7-footers a not-so-secret weapon for USC men’s basketball team
In a practice gym at the Galen Center, Dewayne Dedmon runs and dunks a basketball as if there were nothing easier in the world. He doesn’t seem concerned with 15-foot jump shots either. Dedmon is 7 feet tall, and it would seem he will eventually make a living by staying close to the basket.
In the same gym on a Thursday afternoon, the 7-foot-2 Omar Oraby catches a pass with sure hands, takes one step and dunks the ball. The catch, the move, the dunk happen so quickly it would seem as though nothing could stop Oraby from scoring dozens of points or grabbing dozens of rebounds.
And USC has another 7-footer, James Blasczyk, who doesn’t play as much as Dedmon, who is a starter, or Oraby, who is often the first big man off the bench. Still, Blasczyk is USC’s third 7-footer, and that’s a luxury few teams have.
Yet as the Trojans (12-14, 7-6 in Pac-12) get ready for their second game this season against UCLA (19-7, 9-4) — Sunday at 12:30 p.m. at the Galen Center — their decided height advantage may not be the difference-maker.
That honor belongs to 6-foot-6 forward Eric Wise, the team’s leading scorer. He’s also the second-leading rebounder, averaging just one fewer rebound a game than Dedmon.
Bob Cantu, USC’s interim head coach, isn’t willing to whine about all that height though. First he lists all the ways having three such big men is positive.
“The other team has to be able to score over that length,” Cantu said. “That’s not easy to do. And we have big guys who can score off the screen and roll, off the pick and pop.”
If there is a downside to all that upside, Cantu said, it’s defense. “It can be tough to defend smaller post players,” he said.
When USC beat UCLA 75-71 in overtime at Pauley Pavilion last month, the scoring load was carried mostly by 6-foot-6 forward Aaron Fuller and 6-foot point guard Jio Fontan, who each had 15 points while the trio of 7-footers combined to score only eight points and pull down a combined five rebounds.
“Those numbers don’t matter,” Dedmon said, “as long as we win.”
Dedmon said he counts the chance to play with other big men as a blessing. “We make each other better,” he said.
Oraby said he feels himself getting better as a player every day because he tussles with Dedmon and Blasczyk.
“I’m stronger and better because I’m going against taller guys,” Oraby said. “We don’t take it easy on each other so it makes me stronger and tougher for the competition. I think we’ve all benefited from what we do in practice against each other.”
Cantu said all three of his 7-footers are unique. “Dedmon’s a great athlete,” Cantu said. “Omar is a great low post player, great at the rim and can block shots. JB is just basketball-smart and makes things happen.”
And he admits that sometimes matching up defensively is a problem. “It can be tough to defend smaller post players,” Cantu said. “Sometimes we downsize to match up.”
Whichever way it goes, Dedmon has one request.
“Last time, Aaron and Jio figured out what to do to score on them, so why not? This time it might be different,” Dedmon said. “Last time it looked like UCLA wasn’t expecting what Aaron and Jio did. Maybe we’ll have something they weren’t expecting this time too.”
And by the way, Dedmon said he has a favorite shot. It’s not a jump shot either. “The lob, that’s definitely my favorite,” he said.
UCLA can consider itself on notice. Watch out for the lob.
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