Dupree Hopes to Take Center Stage Again

Times Staff Writer

The crowd chanted his name as he blocked shots, grabbed rebounds and hung in the air for what seemed an eternity before bringing down the house with monster jams.

"Jerry, Jerry, Jerry," they crooned.

Jerry Dupree, USC's high-flying forward, was making Staples Center his personal playground.

It was during last year's Pacific 10 Conference tournament and Dupree's electrifying arsenal was helping lead the Trojans into the title game.

Finally, after a season of waiting by Trojan fans, the highly touted Dupree, who had transferred to USC as a sophomore that summer, had shown up. Better late than never.

"Jerry, Jerry, Jerry."

But Dupree, who looks like a throwback with his headband, wristbands and knee socks, had to start over this season, first with a semester-long suspension handed down by Coach Henry Bibby to help him concentrate on his academics.

A sore right foot plagued him from the get-go.

A weekend away from the program after he was late to a treatment session was then prescribed by Bibby.

And Dupree has been kicked out of practice too many times to count.

"Everything that happened to me this year, I take full responsibility for it," Dupree said. "I brought it on myself."

With the way he can alter a game, he also brings to the table the Trojans' pie-in-the-sky hopes of winning the Pac-10 tournament and gaining an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

And it begins today, against Stanford, the same team that witnessed Dupree's initial Pac-10 tournament dominance a year ago in the Trojans' 103-78 first-round win.

"I want to come in and give more than I did last year, more than I did the last three games," he said. "We're the underdogs right now. Stanford beat us twice, so they're coming in with a lot of confidence that they can beat us again, but we're not going to let that happen.

"We're coming into the tournament with the mind-set that we're trying to win the whole thing."

As he was entering last year's conference tournament, Dupree is again peaking.

He has scored in double figures in the Trojans' last three games, averaging 13.7 points and 8.7 rebounds.

In last year's Pac-10 tournament, he averaged 10.3 points, 3.7 rebounds, two blocks and shot 73.7% from the field while setting a tournament record with four blocks against Arizona in the title game.

It was that passion that the Trojans and their fans expected to begin this season, a rebuilding campaign in which USC had to deal with losing three senior starters.

But Dupree's problems left them in a lurch.

"He wins you five or six more games; that's the difference," Bibby said. "Jerry being healthy, he takes you to another level."

So much so that it is Dupree's name coming from visiting reporters' mouths when the Trojans are discussed.

"Last year is last year," Dupree insisted. "A lot of people this year were coming at me with that, telling me that I should play like I did in the Pac-10 tournament. This is a new season, the '03 season."

Still, he can't force back the smile that comes to his face when he thinks of playing at Staples Center again and being showered with chants of his name.

"Jerry, Jerry, Jerry."

"I think I've learned a lot sitting down, watching, listening to coaches when I haven't been playing that much," he said. "I think I've grown as a basketball player and grown as a teammate.

"Coach knew what he was doing by not playing me [earlier in the year]. Right now ... I don't see myself going down. It's only up for me. The sky's the limit."

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