S.C.'s Trepagnier, the Trojans' most athletic player, has come into his own.
"For real!?" was Jeff Trepagnier's reaction when told he would be the cover story in the March issue of StreetZebra.
Trepagnier's infectious enthusiasm shines through when U.S.C.'s handsome 6-4, 195-pound guard flashes his million-dollar smile. No seen-it-all, media-weary histrionics from Jeff, who seems surprised that he is the focus of attention.
He should not be. Trepagnier is the best athlete on a team that is emerging as one of the most interesting college basketball stories in the nation. Whether the Trojans' make the NCAA Tournament, and how far they advance, is still very much up in the air. So is Trepagnier, every time the best shooter on SC's opponent takes a shot. Trepagnier has blocked his share of those shots because he does not merely jump high, but he is super-quick.
"I wasn't always able to jump high," he says. "It just started to be natural for me after the tenth grade."
That was at Compton High School, where he played for coach Rod Palmer (who has since moved to Centennial) and was named to various All-American teams (USA TODAY, Street & Smith) and made all the regional all-star squads (Long Beach Press-Telegram's Best in the West and Dream Team, All-CIF Southern Section Division II first team, Cal-Hi's All-California, Moore League MVP, L.A. Times' All-South Coast League).
Trepagnier's natural leaping ability has been augmented by hard work. Henry Bibby brought in former N.B.A. center Paul Mokeskie to work with the big men. The results: Front court players' Brian Scalabrine and David Bluthenthal are stronger, quicker, display better ball-handling skills, and make fewer mistakes. Trepagnier is not a big man, but the conditioning work, weight training, and ladder drills have paid off for him as well.
"We do anticipation foot drills <fake pass competitions> every day," explains Coach Bibby of their 45-minute daily practice ritual, designed to improve foot speed. "The guys' have improved in those situations, all our players now anticipate where the next pass is gonna be."
Trepagnier set the school season season steal's record by mid-season.
"That's not a goal of the team," says Bibby. "The goals we have pertain to team goals. If that's his goal, fine. Steals come from teammates creating steals, whether he knows that or not."
Trepagnier knows. He also knows that Bibby has been to the mountaintop, and deserves respect.
"He's won NCAA titles, an NBA and a CBA title," says Trepagnier. "He has the experience, so when he tells us something we take account of that. We've invested in the coach, we believe in him 100 percent. Practices are a lot more enjoyable, now that we're winning. He tells us practice is over, but guys' stay and work on other things. When we were 9-19, going to practice was like going to a funeral, everybody dreaded it, but you can't doubt him, even when things go wrong."
Trepagnier is given the task of guarding the best offensive player on the other team.
"My focus is on defense in practice," he says. "We work on sliding drills and full-speed cutbacks. Playing good defense gets our all-around game going. Coach Bibby doesn't stress offense in practice."
Trepagnier believes in Bibby, and vice versa. While Trepagnier is a phenomenal player when it comes to steals and blocked shots, the rap on him is that he takes ill-advised shots.
"The players don't have a green light," says Bibby of his shot-selection policy. "Jeff got off-track in the beginning, but he knows, and the whole team knows, that the shots will come. Trepagnier always takes one or two bad shots per night. He's aggressive. I've never seen a player who doesn't take bad shots, everyone takes their share of bad shots. He has to be patient and let the game come to him, maybe not beat his man off the dribble, but instead get more free throws. He makes up for his bad shots with good plays on the other end. Jeff is better than he was last year, he plays hard every night. I have no complaints."
"I've taken some bad shots," admits Trepagnier. "Coach Bibby tells me don't force it. I play 40 minutes a night, I just let the game come to me now."
Trepagnier has learned not to "force it" on defense, as well as on offense.
"Jeff had some silly fouls," Bibby says of the maturation process. "We worked on cutting back on his mistakes. I want to play hard defense, and not think about fouls. We don't quit playing, we'll play Jeff with four fouls. College players don't really `grow up' until their junior years. It's a big step from one year to the next."
Trepagnier, a junior, has grown up with his teammates. The leader of the Trojans' is another junior, 6-9 Brian Scalabrine. Scalabrine has the work ethic of Richard Nixon, a willingness to spend long hours working on fundamentals like footwork, or going to his left.
"Brian influences us in lots of ways," says Jeff. "He works hard the whole practice, so we know we should work hard like Brian. He takes constructive criticism, and we have good chemistry."
Scalabrine is also outspoken, willing to talk up the Trojans' program in a town where basketball has always been spelled U-C-L-A. Until now.
"We try not to get involved with the media, we're not about controversy," says Trepagnier, "but when he says we're gonna win, we know we have to do it. We have to work hard all week to back him up."
Scalabrine pointed out that local coverage is centered in Westwood, but after SC's convincing January 12 victory over the Bruins', he told any writer willing to listen that Southern Cal deserved more props. It may be a little early to make this kind of prediction, but the potential for a cataclysmic power shift in college basketball exists.
Bibby is a highly respected coach, a man who started for three straight National Championship teams under John Wooden at UCLA He has paid his dues and his status is now paying off on the recruiting trail. USC has broken ground on a state of the art, on-campus arena. The current squad has the potential to make a solid mark for themselves once March Madness gets underway. Steve Lavin is under fire, and the UCLA program is a mess right now. All of this means that SC has a chance to become a basketball school, something that they should, be considering the talent base in Southern California. This is a window of opportunity that needs to be handled better than the last time SC was on the cusp of real change.
That was in 1986. After capturing a share of the Pac-10 championship in 1985, Stan Morrison recruited "The Four Freshmen," the best in-coming class in the country, but when George Raveling replaced him, three of the freshmen transferred. Had they stayed, USC may have been a Sweet 16 team (or better), and Harold Miner might have been able to deliver them to the
Promised Land a few seasons later.
"We know we're pioneers for the future of Trojan basketball," says Trepagnier, "and we're buying into Coach Bibby's system. Being tied for first helps with recruiting, we need to get more local players. When we get the arena, we can get blue chip prospects."
Of UCLA's recent troubles, Trepagnier says, "We try to go after them, but we know they're gunning for us <after S.C. beat them the first time>. We have to work hard to stay up there. In the past we looked to them, but we know they have great players."
Trepagnier, like all of the Trojans' key players, returns next season. Regardless of how 2000 shakes out, the future is bright at University Park.
MARCH MADNESS: U.S.C. PREVIEW
"This is a great win," Henry Bibby told the media after Southern Cal ended UCLA's 10-game victory skein over the Trojans'. "The streak is over."
"We're tired of playing second fiddle in the L.A. Times," said Brian Scalabrine. "They <U.C.L.A.> get all the hype."
Bruin assistant Jim Saia tried to put a positive spin on what looked to be the dawning of the Bibby Era.
"Scalabrine was solid inside and out," said Saia. "He exposed us, we didn't stop him, and you've got to give SC credit. Still, it's not mid-season yet, we've got a long way to go."
Some writers are placing Scalabrine on a pedestal, but Bibby is a no-nonsense type,
"We're in charge," said Bibby of on-court decision-making, "not Brian. He's good, but he's not Michael Jordan."
David Bluthenthal (28 rebounds vs. Arizona State) on playing in Israel:
"You could hear bombs going off in the Golan Heights," he recalled. "There were guards with Uzis at the airport, we all had armed guards. The Israelis didn't act surprised, most people there are darker than I am, but the other delegations seemed surprised at me being with Israel. I felt comfortable there. I went to the Wailing Wall and swam in the Dead Sea. Clubs in Tel
Aviv and Jerusalem are wild, it's like Miami's South Beach."
Revenge at Pauley
On February 9 at Pauley, UCLA got their revenge. Scalabrine was a floor leader for Troy, bringing the ball up court along with David Bluthenthal on more than one occasion.
"When you play as much as I have, it just comes naturally," says the big redhead of his skills. "You get tired posting up all the time. I try to lead by example by working hard, 'cause I have to in order to be a good player."
"Jerome Moiso's tough to guard," said Bluthenthal, who dominated the boards early. Moiso, seemingly in answer to Bluthenthal's strong game, responded with great work in the paint that included some spectacular dunks.
"We knew it would be tough stopping them," said Jeff Trepagnier, "Jason Kapono really stepped it up." Trepagnier's shot selection was markedly improved, and he made some nice fall-aways, as well as some well-executed floor driving, followed by a sweet stop, pull and swish.
"I've been working on that part of my game," he explained.
Paul Mokeskie is modest, but the finesse demonstrated by SC's big men is a direct result of his coaching.
"We have talented players," he said. "We work on getting them to do their pivot moves in such a way as not to be called for traveling, which happens to a lot of big men. Brian works hard because he knows he has to."
The UCLA cheering section finished up their school song with "F-ck SC." every time. USC is no better. School officials need to clean up their respective acts. John Wooden must cringe when he hears this garbage.
Causes Steven Travers Supports
Conservative, Christian, USC, American patriotism