USC Coach Kevin O'Neill keeps facing down challenges
Injuries, and worse, have hampered O'Neill
Seattle Times colleges reporter
This week, Kevin O'Neill brings the USC basketball team to our state, and hopefully, there are no icy sidewalks in Pullman or cases of bird flu making the rounds in Seattle.
He's Coach Crisis, the guy weird things just keep swirling around. A lot of it, he has nothing to do with, but you know, sometimes stuff just happens.
"I was expecting to walk out to the parking garage the other day and have a van fall on my head," he said Tuesday. "That would have been perfect."
Here are the nuts and bolts of USC's 2011-12 season: The Trojans (6-16, 1-8 Pac-12) went on a summer trip to Brazil and in their first game started guards Jio Fontan and Maurice Jones and up front, Evan Smith, Aaron Fuller and DeWayne Dedmon.
Four of the five now are lost for the season, thanks to two bum shoulders and two knee injuries.
O'Neill, who has coached all over — Marquette, Northwestern, Tennessee, Arizona and in the NBA — says he never has experienced a stretch of bad luck like this.
"I have not," he said. "And I really haven't seen a run of injuries like this."
But in its own cruel way, it's par for the course for O'Neill, whose past four years are nothing if not eventful.
Back in 2007, O'Neill returned to Arizona as an assistant to Lute Olson. The aging head coach then took a leave of absence late that year, and it was soon designated a yearlong hiatus. The school revealed a coach-in-waiting plan whereby O'Neill would succeed Olson at some point.
It soon began getting weird. Olson would hang around the basketball offices and hold player meetings, apparently questioning O'Neill's strategic ideas.
By the end of that season, Olson was holding a news conference in which he revealed that O'Neill wouldn't be returning to his staff. Neither O'Neill nor the UA administration knew this.
So he left. Fourteen months later, USC was in turmoil as a result of an NCAA investigation into Tim Floyd, O.J. Mayo and agent activities. Floyd was out, and then-Trojans athletic director Mike Garrett turned to O'Neill as a fallback choice.
By then, USC's one-time haul of recruits who would have entered in 2009 had been released from letters of intent. That included Derrick Williams, the No. 2 choice in the 2011 NBA draft, and forward Solomon Hill, each of whom turned to Arizona.
The NCAA probe, joined with the interminable Reggie Bush saga, plodded on and was still unresolved during O'Neill's first season (2009-10). USC self-imposed a postseason ban in 2010 and took other steps, but O'Neill maintains that the uncertainty scuttled a second recruiting year, thus netting "two blank recruiting classes."
Partly because of that, there have been a lot of comings and goings at USC as O'Neill patched with transfers. He benefited from Alex Stepheson (North Carolina) and Mike Gerrity (Pepperdine). Fontan came from Fordham. Meanwhile, Bryce Jones, the highest-touted recruit from 2010-11, split for UNLV.
O'Neill got the Trojans to the NCAA tournament last year, but before that, there was a celebrated dust-up with an Arizona booster — an aged crony of Olson — at the Pac-10 tournament, for which USC suspended him a game.
And now, 2012. USC athletic director Pat Haden has said O'Neill will get more time, and he ought to. He's bringing six scholarship players on this trip. His team would fit into a cab.
Next year, the Trojans will have an entirely different look. O'Neill will trot out two transfers from Wake Forest and another from UC Irvine.
"That was a challenging year at Arizona," O'Neill said. "The last two years have been extremely challenging. This year has been like off the charts."
Still, he says, "You go through these things. Your job is to do your job regardless. You owe that to the university and everybody else."
Because of a violation under Olson, O'Neill's ill-fated year at Arizona became NCAA-vacated. But he never figured on a season vacated by injuries.
And What's More ...
• Three consecutive Thursdays, Arizona has had a player ejected. "It's really bizarre," said coach Sean Miller. "Four times would probably be a record."
• Not only is Washington State's Faisal Aden out for the year with a knee injury, Rainier Beach grad Mike Ladd, who hasn't played since Jan. 7 because of a bad thumb, might not make it back this season, coach Ken Bone said.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or firstname.lastname@example.org
About Bud Withers
Bud Withers gives his take on college sports, with the latest from the Huskies, Cougs, and the rest of the Pac-12.
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