hurt most was Williams, the former La Mirada High star who has emerged as one of the top players in the country. He is projected to be an NBA lottery pick and has quickly turned around an Arizona team that was supposed to be rebuilding.

"Painful," is how USC associate head coach Bob Cantu, who recruited and signed Williams, described it.

"It's so hard to find a kid who's that under the radar, that ends up being that good, that has that much impact on a team," Cantu said.

"And it's one thing to say, 'Oh, you almost had him,'" Cantu said, "but we did."

baxter.holmes@latimes.com

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