UCLA, USC illustrate PAC-12 struggles

At Pac-12 Media Day last October, USC head coach Kevin O’Neill had a message for Trojans fans saying that if his starting point guard Maurice Jones ever got hurt “don’t come to the games.”

Fortunately for O’Neill and the Trojans they haven’t had to deal with such an injury, but the product on the court hasn’t been very easy on the eyes. 

It’s been a rough year for the Trojans to say the least. On the heels of Nikola Vucevic leaving early for the NBA draft, leading returning scorer, Jio Fontan, was lost for the year after tearing his ACL during the team’s trip to Brazil. 

For all of the hype concerning UCLA entering this season they haven’t exactly lived up to it. Their “best player,” Reeves Nelson, who graced the cover of Sports Illustrated, for the then 17th-ranked Bruins in the preseason, barely made it through seven games. 

Their “most dominant” player, Joshua Smith, has battled conditioning his entire career and it’s unknown whether he’ll regain the form he had toward the end of last season that made him one of the players to watch nationally entering the 2011-12 campaign. 

Welcome to major conference basketball in Los Angeles. 

When the Bruins (9-7, 2-2 Pac-12) visit the Trojans (5-12, 0-4 Pac-12) at Galen Center tonight at 6 p.m. PT on Prime Ticket, it will be nowhere near the hype that surrounded these teams when their matchup was an early afternoon nationally televised contest in January of 2008. 

Of course, those two teams featured O.J. Mayo and Kevin Love — both future lottery picks and both college superstars in their own right. 

Which speaks to the state of both programs today. After Mayo left USC, DeMar DeRozan came in and became a one-and-done. Derrick Williams signed with the Trojans but was granted his release after Tim Floyd resigned as head coach. Williams bolted to Arizona, along with Lamont “Momo” Jones, and current Wildcat Solomon Hill, who was committed to USC but hadn’t signed. 

Those issues along with sanctions from the Mayo scandal and transfers from the program have left USC’s basketball program on shaky ground.  

As recently as last year, Howland had to endure more early entrants into the NBA Draft with the defections of Tyler Honeycutt and Malcolm Lee. The latter was more of a surprise than the former, but the program is feeling the effect of both leaving.  

There are currently 14 former Bruins on NBA rosters.  Eight of those players left UCLA early.  

What these two programs are feeling is a sort of a domino effect that’s been felt throughout the conference, with the Pac-12 having one of its worst years. 

The talent on the West Coast is either nonexistent or going elsewhere to play collegiately. 

One of the nation’s top players, Terrence Jones of Oregon, was a Washington commit before taking his talents to Kentucky. 

When Boston College played in the 76 Classic earlier this season, it was a homecoming for four Southern California products — all freshmen — Ryan Anderson, KC Caudill, Jordan Daniels, and Lonnie Anderson. Three are regular starters for the Eagles.

Even UCLA’s Wear Twins (Mater Dei) and Larry Drew II (Taft) were in Chapel Hill before boomeranging back. 

California, of all places, didn’t have a McDonald’s All-American for the last two years. The Wear’s were a part of the last class of California players to be named McDonald’s All Americans.   

Current Mater Dei teammates, Xavier Johnson and Katin Reinhardt won’t be staying here to play their college ball.  Reinhardt was a USC commit but has now committed to UNLV. 

Johnson is headed to Colorado. 

So much for sunshine and clear skies.