Rice University is in the rear-view for Omar Oraby. Now all the 7-foot-2 center can see is cardinal and gold. He's making a home at USC, after transferring earlier this month, and so far all is going well.
With the Trojans, Oraby might be the tallest tree on the roster, but not by much; there is also 7-1 center James Blasczyk and 7-foot center Dewayne Dedmon.
"We’re going to protect the paint," Oraby said.
The native of Egypt averaged six points, 3.6 rebounds and set a Rice single-season record with 54 blocks last season as a sophomore -- and he set that record despite playing only 11.6 minutes per game in 34 games.
"We're really excited about the prospect of this guy," USC Coach Kevin O’Neill said. "He has a big upside."
Oraby comes with two seasons of eligibility remaining, and USC has applied for a NCAA hardship waiver to make him eligible for the 2012-13 season.
The Trojans are hopeful that the waiver is granted, though it's unclear when that might be. USC's first official practice is Oct. 12, and its season opener is Nov. 9 against Coppin State.
Oraby is the sixth Rice player to leave the Owls program in the last year, joining point guard Dylan Ennis (Villanova), forward Jarelle Reischel (Rhode Island), forward Ahmad Ibrahim (turned pro overseas), forward David Chadwick (Valparaiso) and guard Arsalan Kazemi (Oregon).
Oraby said he couldn't talk about anything in connection with his former school, only that he’s looking forward to a fresh start.
"I think all the guys on the team are very good, and I think we have a chance to do something very special this season," he said.
Oraby said he was contacted by USC within a day or two of his release from Rice. Noting that the season was going to start soon, he said he didn't have much time to pick a school and that he felt good about the team and coaches at USC when he visited. He’s already taking classes at USC.
Shot-blocking is the key element he brings to the table, though Oraby said he has never really been taught how to do it.
"I just picked it up," he said. "I have very good timing on when to jump and when to block the shot. That's something I like to work on. I take pride on blocking shots."
Oraby will use the scholarship vacated by former USC guard Maurice Jones, who asked for his release earlier this month and is looking to transfer.
O’Neill said he wasn’t sure how the lineup would shake out because Oraby hasn't been declared eligible to play this season.
O’Neill also said he wished Jones well. The point guard, who was USC's leading returning scorer (13 points per game), was declared academically ineligible on Sept. 1.