Friends to the end...of the pregame intros
Among those who called to congratulate Gabe Pruitt on Saturday after USC had knocked off then-No. 9 Oregon was something of a surprise well-wisher: UCLA guard Arron Afflalo.
Then again, gracious gestures are nothing new when it comes to Trojans and Bruins who have been close for years.
Former UCLA standout Jordan Farmar once gave USC swingman Nick Young a set of SAT study guides and brought him to Westwood to shoot baskets on a recruiting visit.
But there is nothing friendly about the cross-town rivalry that will resume Wednesday when No. 2 UCLA plays host to No. 19 USC at Pauley Pavilion, where the Bruins have romped to consecutive 21-point victories over the Trojans.
“It is serious when we’re on the court,” Afflalo said of his camaraderie with Pruitt. “He wants to beat us and I want to beat them.”
The last two UCLA-USC games played at Pauley have been one-sided, with Afflalo and Farmar combining for 56 points while shooting 51.4% (18 for 35). By comparison, Pruitt and Young have combined for 24 points while shooting 23.1% (nine for 39).
“The two times we’ve played there, it’s been embarrassing losses,” said Young, a junior swingman who is lamenting that he won’t have an opportunity for payback now that Farmar is a rookie with the Lakers.
Young said that after the Trojans’ last two games at Pauley, with the sting of defeat still fresh, Farmar had shown compassion, telling Young to keep his head up. But once summer rolled around, decorum gave way.
“In the summertime,” Young recalled, “it would be, ‘What happened to y’all?’ He would rub it in more.”
Afflalo also delivered a verbal jab during his recent conversation with Pruitt, telling the USC junior guard that he would lock him down on Wednesday.
Pruitt and Afflalo began playing against each other on club teams in the seventh grade before joining forces at Compton Centennial High as freshmen. Pruitt was the point guard and Afflalo the shooting guard until the players switched positions as sophomores.
Nearly every day after school, they would go to Afflalo’s home to lift weights or to the YMCA to work out.
“We were really good friends,” Pruitt said. “We were always together.”
Pruitt said he considered going to the same college as Afflalo until Pruitt transferred to Westchester High after his sophomore year and Afflalo committed to UCLA.
“I thought it would be a good opportunity to go to USC and play against him and have that rivalry going,” Pruitt said.
Young and Farmar were rivals in high school, Young playing for Reseda Cleveland and Farmar for Woodland Hills Taft in the West Valley League. But they played together on the same club team and became roommates on the road.
“We talked about girl problems and basketball,” Young said. “He was just a really cool person.”
Young was especially touched one Christmas when Farmar gift-wrapped a set of study guides and delivered them. Young still needed a passing score on a standardized test to gain his college eligibility.
“He wrote something in there like he had used the guides and all he wanted was to see me do better in life,” Young said. “It was something nobody ever did for me. It was different.”
Young could have used a defensive study guide in the opening minutes at Pauley last year, when Farmar elevated over him for one of his three three-point baskets on the way to a game-high 15 points during the Bruins’ 66-45 victory.
“I haven’t talked to him in a while but every time we see each other, it’s cool,” said Farmar, who is averaging 5.5 points and 2.1 assists in 16.6 minutes a game for the Lakers. “We were rivals in high school, played in the same league, and USC-UCLA is a big rivalry too. We won most of the time.”
Afflalo, who poured in career highs with 22 points and nine rebounds as a freshman to lead the Bruins to a 90-69 victory over USC at Pauley, said there’s no mystery as to why the Bruins have been so successful against the Trojans in Westwood.
“It’s home-court advantage, that’s all it is,” he said. “Our gym is a tough place to play, especially when we’re playing well. Our crowd gets behind us and sometimes it’s tough to keep up.”
A victory over the Bruins on Wednesday would have special meaning for Pruitt, who sat out the Trojans’ 71-68 triumph over UCLA last season at the Sports Arena because of a knee injury.
But win or lose, Pruitt says he knows he can always call Afflalo to talk about more important things than the outcome of a college basketball game.
“The rivalry has nothing to do with our friendship,” Pruitt said. “We don’t let the rivalry get in between it.”
Times staff writer Mike Bresnahan contributed to this report.