By Rich Ruben
USC has had a few superstar basketball players over the decades, including Bill Sherman, John Rudometkin, Paul Westphal, Harold Miner, Gus Williams and Sam Clancy. The latest player to potentially be added to that superstar list is Onyeka Okongwu.
But throughout all of the ups and downs of Trojan basketball over the decades there have been other players who had excellent college careers and some also had very good pro careers. My list is composed of Trojans who were very good college players, but were not All-Americans, and some have been forgotten over time. Some in this group were overshadowed by big time players on their teams such as Westphal, Miner or Clancy.
I am listing ten of these Trojan heroes and I’m sure I’ve overlooked other players that could or should be on this list. I excluded players from the last 15 years in an effort to reach back to find those names and accomplishments that deserve recounting. I never saw two of these Trojans play at USC but their accomplishments speak for them. Here are my forgotten ten, listed in descending order.
No. 10 – Desmon Farmer
Farmer was a role player alongside Sam Clancy, David Bluthenthal and Brandon Granville before becoming the Trojans’ go-to player in his last two years. He could score in bunches, though he was not a high percentage shooter. From 2001-2004 Farmer scored 1,606 points, fifth most in Trojan history. He averaged 18.7 and 19.4 points in his junior and senior seasons, and was honorable mention All-Pac-10 as a junior and All-Pac-10 as a senior.
Farmer’s name is scattered throughout the Trojan record books. He had three 30 plus point games; only seven Trojans have more. He scored the sixth most points ever by a Trojan junior and the sixth most ever by a Trojan senior. Farmer was not drafted and played only 11 games in the NBA.
Farmer had as much fun playing college basketball as any player I can remember. He was always smiling and had a unique way of moving across the court. He was not especially athletic and when he ran his arms and legs seemed to be flapping in different directions on a fast break, leaving defenders guessing which way he was going.
No. 9 – Robert Pack
The 6-foot-2 point guard played only two seasons at USC. He was a key player on the Harold Miner led Trojan NCAA Tournament teams in 1990 and 1991. He averaged 13.4 points for the Trojans and played 32 minutes per game. Although he was an excellent leaper, he was overshadowed by Miner who later won two NBA slam dunk contests.
Watching this pair of guards, no one thought Pack would have a much longer and better NBA career than Miner, but that is what happened. Pack signed with Portland as an undrafted free agent and averaged 8.9 points over his 13 year career. His best season was in 1996-97 when he averaged 14.2 points and 8.3 assists. Since retiring Pack has been an assistant coach for several NBA teams including New Orleans, Washington, OKC and the Clippers.
No. 8 – Bill Hewitt
Hewitt started his college career at Mt Sac JC and played for the Trojans for two seasons in 1967-68. At 6-foot-7, he was an undersized power forward but a big time scorer. He averaged 19.1 points for the Trojans, the fourth highest career average in Trojan history. He had a spectacular senior season in which he averaged 25.2 points, the second highest season average in Trojan history behind only Harold Miner’s final year at Troy. Hewitt scored 30 or more four times; only six players had more 30 point games for the Trojans.
Hewitt was picked 11th in the first round by the Lakers. He played in the NBA for six seasons and averaged 5.7 points over his career.
No. 7 – Derrick Dowell
At 6-foot-6 and 210 pounds, Dowell was an undersized college forward. During his Trojan career from 1984-87 the Trojans struggled and Dowell became the focus of every defense His 1483 career points are ninth best at USC and he averaged 13.6 points and 7.4 rebounds over his career.
Dowell averaged 20.9 points as a senior when he was first team All Pac 10 and an honorable mention All American. He was also first team all conference as a junior. Dowell scored 30 or more six times, tied for third most ever, and had a high of 35 against UCLA. He also is one of six Trojans to ever have a 20 point, 20 rebound game.
Dowell’s poor shooting from the free throw line impacted his scoring numbers. Though he barely made 50% of his free throws, he is 7th on the career list for made free throws. He played a very physical game and defenders were often forced or chose to foul him to keep him from muscling up a shot. He has the 8th most career rebounds and his 21 rebounds in one game is the 7th highest total by any Trojan.
Dowell was picked in the second round of the NBA draft by Washington with the 37th pick, but an ACL injury ended his career and he never played in the League.
No. 6 – John Block
The 6-foot-9 Block played three seasons from 1964-66 when freshmen were not eligible. He scored 1,423 points over only 78 games, averaging 18.2 points and 9.3 rebounds for his career, and was All-Pac-8 as a junior and senior. His rebound average is the ninth best by a Trojan.
He has the second most 30 point games in USC history with nine and is tied for the most field goals in a single game with 18. His 21 made free throws in a game is the best ever at Troy. He also has the third most made free throws in single season at a time when the college season was only 26 games.
Block played nine seasons in the NBA and had a career average of 11.9 points per game. He made the All Star game the year he averaged 20.2 points and 11 rebounds for the Rockets.
No. 5 – Brian Scalabrine
Scalabrine played for the Trojans from 1999-2001, and was a member of the Elite 8 team that beat Kentucky in the Sweet 16 before falling to Duke. He came to SC after one season of JC ball in a roundabout way. Henry Bibby was recruiting a teammate and at the last minute decided to take the big redhead too.
USC fans seem to remember his teammates Clancy, Bluthenthal and Granville and sometimes forget Scalabrine. He scored 1,441 points at USC in his three years for a 15.7 average per game. He made 51% from the field and 75% from the line. He was named the Pac-10 Newcomer of the Year as a sophomore, was All-Pac-10 as a junior when he scored almost 18 points per game and honorable mention all conference in his two other seasons. He is 8th on USC’s career made free throw list.
The 6-foot-9 Scalabrine was selected with the 34th pick in the second round in the NBA draft and played 11 seasons. He played for Boston, New Jersey and Chicago. Sometimes called the “White Mamba,” Scalabrine was always a fan favorite at least in part for jumping up from the bench and waving a towel every time a teammate made a play. He always played hard though he never averaged more than 6.3 points per game. He earned a ring with the Celtics team which beat the Lakers in 2008.
No. 4 – Cliff Robinson
Robinson was drafted with the 11th pick by the Nets after his sophomore season at USC in 1979. Known for his white headband, he led the Trojans in scoring both seasons averaging 18.4 and 18.8 points and was All Pac 10 both seasons. He scored 35 points and grabbed 28 rebounds in a win over Portland State. The 28 rebounds, later tied by David Bluthenthal, is still a single game Trojan record . He scored 30 or more 5 times; only four Trojans have more 30 point games. At 6-foot-9 and 220 pounds, Robinson was able to shot over many college forwards and he also had a deadly fall away shot from 12-15 feet.
Robinson had one of the best NBA careers by any Trojan. Over 11 seasons Robinson averaged 17.2 points and eight rebounds. He averaged over 15 points for nine straight seasons and finished his career with over 10,000 points and 5,000 rebounds
No. 3 – Wayne Carlander
In high school Carlander was known as “the franchise.” At USC he became one of only three Trojans ever named conference Player of the Year (along with Miner and Clancy). Carlander played for the Trojans from 1982-85 and was All-Pac-10 as a junior and senior, and was also a member of the conference all freshman team in his first year. He was an honorable mention All American in his last two seasons.
At 6-foot-8 and 210 pounds Carlander was not big or particularly athletic, but used his body to create space. Carlander is USC’s 7th leading all time scorer with 1542 points. Over his career he made 53.7% of his shots and averaged 13.1 points and 6.6 rebounds. He had two 30 point games
No. 2 – Ronnie Coleman
Coleman is perhaps the Trojans’ most forgotten star. He is USC’s second leading career scorer with 1,727 points from 1988-1991. He scored 70 more points than Sam Clancy who is third, and increased his scoring average every year and shot over 50% from the field each season. For his career he averaged 14.9 points and made 54% of his shots, sixth best by a Trojan. He averaged 17.5 points as a senior.
Coleman was an undersized 6-foot-6 forward who played with a lot of physicality and scored most of his points inside. He was one of the hardest working Trojans ever. Coleman was on the Pac-10 All Freshman team and was All-Pac-10 as a senior.
With all he contributed as a player he may not have been the hardest working Trojan in his family. Coleman’s sister Sandy became famous as the Trojans’ loudest and hardest working fan. In the Sports Arena Sandy ran up and down the court from baseline to baseline behind the benches shouting encouragement to the players and yelling at the refs. She was sometimes the most interesting person to watch during her brother’s first three years which were bad seasons even by Trojan standards.
No. 1 – Ron Riley
I can’t think of a player who had a larger impact for the Trojans and is so overlooked, forgotten or under appreciated. Riley was a 6-foot-8, 195 pound beanpole who was the Trojan “big man” on the teams with Paul Westphal and Dennis “Mo” Layton from 1970-72. The Trojans were ranked number 1 in the country for a short time in 1971, and Riley contributed as much as anyone to that success. In his three years as a Trojan he averaged 14.3 points and 13.7 rebounds and was All-Pac-8 as a junior and senior. In a career spanning only 78 games, he pulled down 1,067 boards, the all-time Trojan record. By comparison, Taj Gibson had 896 rebounds in 105 games.
Riley had six 20 point 20 rebound games; only one other Trojan has two 20/20s. Although he was not known for his scoring, he had 32 in a game against Washington State. Defensively he played the opponent’s beat interior player. He was a quick leaper and was nicknamed “Spoon” for the way he gobbled up rebounds.
Riley played in the NBA for three years but his body type didn’t fit the pro game. He scored his points inside and was too thin to impact an NBA game from the inside.
There are undoubtedly another ten players who could be on this list. I almost included Lorenzo Orr but decided to go with Farmer instead. A similar list in ten or fifteen years might include Jonah Mathews or Nick Rakocevic (before you scream, he has the second most career rebounds in SC history). Looking forward to lists from others!