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January 29, 2013

Enough already, time to get it right

Time for a little hoops talk.

And thanks to Pat Haden's recent relieving of both Kevin O'Neill's pain, and ours, the Trojan family has some extra time right now.

USC must use it wisely. No more hit-and-miss basketball searches. No more "I've got a guy we can get," whispers from one displaced HH'er to another as they pass by at University Village.

No more chicken-with-their-heads-cut-off going who knows where and why. USC has the time. Haden & Co. must use it well.

But before we consider the best way to qualify exactly which coaches the Trojans' search should be identifying, USC must start from a place well before that.

From a place that's been debated quite a bit around here.

Just what should USC basketball be? What can it be? What must it be? And why?

It's a subject for serious thought. Does USC basketball matter? If not, could it? And if so, why should it and how could it?

This is not a debate they're having at UCLA right now as Ben Howland's fate clearly seems to be hanging in the balance. History has determined that for the Bruins. Just as it made them pursue that overpriced $160 million plus Pauley Pavilion renovation that will host USC Wednesday.

But for USC, where the "Never had a program, never gonna' have a program, no one cares" storyline seems to sum up the history in a sentence, it's a bit of a different discussion. Football is king and the basketball people know it.

But does that mean you can just mail basketball in, as USC has for the last four years?

With Galen Center at its disposal, you cannot without looking like complete fools. If the Trojans were still renting out the Sports Arena, that would be different. But the location of Galen, and USC, on the lively Figueroa Corridor, the top urban development in the U.S. the past 25 years, demands USC take advantage of it without delay.

USC must extend the USC brand and project a university-wide sense of smart decision-making to basketball, especially since it can be done with no additional cost. The expanded revenues of a top national program easily would outpace the additional expenditures.

Let's face it, it costs a lot to put on a lousy show in basketball the way USC has recently on both the men's and women's sides. And not just in dollars. There's a reputational cost as well.

The rationale right now seems to have been that "Sure, it's worth doing, just not worth doing well." But should any USC program, academic or athletic, just go through the motions?

It's a rhetorical question. So where to start? How to do this?

USC is fortunate here. There is one place to start and one person -- Tim Floyd. We know that many people, Tim included, feel the breach was too broad, the separation too complete, for things to be healed.

But there should be some sort of sitdown. Due diligence would require Haden to at least do that much. If some things on both sides could be changed, and USC and Tim could go along with those, then the search is over.

Floyd had it all. An NBA guy who loved the college game, loved recruiting, loved coaching kids and preparing them for what comes next. He got what USC was and what its basketball program could be.

Start there in El Paso. Qualify Floyd's interest. Talk it out. Make sure. Then and only then, move on if the gulf can't be bridged. But not until. USC has the time. And as much as we admire Bob Cantu hanging in there through four head coaches, we're hoping his finish this year gets him a look for a Big West-type head job.

Use the extra time now to convene some of the big thinkers around USC athletics, the Trojan community, faculty and campus, to define exactly what USC basketball should be and where it should go and how and with whom it should go there. Don't hurry through this part.

Involve people like Trojan Bill Sharman. All he is is one of the NBA's 50 Greatest Players, a great coach, the earliest great shooter in the game, a great man and someone USC fans shouldn't only see when he's the invited special guest occupying Coach Wooden's seat at Pauley.

Add Trojan Dr. Jerry Buss, as much as he'd like to help here. How good would that be.

I say this having done this once -- and gotten very lucky. As the SID at my alma mater, I knew our Xavier program was on its last basketball legs, reeling from bad coaching choices, no conference and all the money lost trying to keep Division I football going. Would it drop down to no-scholarship Division III? That was on the table.

We knew we had one shot -- and we managed to get it right. Left no possibility unconsidered. Didn't miss a trick. Checked out everything with lots of people searching and thinking about the best way to get it done.

And for one coach after another, we made exactly the right choice. Four in a row. And now that Xavier program is ranked by Forbes Magazine as one of the nation's top 20 most valuable college basketball programs.

Coaches matter. USC knows that better than anybody. Five of its last six basketball picks were the wrong guy. They'd have been better off throwing darts -- blindfolded.

But even with that track record, it can be done -- even by USC. If it only will. Open it up. Talk it out. Get the opinions of people who really know things. Sure, some of the wise guys are saying how about Wichita State's Gregg Marshall. He'd take it. Or Saint Mary's Randy Bennett. They're sure he can coach players who don't come from Australia.

And yes, we're hearing how the really hot guys like Butler's Brad Stevens and VCU's Shaka Smart have put the word out that they do not want to be considered for USC. And for a very good reason. They want UCLA. And having their names connected with USC would be the end of that.

And yes, the same smart guys seem to be saying that short of a Final Four trip, UCLA's Ben Howland may not be coming back. That it's so certain, the CBS guys were saying last week that Rick Pitino has made a call to Westwood.

Which is where USC needs to be nimble-footed. Maybe this is where you have a Bill Sharman get on the phone to a Rick Pitino and say why go to a place where you'll never be the guy. Coach Wooden always will be. Same as in Kentucky right now. UK's John Calipari will never not own the Commonwealth.

But come to LA and you can win the Pac-12 -- and a national championship. You've already started recruiting the West Coast heavily. And the way your teams play, that would work here. You understood that when you thought about making a run for the Lakers' job years ago.

But college is where your heart is. And USC is a great place, a place where you can make the basketball program in your own image. You're all USC has ever needed: someone whose teams play the way yours do.

Sure, Pitino brings some baggage. But he'd be worth it. It would be a fun ride.

Now it doesn't end there, obviously. There are lots of folks who could get the job done here. Not sure Villanova's Jay Wright will ever leave his Philly home but he'd work. Although he's working really well there right now with a young team.

But that points out where the opportunities are right now with the conference-swapping that is devastating the Big East and maybe offering USC some openings it might not otherwise have. One who interests me, since I know the family, is Cincinnati's Mick Cronin. He's an all-Cincy guy. But the former top Pitino and Bob Huggins assistant would be a heck of a get.

Another I don't know other than he's a heck of a coach is Michigan's John Beilein. Give him a call.

As a rule, I'd say no to almost any NBA guy without a serious resume of college success. However, Jeff Van Gundy is someone I'd talk to, see if he might consider LA and just trust that his openness and general decency would let you know right away. He's different.

So is former USC and Arizona assistant Mike Dunlap, the first coach to make the leap from college assistant to NBA head coach last year when Charlotte tabbed him from St. John's. He's the former Arizona assistant both USC and Arizona should have hired.

I know people say look at UNLV assistant Justin Hutson. We say how about the head coach, Dave Rice. Looks like he'd get it done here although he does have four more years on his contract. Don't forget the Pac-12. Make a run at Oregon's Dana Altman. Couldn't beat what he's been able to bring to Eugene.

Just cast a wide net, Trojans. And with a widely informed group of folks throwing it out there. Don't back off. Don't have your hat in your hand.

Know what you want and why.

Get it done like it matters. Because it does.

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


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