After two rich recruiting harvests, the Trojans are so deep that their fans are speaking of a Pac-1O championship. That is cheeky talk indeed for a school that has not won a league title in 17 years and coexists in the same city with UCLA. But even Coach Bob Boyd is among the optimists, because he thinks his team "has the potential to be as good as any team we've had here"—meaning it could be as successful as the 1970-71 squad that finished 24-2, losing only to the national champion Bruins.
It is probably a year too early for such dreams to come true. USC's schedule is rough—Houston, Kansas, Duke, Utah and two tough tournaments before the New Year—and its players are young. But what players! Center Cliff Robinson might be the finest talent to come out of Oakland since Bill Russell—at least when he isn't sulking. Last season, as a 17-year-old freshman, he led the Pac-8 in scoring with 18.4 points per game. Robinson toured the Soviet Union with a U.S. team last summer, and the trip seems to have strengthened his game and improved his attitude.
Robinson is only one of four young stars in USC's frontcourt. Sophomore Forward Purvis Miller, 6'7", started all but six games last season, gets good grades—a 3.0 average—plays good defense and is easily the steadiest performer in Southern Cal's lineup. "Purvis takes care of business, period," says Boyd. In the opposite corner, the business will probably be shared by the most heralded pair of freshmen in America, Leonel Marquetti and Maurice Williams. Both are graduates of Verbum Dei High in Watts, the same powerhouse that produced UCLA's duo of David Greenwood and Roy Hamilton. Although Williams is the better shooter, Marquetti has been getting more ink because of his incredible leaping.
Along with Marquetti and Williams, USC brought in 5'10" Dean Jones, a deft ball handler who was California's Junior College Player of the Year. Chances are he will start in the backcourt along with senior Steve Smith. It is a good indication of how strong Southern Cal figures to be that Jones' presence is likely to relegate second-team All-Pac-8 Don Carfino to a substitute's role. Another tip-off on USC's potential is that the Trojans, who finished the 1977-78 season with a 14-13 record, lost Smith to a knee injury after their eighth game. He scored 25 points in each of Southern Cal's victories over Duke and New Mexico. Smith is now in top shape, and that means the Trojans should play at top form.
And they should play harder, too. "I plan to raise the intensity of the team," says Boyd. True to his word, in preseason practices Boyd drove his players "past the point they're used to going." His aim is clearly to push his players to a point that USC has rarely attained—the conference title.
When Center Phil Hubbard injured his left knee in practice last October, a pall settled over the Michigan team. As a freshman and sophomore, Hubbard had averaged 17 points and 12 rebounds a game while the Wolverines went 25-7 and 26-4. In the summers of 1976 and '77 he had played on U.S. teams that won Olympic and World University Game gold medals. "After he went down, I just wasn't right for a couple of weeks," says Coach Johnny Orr.
Even without Hubbard, Michigan had a 16-11 record and finished fourth in the Big Ten. "It was a great job, considering we didn't have a center," Orr says.
Now the Wolverines have one. Following surgery and a year of rehabilitation, Hubbard has returned, and the despair of a year ago has given way to giddy optimism. "I sincerely believe we have better speed, better shooting, better rebounding and better depth than anytime since I've been here," says Orr, who has a 177-88 record at Michigan. And Hubbard's comeback does more than improve the defense and inside offense. According to Orr, "The players are more relaxed now, and they're playing better just because he's out there. He's that kind of inspiration to us."