Talking Basketball With USC's O'Neill, Lewis And Simmons
Oct. 13, 2009
The following is a transcript from the event:
USC men's basketball coach Kevin O'Neill
On practice starting on Friday...: It will be my first time on the court with them as a team, per se. I've been on the court with them doing a lot of individual work. They've worked hard in the weight room. They are in fairly good shape. We will be in really good shape in 10 days to two weeks, but I've been pleased with our work ethic as a group. I like how our guys have approached work in general. I think we have a lot of guys that feel they have something to prove and a lot of guys who will be in roles they haven't been in before, so we are excited about getting started.
On Goals for the season...:
I don't really have any goals per se in term of wins and losses. We will take it a day at a time and get better in practice. Obviously my goal will be to play hard all the time. We hope we are going to be competitive in every game, we expect to be and then we will let wins and losses take care of themselves, but until I've been on the court with these guys I won't have a real good feel for what we are as a team. Mike Gerrity is going to miss the first semester and won't be eligible until grades are posted and Leonard Washington is going to miss the first semester and they are a couple of pretty important guys on our team. I think we have some good players on our team that feel they have something to prove and our goal is going to try and win every game we play.
How familiar are you with your personnel...?: Obviously I talked to our assistants a lot through the first three months. I didn't watch any film from last year at all because that is a completely different team. We had a lot of guys who have gone. Even in Dwight's case, a three-year starter, his role will be significantly different than it was last year. He'll be a marked man now going into every game. Marcus (Simmons) didn't play in 16 or 17 games, so to me watching last year's tapes wouldn't have meant a whole lot. My evaluation of our guys thus far in individual work and what I've seen work-wise is that they are pretty hard playing, that they want to be good, they want to improve, they want to get better, so we will see how that all fits into a team concept when we start going on Friday night.
The perception out there is that it is going to be a bad season for USC, but you have a lot of players who have played before...: I think the important thing is, obviously we have unproven point play. Donte (Smith) didn't play too much last year and we are going to depend heavily on him. He's down about 25 pounds since last year. Mike Gerrity is a guy who is going to come back and be a major part of our team and then we have a lot of other guys who although their time and stats might not show it, are good players. I'm not sitting around and lamenting the players we have. We have good players. It is a matter of how soon we can get together as a group and with two guys sitting out the first semester, what their impact will be coming back. I expect us to be a decent basketball team at the very least.
How will Dwight's role change as a marked man?: We are going to be a team that plays a pro-style of offense. We are going to run on misses and turnovers and try and score as quickly as we can. In deadball and set situations, we're going to run set plays and I'm going run set plays for our shooters. We are going to be a team that posts up behind set opportunities for those shooters. I'll get a better feel for what guys can do. Dwight doesn't know this yet, but people around the league are saying okay if we are going to play USC, we have to stop Dwight Lewis first. I'm not sure that was always the same way last year when you had DeMar (DeRozan) and Taj (Gibson) and in their minds many more options. He'll be the first guy they will try and stop, but that doesn't mean we are not going to run plays for him because we are. Because he is a good passer and can create shots for other guys and the threat of his shooting is going to create shots for other guys.
You went to visit the families of your players this summer, why...?: I still have three or four more people to meet with in the L.A. area and I hope to do that this week before we get going or once we get started. I thought it was important that I put a face in front of the name for everybody. No matter what anybody says, the most important people in any program are the players and their parents are an important group of people, their families, so I thought it was important to touch base with all of them. Recruiting is obviously something you have to really concentrate on and you have to do a good job with, but my first priority was to stabilize the group that was here and make sure they were all coming back, that the guys that needed to get through summer school did that and then we could go from there with recruiting and the next steps in the program.
With Leonard out, is Stepheson the main power forward...?: Looking at our team, we will probably have to play a little bit of a three out, two in. Alex and Nikola are guys that jump to the forefront. We have to see what kind of health Kasey Cunningham is in. We have Davis Rozitis who is a freshman. He's going to be a little bit of a project player. He doesn't have the size and strength yet to do the things you need done. Obviously Alex is going to be an important part of our team, as is Nikola. Those guys are going to have to be go-to guys on the inside and carry a lot of the load until Leonard gets back.
On Kasey Cunningham...: He did his first individual workout yesterday. He'll go light today, but he is planning on starting practice on Friday at 7 p.m. like everybody else. It is my hope that the guy stays healthy, he deserves it. He's had about as bad of luck as you could ever have as a player. He's also a guy that I think could be a significant contributor to our team if he's healthy.
What do you see about changing the culture of the program...?: You know these guys have won some games. They knew hard work and they knew playing on the defensive end, Tim did a good job of coaching these guys as did the whole staff. What I'm trying to do is build on what we've been doing. I'm a different guy than Tim, I'm sure these guys would tell you that. I'm a little bit different than a lot of people...my wife would tell you that. I've enjoyed dealing with these guys on what I would call on a professional level in terms of basketball and I think they are good guys off the court. I think we've done a decent job in the classroom for the most part, those are the things that I think are important for us, then it depends on how our chemistry is between myself and these guys and between each other as players and that will determine how quickly we move forward and how good we get. Not so much changing a culture. We want to win big here, that's important to us. Part of that is recruiting, but it starts with the guys that are here right now and the guys that are going to be playing basketball this year.
Are you going to recruit Los Angeles hard...?: Yes. We are going to try and get the best player in Los Angeles every year. We are going to try and do that. Obviously I can't talk about recruiting, but we feel we're going to be impact recruiters in L.A. I'm not going to take L.A. guys just to take L.A. guys. I'm going to take L.A. guys that I think can really play, then we will go whereever we have to go from there to get good players.
What impact do you expect from football player James Boyd?: I haven't seen James in two and a half months, so I don't know if he will make any impact at all. I'm not sure he still has an intention to play. I know he was injured. As it sits right now, I wouldn't say James is going to be an impact player. I don't even know if he is going to come out for the team. I haven't gotten that far.
What is your approach to the NCAA investigation?: I honestly don't think about it at all. I think I addressed it the first time we talked, but we don't really address it at all. We don't talk about it. To me, no matter what happens coming out of this investigation, we are going to attack it in a positive manner and move forward because that is all we really can do. I don't know any details, haven't known any, I don't think anybody does other than the NCAA. If it is the only negative we have to deal with here and I think it is, then we're in pretty good shape. It hasn't affected our academic tradition, our athletic tradition, our facilities, the type of university we have, the type of administration we have...nothing has changed. I went through it with every recruit and the first words out of everybody's mouth's is what about this NCAA investigation. To me I was like, let's put down a list of negatives and positives. You have a question about the NCAA investigation, now how about these other 20 things over here that are great for our university. We are not the first school to ever be investigated by the NCAA and we won't be the last and we will deal with whatever comes out of it and move forward in a positive manner.
Besides Donte, what are your options at point guard?: We have a couple of walk-ons on the team, I don't know if they can contribute, that remains to be seen. Ryan Wetherell has played some minutes. Until Mike Gerrity is eligible, this is it. It was the end of June when I got the job. Anybody we would have recruited at that point would not have been able to play at this level effectively, so we decided to save our scholarships and recruit guys for next year's class. I believe Donte is going to come through and play well and I believe these guys can do a lot of things to help him out. He's going to be playing with some guys who have played some minutes, that are pretty good basketball players, so hopefully that will make his job a lot easier. I'm comfortable with the guys we have.
On Mike Gerrity...: He'll have one semester left to play once he gets eligible in December. He's a senior. He's in great shape. I think we would all agree that Mike has done a good job of working hard. He's another guy that feels like he has something to prove, he's bounced around a little bit. I think our guys have a lot of confidence in him, a lot of faith in him as a player and a leader. It will be a boost to get him back. He will be able to practice and all that, so he'll be ready to go when it is time to go.
Has this job turned out to be harder that you thought when you firs took it...?: It's easier because you are at USC. To me, with the supposed obstacles we were facing, I'm sure people over-dramatized those, like everybody does. Everyone wants to talk about negative things. I haven't felt any negative things at all, I've felt mostly all positive things. I didn't know any of these guys (players) that first day and they have made my job a lot easier. A lot of places you go where guys have only won - the three places I went where guys had only won 4 or 5 games, obviously those are bad players. If you only won 4 or 5 games you are a bad team. There is not that obstacle to overcome here. These guys have really worked hard and done well. They have made it a lot easier. The players have really, really made my job easier. I didn't have to go on the road in September and wonder if these guys were going to class and doing their job, not doing all the little things that make your job harder. I applaud them for making my job a whole lot easier. They allowed me to concentrate on some other things.
Do you have enough players...?: We have enough players at all the positions accept the point right now and that is going to put a little added pressure on Donte and Mike Gerrity when he gets back. Maybe I'm just looking through rose-colored glasses, but from what I've seen of our guys in individual workouts and weightlifting and stuff like that, we have enough guys to be very competitive with anybody at a lot of our positions. Our wings are very good, our insides are very good, the question is do we have enough depth. I don't know about that, but most people in college basketball other than North Carolina and a few teams like that are an injury or two away from being not a very good team. So if we avoid injuries and get in great shape like I know we will over the next couple of weeks, then I think we can be a really competitive team, but we do have some question marks we will have to answer when we get out there. I'll know more by Monday, to be honest with you. We will have 10 hours of practice this weekend, so I'll have a good idea in what direction we will head in.
USC guard Dwight Lewis:
On this season...: Obviously we did lose a lot from last year and everybody has a bad perception of us, but we don't care what other people think right now. We believe in each other, we believe in ourselves, we believe in our teammates and coaching staff. We feel if we go out there and play hard every night, anything can happen.
You will be looked upon to take on more responsibilities, how do you feel about that role?: I think I've handled the role quite well. He (coach O'Neill) had asked me to be a leader during the summer, during the offseason and I think I've done a pretty good job. All the added pressure, I really don't see it right now. Maybe when the season starts and you go up against different teams, maybe, but I have trust in the coaching staff and my teammates and they will be able to help me out and it will be alright.
On players that have stepped up...: To be honest with you, I think everyone on the team has made great strides. Everybody knows what we are getting into this year. I think they took it upon themselves this summer to challenge themselves to get better. Like he (Marcus Simmons) said, Donte has lost a lot of weight, he's been in the gym all summer. Marcus (Simmons) has been in the gym all the time and he even hurt himself shooting too much. He's a hard worker. Alex (Stepheson) has been in the gym, Nikola (Vucevic) was doing his international thing. I feel everybody has been working hard towards a really positive season.
On his unusual journey to USC, starting with being uprooted by hurricane Katrina...: It was unusual, just like you said. Having to go through the Katrina thing, and having to move to Texas, then coming out to L.A. and having the coaching changes now. It is unusual, but I think I've handled it well. Coach O'Neill is a great guy, he's a cool dude. He's made it easy on everybody.
On his reaction to the offseason changes...: To be honest with you, I didn't really know what was going on. It seemed like every other day there would be a new news report on something going on. I didn't really know, so I tried not to pay attention to it and just wait until it was finally set.
You were known as a defensive guy and then you came out and led the team in scoring...: I guess it just happened that way. I still play well defensively, but I think Marcus (Simmons) took my job as the defensive stopper. This year we have to focus on being a really good defensive team as we have been in the past and get in good condition like coach said so I think we will have a lot of defensive stars on our team this year.
USC guard Marcus Simmons:
On players that have stepped up...: I think Donte because he put the effort forward, losing the weight and he's always in the gym. So I think Donte will be a huge impact player this year.
On his shooting so much in the offseason...: Everybody tells me I need to work on my shot, so that's the main thing I took focus on this summer...just shooting the basketball, getting a lot of reps in and staying in condition. I tried to shoot 1,000 shots a day and one day my wrist started aching really bad and it swelled up on me, but I'm fine now.