With all the turmoil surrounding the USC basketball program and head coach Tim Floyd's recent resignation amid allegations of paying an associate of O.J. Mayo $1,000, former Trojans Demar DeRozan and Taj Gibson undoubtedly made the right decision to leave school early and enter the 2009 NBA Draft. They may have been on the fence earlier in the process, but there's no more "testing the waters" for these two men of Troy. With the USC program possibly degenerating into a real life version of the early ?90s film "Blue Chips," Gibson and DeRozan know returning to Los Angeles (unless the Clippers and Lakers draft them) is out of the question.
Like Mayo, DeRozan entered Southern Cal with a lot of hype. His early-season struggles in acclimating himself to the college game left many wondering if he could truly make a Mayo-type impact during his freshman campaign with the Trojans. As the season progressed, DeRozan came into his own averaging 19.1 points per game over his last seven games. Playing in the rugged Pac-10 motivated him to take his game up a notch. "Every year, the Pac-10 always had the greatest amount of NBA prospects come up, going through that each year is great- preparing you for what the NBA is going to be like night in and night out," DeRozan told me at the NBA Draft Combine.
Athleticism has never been a concern for DeRozan. He is as gifted with his quickness, explosiveness, and speed as any wing player in the college game. His strength is getting to the basket with his driving ability, but he also showed an improved mid-range game during the course of the season. Three-point shooting is still a major area of concern as DeRozan connected on just 17 percent of his attempts from downtown.
With his untapped potential, DeRozan is high on many NBA teams' radars. He could possibly go as high as No. 6 to the Timberwolves and shouldn't drop out of the top 10. His impact in the NBA may not be felt right away, but in a few years; he could be a special player.
Teammate Taj Gibson is the opposite of DeRozan in terms of what he can bring to the table at the next level. Despite just finishing his junior season, Gibson is already 23 years old and should be able to contribute off the bench right away. He will likely make a living as a professional thanks to his rebounding and shot-blocking ability which is helped out by his somewhat freakish 7-4 wingspan. The only combine attendee to have a larger wingspan was the 7-3 Hasheem Thabeet, so when Gibson goes up for a rebound or to block a shot, his arms reach toward the sky like the spires of the Taj Mahal.
Offensively, Gibson is no slouch either. He has a decent mid-range game and is effective with his back to the basket. Developing his pick and roll game will be a must if Gibson is going to contribute on the offensive end. The now embattled Floyd has NBA coaching experience with the Chicago Bulls (a team that is showing a lot of interest in Gibson) and served as a primary mentor to Gibson. "My coach has been a big factor in my life, going through the NBA system, just learning and watching; and he told me I was ready," Gibson said.