Can USC Hoops Shock the World?

USC’s NCAA Tournament run evokes memories for 2001 Elite Eight team

Trojans are on the brink of matching a special run from 20 years ago, with parallels running deep between the teams

The 2000-01 USC men’s basketball team led by, from left, David Bluthenthal, Brian Scalabrine, Brandon Granville, Sam Clancy and Jeff Trepagnier, advanced to the East Regional final of the NCAA Tournament. (USC Athletics)

Adam Grosbard (OC Register)  —  INDIANAPOLIS — After two decades, the memories of the games are foggy. Players from USC’s 2000-01 Elite Eight run haven’t seen the highlights in years, so the details tend to escape them. Instead, it’s the surrounding moments that stick out.

Like after the season-ending loss to Duke. The Trojans had an early-morning flight home to LAX the next day. Mixed in with the grogginess of travel was the joy at the first Elite Eight run in 47 years and the disappointment of it all coming to an end.

So the players and coaches were not prepared for what was waiting for them in the terminal. Hundreds of USC fans were waiting at the gate, erupting in cheers to celebrate the accomplishments of the wide-eyed team.

“We thought we were just coming home, gonna grab our bags and just get back to school,” guard Jeff Trepagnier recalled this week. “They just were cheering us, just going down the line high-fiving and hugs and celebrating. It was a celebration. It was sort of like our victory parade.”

“We had no idea that people were even watching us in L.A.,” forward Sam Clancy added. “Everybody was completely shocked. It was great to see that the city had really backed us.”

USC’s Sam Clancy is defended by Duke’s Mike Dunleavy Jr. in the NCAA Tournament East Regional final on March 24, 2001, at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. (USC Athletics)
Twenty years later, USC men’s basketball is on the precipice of returning to that stage. A rematch with Pac-12 rival Oregon is all that stands between the Trojans and their first trip to the Elite Eight since ’01. And as the predecessors see it, that’s far from the only similarity between the teams.

An improvised dance

Much like this year’s Trojans, there were no grand expectations for the 2000-01 team. USC had not gone to the NCAA Tournament the previous three seasons, and even head coach Henry Bibby wasn’t sure what he had with that roster.

“We never thought [the Elite Eight] would be anything that we could reach in my estimation,” Bibby recounted. “But we got good at the right time.

The 2001 team wasn’t a motley collection of transfers and underclassmen like 2021. It was largely a group of juniors and seniors that had played and grown together for years. They went from a miserable losing season in 1998 to two middling years to the sudden renaissance of a 24-10 record.

The players credit Bibby for the swagger they played with that year.

“We had NBA sets, we practiced like NBA. So I think it all started with him and he instilled a confidence that we could beat any team,” said Clancy, the leading scorer on that squad. “We were always thinking we could win any game.”

“Henry Bibby always told us that winning teams have the players that are winners, and that’s what the scouts look for,” added forward David Blu (formerly Bluthenthal).

Bibby won three national championships as a player under John Wooden at UCLA and an NBA title as a rookie with the New York Knicks. But he calls USC’s Elite Eight run the peak of his basketball career, seeing the group jell for the common cause.

Bibby sees parallels between his roster and the present iteration of the Trojans. He compares Tahj Eaddy to Brandon Granville for their ability to spark USC. Evan and Isaiah Mobley are likened to Clancy and Brian Scalabrine for their ability to impact the game from the post. And Drew Peterson is similar to Trepagnier as a versatile guard who doesn’t fit easily into any position.

Both teams entered the tournament as No. 6 seeds seeking respect. When the Trojans took a tour of Manhattan between weekends 20 years ago, strangers would come up and tell them that they stood no chance against Kentucky, a Sweet 16 game USC would win 80-76.

Back in 2001, the hot sneakers everyone wanted were the Nike Shox. Prior to March, the USC players went to Bibby to get the Trojans’ apparel provider to supply them with the shoe. The message from Nike: It’s not worth it for us to give you the Shox unless you make the Sweet 16.

USC guard Brandon Granville confers with head coach Henry Bibby during the NCAA Tournament East Regional final on March 24, 2001, at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. (USC Athletics)


“We didn’t need any extra motivation, but once you get disrespected like that, you’re like, ‘OK, I see how they really think about us,’”
Clancy said animatedly. “You watch the Kentucky game, we got the Shox on, fresh after being disrespected by Nike and the whole of New York City.”The message from Nike: It’s not worth it for us to give you the Shox unless you make the Sweet 16.

Things haven’t changed much since then according to Desmon Farmer, a freshman in 2001 and a graduate assistant for USC in 2021.

“Coming into the Kansas game [Monday], CBS commentators were saying they were picking Kansas because our team is not disciplined,” Farmer said. “They just see us as a football school.”

The web between the two teams runs deep. Clancy was USC’s last All-American before star freshman Evan Mobley. Blu played high school ball with current Trojan assistant Jason Hart. Trepagnier works for the Compton Magic, the AAU program that helped mold the Mobley brothers.

USC’s Jeff Trepagnier goes to the rim while teammate David Bluthenthal watches in the NCAA Tournament East Regional final against Duke on March 24, 2001, at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. (USC Athletics)

It adds to their excitement watching this team make its own March run. Clancy relishes watching the Mobleys dominate the post, while Trepagnier stayed on his feet in his living room throughout the win over Kansas.

It brings back memories, watching this team win the way the 2001 group did – with suffocating defense and a free, uninhibited offense.

“That was the same thing, guys were on the same page, we felt like we could win every game we played,” Farmer says. “And with that type of energy, you see success.”

Time is a flat circle

As they milled around the LAX terminal 20 years ago, feeling more like Beatles than Trojans, Bibby was struck by a sense that everyone – from the players to the fans to athletic director Mike Garrett – had bought into his vision for USC.

“It was like, ‘Whoa, is this ‘SC? Are we football or basketball?’” he recounted. “I said to [assistant coach Dave Miller], ‘I can’t wait to get back here next year.’ He said, ‘Coach, this doesn’t happen often. You don’t know about next year, so let’s enjoy this right now.’”

The next year, USC reached the tournament but did not win a game. Two years after that, all the players had moved on and Bibby was out as coach. The end came as suddenly as the success had.

That’s what the former Trojans want this year’s team to understand. The job isn’t done, so don’t let off the brakes now.

“People think I’m crazy, but I feel like we should make it to the Final Four,” Clancy said. “I don’t want the guys to rest on their laurels. We gotta hang our hats on our defense like we been doing every game throughout the season.”

As far as USC goes, the old guard will be watching.

“From a selfish reason, when I was an athlete and I was competitive and ‘SC teams would make it to the tournament, I was like, ‘Wow, what if they go further than we did? Then they’re going to be that team,’” Blu says. “Now I find myself going, ‘Yeah, USC!’ I want them to go further than we did.”

No. 6 USC (24-7) vs. No. 7 Oregon (21-6)

When: Sunday, 6:45 p.m.

Where: Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis

TV: TBS

 

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Golden Trojan
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Golden Trojan (@golden-trojan)
March 27, 2021 6:16 pm

The Beavers beat Loyola-Chicago by hitting all their free throws in the last 2-3 minutes. Put SC in their place, shooting 50%, and they lose a game like that. Gotta hope it’s not close at the end.

HOF19
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HOF19 (@hof19)
March 26, 2021 8:51 pm

It is not easy to do but gotta TRY to play and better each game cause there are no easy opponents the rest of the way …….FIGHT ON !!!!!!!!!…….And on a kind of sad note ……I SMH at the way the NY Media is acting today like Sam Darnold no longer exists ….It just makes me SMH !

Last edited 5 months ago by HOF19
HOF19
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HOF19 (@hof19)
March 26, 2021 8:54 pm
Reply to  HOF19

Another note on the NY Media …..They are all ……..ALL acting like the Jets allready drafted the QB from BYU !

HOF19
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HOF19 (@hof19)
March 27, 2021 10:52 am
Reply to  Allen Wallace

I gotta believe he (Sam) is hoping to maybe somehow to return to California .

Last edited 5 months ago by HOF19
HOF19
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HOF19 (@hof19)
March 27, 2021 10:59 am
Reply to  HOF19

Only problem is the California NFL teams seem to have decided allready (obviously the Chargers for sure) what their QB situations will be .

HOF19
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HOF19 (@hof19)
March 27, 2021 11:06 am
Reply to  Allen Wallace

In talking Pac-12 QB’s ……..Where do you think the current Chargers starting QB (Mr Herbert) will rank in the history of PAC-12 QB’s ?

LawyerJohn
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LawyerJohn (@lawyerjohn)
March 26, 2021 7:25 pm

I watched that 2001 vintage SC basketball team get behind sucla at Pauley by about 20 points, and then came roaring back to within 2, and still lost. But it seems that run gave the boys confidence that they could play with anybody, and they could, sans Duke Troy was in the game with the college-equivalent of The Devil all the way to the end, but could not get closer than 6-10 points down. So it was not a heartbreaker of a loss where we could say “Except for that one play, we woulda won,” but it was a “quality”… Read more »

Steveg
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Mt Rushmore
Steveg (@steveg)
March 26, 2021 6:34 pm

I hope this basketball team realizes the job is not done, they have some serious basketball to play. I guess this is where we will see how much heart the coach has built within this team. This game Sunday is a big deal because it is Oregon, and some serious payback is due.