July 13, 2011
Unlike many of his fellow coaches who are wary of hyping a promising newcomer to the point that it will be difficult for him to live up to expectations, USC's Kevin O'Neill isn't nearly as cautious.
First, O'Neill labeled guard Jio Fontan USC's "best player," "best leader" and "best scorer" last December before the heralded Fordham transfer made his midseason debut against Kansas. Then O'Neill offered even more lavish praise Wednesday for DeWayne Dedmon, a 7-foot junior college transfer likely to replace Nikola Vucevic and Alex Stepheson as the Trojans' top big man next year.
O'Neill told ESPN.com that Dedmon will "average a double-double next year and after that who knows." The USC coach is apparently so sold on Dedmon after watching him battle in practice against Vucevic and Stepheson that he believes the 7-foot sophomore may be NBA-bound as soon as next spring.
"He has a chance to be special," O'Neill said. "He has three years left. He won't make it three years. He may not make it past one.
"There's no question he's a first-round pick, no question. He's got a great motor. He's worked with a bunch of pros. He worked with my former player with the Pacers -- Danny Granger -- and he said he's a first-round pick. He's extremely athletic. He'll score on tip dunks. He'll run the floor. He's a great shooter and he's extremely athletic."
Why would O'Neill put so much undue pressure on a kid who averaged 6.6 points and 7.8 rebounds as a freshman at Antelope Valley College? It's possible O'Neill may truly believe Dedmon can handle it, or perhaps the USC coach has an alterior motive.
Cynics suggested O'Neill hyped Fontan's debut last December in order to give the NCAA tournament selection committee an excuse to disregard USC's disappointing early losses to Rider, Bradley and TCU. Similarly, O'Neill saying Dedmon may be an early-entry candidate next spring could be his way of using the media to persuade potential big man recruits that immediate playing time will be available.
USC is recruiting several top 2012 centers including Robert Upshaw of Fresno, Calif. and Willie Cauley of Olathe, Kansas. If hyping Dedmon as an NBA prospect helps persuade a top recruit to come to USC, maybe the gamble is worth it.