USC guard Maurice Jones will need to play a big scoring role for the Trojans… (Christina House / Los Angeles…)
USC had the worst home attendance of any Pac-12 Conference basketball team last season.
On average, about 4,691 fans populated the 10,258-seat Galen Center, a capacity rate of 45.7%.
But if guard Maurice Jones suffers an injury and has to sit out at any point, USC Coach Kevin O'Neill issued the following warning to those few who might contemplate showing up:
"Don't come to the games; it will be ugly."
He was kidding … probably.
USC opens its season Friday at home against Cal State Northridge with Jones as its only returning starter.
Jones, a 5-foot-7 sophomore, also happens to be one of the league's shortest players and one of only two USC players who scored for the Trojans last season.
"He'll be our main everything," O'Neill said.
Jones wasn't expected to lead USC until guard Jio Fontan suffered what was probably a season-ending injury in August. O'Neill has since instructed Jones to go back to playing like he did during his high school days in Saginaw, Mich.
That was when he averaged 30 points, 12 assists, five rebounds and four steals during his senior season.
As a freshman at USC, Jones averaged 9.9 points, 3.2 assists, 2.6 rebounds and 2.0 steals.
"I was just trying to get my feet wet," Jones said.
He has a green light to shoot more this season, but can he lead USC? "I pretty much have to," Jones said.
Jones is now more vocal, an element he lacked as a first-year player.
"He's a different guy," O'Neill said. "You would think that the Mo as a freshman went home and sent back a different Mo as a sophomore."
Conditioning will be crucial. Jones wore down last season after averaging 34.5 minutes a game, third highest in the league. O'Neill plans to play Jones 40 minutes every game this season.
With that in mind, Jones probably will not practice much — if at all — between games. USC may also use as many timeouts for rest as for strategy.
There's also the issue of a balky ankle he seems to twist daily during practice.
"I've just got to be more careful trying not to get hurt," Jones said.
Attendance may depend on it.