Tony Miller hadn't coached before this season, but the former Marquette Golden Eagles point guard is helping the Trojans in an interesting way as an assistant.
His experience playing with an injury that affects the hands has proved particularly useful for USC senior forward Alex Stepheson, who fractured his left hand against UC Irvine on Nov. 13.
"When he first had it, I told him that you can play through it, that you can be productive with it," said Miller, who suffered from severe tendinitis in his right wrist that forced him to wear a cast during games in his freshman season (1991-92) at Marquette.
Stepheson too wears a cast during games and is expected to start Monday as the Trojans face Texas Christian here.
The Los Angeles native has been productive, especially in USC's last two games, combining for 25 points on 12-of-18 shooting with 21 rebounds.
In USC's 60-58 loss at Nebraska on Saturday, Stepheson also was the team's most consistent player, scoring a team-high 14 points and grabbing nine rebounds.
"Alex is playing great," said USC Coach Kevin O'Neill. "You know what Alex is doing, he gives himself up for the team. He has ever since he broke his hand. He's playing his tail off."
Stepheson, who recently began wearing a slimmer cast that allows for more mobility, said Miller has been helpful.
"He tells me the ins and outs of playing with limited hands," Stepheson said.
"Just emphasizing on how to box out well, so if I have to rebound, I can get the ball easier with one hand," Stepheson said. "And on post positions, just trying to get as deep [in the paint] as I can to get easy shots."
Stepheson said the cast should be off in a week.
His effort in recent games has O'Neill wishing his teammates would step up.
"Alex is a guy that plays with a pure heart all of the time," said O'Neill, who coached Miller for three seasons at Marquette. "We've got to get everybody else to follow him."