Friday, October 24, 2014
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The Love and Mayo era has ended in the Pac-10 and it's going to be replaced by the "Jrue and DeMar Show"??

Okay, maybe that's not as catchy but a year after UCLA and USC were graced by the services of freshmen Kevin Love and O.J. Mayo, respectively, both schools have reloaded with sensational freshmen from their backyard in Jrue Holiday and DeMar DeRozan.

Unlike their predecessors, both players will be expected to slide into place instead of becoming the main attraction. And both have plenty of reasons to pay attention this year.

Starting with UCLA, ranked No. 4 in the Associated Press preseason poll and currently playing in the 2K Sports Classic at home, what more can you say about a team that has won three consecutive Pac-10 regular season titles and ended the last three seasons in the Final Four.

How about unfinished business, the reason that All-American Darren Collison came back for his senior season as did Josh Shipp, whose jump shot betrayed him over the last half of the season.

Sure the two, along with Alfred Aboya, would love to end their career with a fourth consecutive conference title, but it's not enough.

"We know what's in our hearts and that's to win a championship," Collison said at Pac-10 media day.

They'll have some help with returning players James Keefe and Michael Roll along with Holiday and the rest of the nation's No. 1 recruiting class.

Holiday is the second consecutive National Player of the Year to suit up for the Bruins and while he's been compared to another Bruin recruit a decade ago - some guy on the Clippers named Baron Davis - he's earned his way into the starting lineup with his unselfishness and all-around game that Ben Howland loves.

Across town, USC has high hopes of building on last season and expectations remain high as judged by their preseason ranking (No. 18) and the Pac-10 media who picked them to finish third behind UCLA.

Their season starts Saturday at the Galen Center against UC Irvine and despite losing Mayo and Davon Jefferson, Tim Floyd's bunch is bolstered by experience in juniors Taj Gibson, Dwight Lewis and Daniel Hackett, but already his eyes are on the talented freshman from Compton High School/

DeRozan has already impressed the team with his athleticism that's made him a YouTube phenomenon and Floyd said at Pac-10 Media Day that he's "the best athlete I've ever coached." He is also earning raves for his perimeter defense, which will be an asset in Tim Floyd's triangle-and-two defense.

] Perhaps the most intriguing newcomer is one who already has an impressive debut in another field. Percy Miller is better known for his rap career, where he is still the youngest artist in history to have a No. 1 hit, but the 6-foot point guard will try to find some minutes in the Trojan backcourt.

Their biggest question will be the status of North Carolina transfer Alex Stephenson, who is still waiting to hear from the NCAA on his eligibility. The 6-foot-9 forward, who moved back home to be closer to his family, has been practicing with the team but at press time, no decision has been made.

The question for Floyd is how to maintain consistency. The last time the Trojans made consecutive trips to March Madness (2001-02), they went on a five-year drought before returning.

So technically the "Jrue and DeMar Show" is more like a supporting act than the headliner, but that could be what both programs need. If it only lasts one year as many expect, it could bring happy returns similar to last year's dynamic duo.

But there's more than just USC and UCLA on the college radar. Here are some other local players to keep your eye on during the season around the country.

James Harden and Jeff Pendergraph (Arizona State): Harden will be on several All-American watch lists during the year while Pendergraph, a former high school teammate of Darren Collison, will be on the conference's best big men. Also on the team is Josh Shipp's younger brother, Jerren.

Omari Johnson (Oregon State): The former Dorsey standout started 16 games last year and will play a prominent role in helping new coach Craig Robinson rebuild the program.

Gerard Anderson, Jer'Vaughn Johnson, Aaron Thompson (Cal State Fullerton): Anderson, formerly of Carson and Verbum Dei, will make his debut for the Titans while Johnson (Compton Centennial) and Thompson (Washington Prep) expect to see major minutes this year.

Jamal Boykin, Patrick Christopher (Cal): New coach Mike Montgomery returns to Bay Area and will find help from Christopher (Dominguez), his leading returning scorer, and Boykin (Fairfax), who will see more minutes in the frontcourt.

DJ Gay (San Diego State): Starting 26 games last year as a freshman, the former Sun Valley Poly scoring threat will be one of the top scorers on the West Coast.

 

Category: Basketball


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