Leonard Washington is not with the USC basketball team on its first trip of the season — and for the young and inexperienced Trojans, who were soundly defeated, 69-50, Thursday by No. 2-ranked Texas, that’s a painful reality.
The 6-foot-7, 230-pound forward, with explosive moves and a powerful front-line presence, is the more glaring of two notable absences.
He’s ineligible for the first semester because he could not maintain high enough grades during his freshman year.
“I haven’t talked to anyone on the team about it, but I do feel like I’ve let my teammates down,” Washington said before the team left for a two-game trip that will end tonight in Atlanta with a game against Georgia Tech.
“I would have had family at both games,” added Washington, a product of Louisiana’s Marion High, whose extended family ranges into Georgia and Texas. “But I put myself in this situation, so I’ve got to dig myself out of it and pay the price for it.”
Washington averaged nearly 10 points a game for the Trojans last season before suffering an ankle injury on Dec. 22 against Georgia Tech. He sat out five games and was not quite the same thereafter, but has no health issues now and has been one of the team’s best players during practice.
Also ineligible for the first semester is Mike Gerrity, a transfer from Charlotte who probably will win the starting point guard position when he returns after grades are posted — which could occur as early as Dec. 19.
Gerrity, a 6-1, 180-pound senior, has been a college basketball pinball since graduating from Santa Ana Mater Dei High. He played his freshman season at Pepperdine before transferring to Charlotte, and ultimately to USC.
Gerrity had to sit out last season as well as the first half of this season, but he has looked good in practice at a position where the Trojans have been struggling.
“It’s been about a year now that I’ve been practicing with the team,” Gerrity said. “It’s always a different feel once you get on the court for a game. Obviously, that first game will be different, but I’ve been playing my whole life. I know that I’m prepared.”
In coach’s corner
When Tim Floyd resigned as head coach in June, players recruited by Floyd became understandably concerned about who might replace him. But they appear to have embraced first-year Coach Kevin O’Neill and his physical, defense-minded brand of basketball.
“At first I was worried, but I’m fine with the new coach,” said sophomore forward Nikola Vucevic, who led USC with 18 points against Texas. “He’s a great guy and I like him a lot.”
Senior guard Dwight Lewis added: “He’s been a great guy and a great coach, and he just kind of made the transition real easy. It could have been worse. I’m just thankful it’s somebody I get along with.”
O’Neill retained Floyd’s assistant coaches. “Everybody gets along great with K.O.,” fifth-year assistant Gib Arnold said. “It’s been a smooth transition, and guys will play their hearts out for him.”