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.”
“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.
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