Basketball: Tuesday practice report

USC (12-10, 4-6 in the Pac-10) plays Oregon State at 8 p.m. Thursday at the Galen Center. We'll have a preview of the game come Thursday, but here are a few worthwhile nuggets from the Trojans' Tuesday practice in preparation for the Beavers:

Jackson could play bigger role

It has been an interesting week for freshman forward Garrett Jackson.

First, an art project from his ceramics class in the fall has made it big-time this month, as USC's sixth annual Artletics exhibition debuted in the Galen Center this week. A clay project from Jackson -- "Untitled," he called it, as he forgot to fill out the form to name it, he said -- is part of the exhibit.

Now USC coach Kevin O'Neill is considering playing him some more this weekend against the Oregon schools as the Trojans try to combat the zone defenses they expect to see. Jackson is the only perimeter player USC has that's taller than 6 feet and a true threat from outside, so O'Neill looks to be trying to find ways to give him more minutes -- especially on Thursday against OSU, as Jackson had his best game of conference play in Corvallis last month.

"I'm gonna see how he's playing, first of all," O'Neill said when asked about his plan for Jackson. "If he goes in and he can't guard anybody, then he's gonna have to play less, but Garrett's a guy that I'd like to see get more minutes."

Jackson has played primarily as a backup power forward this season, meaning he comes in to give a rest to Nikola Vucevic or Alex Stepheson and the Trojans go small for a pinch. This weekend, it looks as if he could start or at least play over Marcus Simmons at the small forward spot for significant minutes.

"He puts another shooter out there and opens up a lot of gaps for me to drive," guard Jio Fontan said of Jackson's use on the floor. "He definitely helps us out. He's a guy that can switch to the ball on screens and things like that -- and get out and run.

"It's always a positive having him out there."

Jones, Fontan could switch again

Last week, O'Neill made a decision to switch some things up and play Fontan at point guard and Maurice Jones at shooting guard at UCLA.

It wasn't an all-out change, with all three parties saying it could revert back eventually and leaving room for Jones to play at the point some. O'Neill said Tuesday he hadn't made a corresponding decision for this weekend's games.

"I'm not sure," O'Neill said. "I'm not sure what I'm gonna do with that. It depends, but Jio played a ton of minutes at the point against UCLA and I thought played really well."

Fontan, who thought he played "solid," said it wasn't a big deal switching positions because he has played point for most of his basketball career up to this point.

"It wasn't too hard of an adjustment for either of us," Fontan said Tuesday. "We just gotta get used to it."

Ahead of schedule

USC is 3-5 in 2011, 4-6 in Pac-10 play and 6-7 since Fontan made his debut against Kansas Dec. 18 -- a far cry from the Pac-10 championship goals many Trojans had relayed before the season started.

But O'Neill is still happy with his team's general progress during the rebuilding process.

"I still think we're ahead of schedule," O'Neill said Tuesday. "Indiana's 28-58 in two and a half years of rebuilding. We're competitive, we have a chance to win in every game with three exceptions."

Indiana's probably the most recent example of a major university put under basketball sanctions, so that's why O'Neill mentioned the Hoosiers. The three exceptions? Texas Christian, Rider and Arizona, according to O'Neill.

Based on his experience, that means this team is still a capable squad. Even though the Trojans have lost four of their last six. Even though the offense is appearing to revert back to last season's ways in recent weeks.

"I've been to many rebuilding jobs were you're not in games," he said. "I can only compare this situation to the ones I've been in before, and being 10-6 is great, but we still had losses to Rider and Bradley.

"Everybody's always asking me: 'How can you win at Tennessee and lose at Oregon State?' It's basketball, it's just the way it is. Unless you have a great, great team, you can lose at any time to anybody.

Johnson returns

Former USC swingman Marcus Johnson practiced with the team Tuesday. Johnson, who spent two seasons at USC after transferring from Connecticut, signed with a team in Croatia after the NBA Summer League season but has returned to Los Angeles for the time being.

He also spent one mid-week session working out with the team last month, after which O'Neill quipped he was a nice piece to add to the lineup. USC doesn't have a true swingman on its current roster.