Basketball: Pac-12 media day notebook

Notes and quotes from Friday's Pac-12 media day at L.A. Live not covered in our news story from the proceedings:

Typical O'Neill

USC coach Kevin O'Neill and guard Maurice Jones were the ninth tandem to the take the podium at the Conga Room, following Cal's Mike Montgomery and Jorge Gutierrez and preceding Washington's Lorenzo Romar and Darnell Gant.

As usual, O'Neill entertained the crowd with his jokes about taking care of Montgomery during his bladder-cancer surgery and his on-stage interactions with Jones.

At one point, O'Neill said that he was telling Jones right then -- for the first time -- that he'd be playing every minute of USC's games this season.

"I'm informing him of that right now," O'Neill said. "Because he's going to have to."

Then, in typical O'Neill fashion, he was very blunt about his team's chances for this season with Jio Fontan out for the year, Evan Smith out 6-8 weeks with a re-aggravation of his shoulder injury and Curtis Washington out for the year with a torn labrum.

"We're having our good days and our bad days," O'Neill said. "Sometimes we look good and some days we stink."

A sophomore leader

The good days depend a lot on the play of Jones, O'Neill has said. USC's 5-7 point guard is the team's only real on-court leader as one of only two returning players who played significant minutes last season.

The problem is that Jones can be very quiet. He may have been the least leader-like player on the team last year, often finding himself staying silent in the background while his teammates spoke up.

But that was because he was a freshman then, he says now.

"I've just got to be more vocal," Jones said Friday. "Last year was my freshman year. I was just trying to get my feet wet. This year KO told me to be more aggressive, but still keep that point guard mentality in mind and create for my teammates.

"It's going to be a long season."

Replacing Fontan

As expected, a lot of the questions asked to O'Neill by out-of-town media focused on Fontan, the Fordham transfer who was receiving a lot of publicity leading up to this season before he tore his ACL in an exhibition game in Brazil in August.

USC's head coach was asked, point-blank, how he planned to replace Fontan's scoring and passing output.

"We're not going to be able to replace him," O'Neill said. "He was our point guard, our leader. Our leading returning scorer. A guy that had 30 and 29 (points) in two games against pro teams in Brazil before he got hurt, and a guy that really made us go. We don't have a second ball handler now."

That's a big part of it for a team that needs to limit turnovers and maintain ball control even more than normal. With a lack of natural offensive firepower, O'Neill and the Trojans typically used Jones and Fontan to create offense last season. That'll be all on Jones now.

"When we had two ball handlers, Jio and Mo, we thought we could be a fine team, but we really can't replace him," O'Neill said. "You don't lose a guy like that when you're in the throes of starting over with everybody graduating last year."


All of the Pac-12 head coaches and players were asked about Friday's news that the NCAA is now allowing college coaches to text and call high school juniors and seniors an unlimited amount of time.

Previously, there was a restriction as to much they could do. O'Neill chimed in and praised the new rules.

"I'm in favor of deregulation," he said. "I think the less rules we have, the better. I've never understood why they couldn't text to recruit anyway. I think that's ridiculous.

They don't have to pick up their phone if they don't want to. There are some people that call me and I look at my phone, and I'm like I'm not picking that up, no way."

Jones, not a highly-recruited player out of high school in Saginaw, Mich., also said he wouldn't mind the increased contact from college coaches.

"Me personally, it wouldn't bother me to get more text messages or calls from a coach because recruiting in high school wasn't that big of a deal," he said. "So it'd probably make it better for me, so it really wouldn't matter."