Gerrity takes unusual path to success at Southern California
Mike Gerrity, a junior at USC, has played for three colleges in five seasons
He started his career at Pepperdine, then Charlotte before transferring to USC
Gerrity was the MVP of the Diamond Head Classic last week
Coming out of Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei High in 2005, Mike Gerrity had a vision for how his college career would play out.
He would sign with a school close to home and start for four years, culminating in a senior season in which he played a starring role on an NCAA Tournament team.
Five years and three teams later, Gerrity, a senior point guard for USC, admits: "It really didn't work out the way I planned."
There remains the possibility of a storybook finish, however, which is remarkable given Gerrity's tumultuous career and how the Trojans started the season.
USC opened 2-4, including an embarrassing home defeat to Loyola Marymount and blowout losses to Texas (by 19) and Georgia Tech (26). With coach Kevin O'Neill in his first season and the roster thinned by early exits and the defection of several recruits, a rebuilding year was expected. Still, few could have predicted the Trojans would look so overmatched.
Gerrity watched those first few games from the bench, sitting out per NCAA rules after transferring from Charlotte. "We knew we were better than we had showed but I'm not sure anyone else knew that," Gerrity says. "We just needed to get more pieces of the puzzle together."
Gerrity was the biggest of those pieces, which was apparent when he made his USC debut Dec. 19 against Tennessee, which was ranked ninth at the time. He scored 12 points and had 10 assists in a 77-55 upset, after which Volunteers coach Bruce Pearl, stating the obvious, said USC was "a different team" with Gerrity.
Gerrity continued to make a difference, winning MVP honors as he helped USC capture the title at the Diamond Head Classic, which featured victories over St. Mary's (Calif.) and then-No. 20 UNLV, both of which, like Tennessee, had lost only once before facing the Trojans.
Suddenly, USC stands 8-4, winners of six straight as conference play opens this week. In a down year for the Pacific-10 Conference, the Trojans have to be considered title contenders.
"We know that there is a huge opportunity there for us," says the 6-foot-1 Gerrity. "The big wins we've had recently, they've given us some confidence and taught us that we can play with anybody."
USC has gotten strong play from earlier transfers Marcus Johnson (Connecticut) and Alex Stepheson (North Carolina), but Gerrity has made the biggest impact. His presence has a freed up guard Dwight Lewis and made a unit still finding itself under O'Neill more cohesive.
"If you watched our games before [the Tennessee game], it looked like we were playing in fast forward," O'Neill said. "One playmaker can make that much of a difference."
A rare four-year starter at Mater Dei, Gerrity was ready to run a team as a college freshman. He signed with Pepperdine and was the West Coast Conference Freshman of the Year in 2005-06 after averaging 14.1 points and 3.4 assists. One game into his sophomore season, he announced that he was transferring, unhappy with the direction of the program after the coach he signed with, Paul Westphal (currently the Sacramento Kings' coach) was replaced by Vance Walberg, whose dribble-drive offense didn't fit Gerrity's skill set.
"I fully expected to play four years at Pepperdine and would have if coach Westphal had still been there," Gerrity says.
Gerrity next moved to Charlotte, convinced that coach Bobby Lutz would play an up-tempo style and that he would see major minutes after sitting out a season. "I thought the system was the right fit but I never saw the system they talked about when they recruited me," Gerrity says. "I had every intention of finishing there but then before my junior season I worked my butt off and came in the best shape I had been in. But then when practice started I saw things unfolding the same way that it had been."
Gerrity began looking at Division II and NAIA schools, convinced that his Division I days were over, but then he got a call from Gary McKnight, his former coach at Mater Dei. He said USC coach Tim Floyd was in the market for a point guard.
"It was USC and it was close to home," Gerrity says. "It was a no-brainer."
Then between last season, which he sat out while attending classes at USC, and the start of this year, Floyd resigned amid allegations of NCAA violations.
"When [Floyd left] I was like 'Of course this happens,'" Gerrity says. "With the ways things have been going for me, you just knew it wasn't going to go as planned. Luckily, Coach O'Neill has been an awesome fit for me and he has helped me expand my game."
Just as he scripted coming out of high school, Gerrity's family and friends attend his games at the Galen Center, and his senior season is full of promise. It remains to be seen whether the Trojans are bona fide contenders for a spot in the NCAA Tournament, but the possibility exits.
"I went through all those ups and downs," Gerrity says, "but there is still an opportunity for me to finish my career the way I had hoped."