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January 7, 2013

Just Askin' . . . Basketball

When you've been doing something for this long, it gets harder and harder to come up with something that happens for the first time.

But Saturday night at Galen Center, I must confess to one more of those first-ever moments.

Went to a basketball game with every intention of writing about it. Then just could not. Couldn't make myself do it. Couldn't go to the postgame coach's press conference. Didn't want to hear it.

Had seen the USC-Cal basketball game and it spoke for itself. And not in a way that the Trojans embarrassed themselves in the 72-64 loss to Cal. They tried hard, as they most often do. But when it comes to USC basketball right now, and for most of the last three years, it's not about that.

Nor is it about one game -- any one game for the 6-9 Trojans, the Pac-12's only team with a losing record. Which is why it just didn't seem right to cover the game as if it mattered -- as a game. It didn't.

USC basketball is well past having any one single game matter any more. Which is why that sudden case of writer's block settled in.

Covering any USC basketball game right now and writing about it seems a bit like a travel writer filing a story from the Titanic after it hit the iceberg on how the deck chairs were being rearranged.

There's a bigger picture here. And covering these games as if they mattered almost makes one complicit in the sad charade as one bad season in football transitions into USC's horrific year-after-year basketball program where all of sport's joy and excitement and competitiveness seems to have been removed.

Watching USC basketball right now is a numbing experience. You find yourself feeling mostly sadness. For the players, first of all. USC owes them so much more. This is their life. And they're hardly being given a fair shot here.

It's also not fair to the USC community at large, the fans, students, LA, anybody who cares about basketball. It's not even fair to the Pac-12. The league deserves better. Watch the Pac-12 Network as it features basketball now and you'll see teams are getting better and programs are trying.

Everywhere but USC, that is. Think about how that must affect the Galen family after their much-needed multi-million-dollar gift to complete a magnificent USC building that is being desperately underutilized.

But enough of all our answers here. This is supposed to be question time. Aren't there plenty right now -- just for the askin'?

Well, yes there are.

JUST ASKIN' Sure, USC hit on just eight of 18 free throws against Cal but wasn't the big miss in this program nearly two years ago in March when the chance came at the Pac-10 tournament to head in a new direction and the AD whiffed and allowed an overmatched Kevin O'Neill to return after a one-game suspension when there was absolutely no chance of a positive payoff?

JUST ASKIN' And sure, the thinking was to bend over backwards to be fair to the coach. But was that fair to his players, Trojans fans, former players, the league, the University or anyone else negatively impacted by nearly two years of no answers, no real improvement and no hope?

JUST ASKIN' If Bob Knight's Indiana teams ran the "motion" offense, what would you call USC's 30 seconds of aimless perimeter passing and dribbling folllowed by a mad dash to get a shot off by an out-of-control Trojan with no rebounders in sight as four teammates watch from 20-25 feet away? No-motion? Slow-motion? Stop-and-go motion?

JUST ASKIN' Is it enough to just say that "we shot it badly (again) . . . from the free throw line and the field" and that explains it so we can just move on to the next game? Really? Players' fault? If only they shot it better?

JUST ASKIN' How can anyone in charge at USC ask fans to show up for a downer of a day at Galen Center when it's clear the Trojans are almost never engaging opponents on an even playing floor? Always disadvantaged if the other team is a real Division I program where it almost certainly will have a real Division I coach and talent -- when all USC has is some talent?

JUST ASKIN' Does it surprise anyone that Pac-12 officials barely even try to get it right when USC is involved when they must figure it's obvious USC isn't trying to get it right?

JUST ASKIN' How in the world did USC get to a place where it's built this great Galen Center so fans from places like San Diego State, UC Irvine, Minnesota and Cal could come and have a nice comfortable place to enjoy themselves and make fun of USC basketball?

JUST ASKIN' How can a program that survives on transfers, with 10 on this USC team, not try to do better by these young men who are pretty much all giving the Trojans their final shot at picking a place to play and go to school? Doesn't USC owe them a better college experience?

JUST ASKIN' How bad is it when on the Pac-12 Network Saturday, analyst Bill Walton can say about watching top Stanford player Dwight Powell in the USC game Thursday, that a number of "his family and friends" were there for him and from what Walton could see, "family and friends were about the only ones who were there."

JUST ASKIN' When the number of seats filled in the USC student section at tipoff jumps from 27 Thursday to 41 Saturday (including Marqise Lee), is that a good thing or not (and yes, we know the students aren't back for the second semester yet)? But 68 for two games?

JUST ASKIN' And yet, despite virtually no students and a losing record, doesn't the surprisingly respectable 4,372 attendance Saturday for Cal show that with a decent program, USC could probably put some people into Galen?

JUST ASKIN' And who, really, would pay $40 for the Monday breakfasts to listen to the basketball insights of KO and Michael Cooper?

JUST ASKIN' And finally, is what's happening, or not happening in the USC basketball program, a worrying sign of what is, or is not, happening in the overall direction of USC athletics?

More than anything, does basketball's decline, some might say demise, point out how the athletic director's job is above all to make sure the right coaches are in place? And everything else is in a distant second place?

We're just askin'.

Dan Weber covers the Trojans program for USCFootball.com. You can reach him at weber@uscfootball.com.


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