Tuesday, May 26, 2009

USC To Release Noel Johnson

Or so it's being reported by ESPN. Noel Johnson is a 6'7" guard out of Georgia who is considered highly skilled and refined, and was expected to play a huge role as a freshman anywhere he went. Supposedly he wants out of USC because of the investigations into OJ Mayo and the other possible misdeeds at USC over the past few years. I don't blame the kid, because there's obviously a decent chance that the school will face some sort of punishment. You don't want to have your college career ruined by ethical scandals that you had nothing to do with.

As for where he'll go, there are a bunch of possible options. The hometown Georgia Tech Yellowjackets have to be considered in the picture, as they were one of the teams that offered him a scholarship originally. So did Louisville, although I'm not sure if they have any scholarships left anymore. Other than that, I'm sure that just about any top program with a '09 scholarship spot left open is going to make a move on him. We'll see over the next few weeks what he narrows his choices down to, and I'll try to keep updated on the situation.

As for USC, this continues to be just an awful, awful offseason. Considering the investigations going on at the school, it's no surprise that Daniel Hackett and DeMar DeRozen have left for the NBA, and that Taj Gibson is likely to stay in the Draft as well. Throw in the graduation of Keith Wilkinson and the transfer out of Donte Smith and USC is due to return only two players that collected even 100 total minutes on the floor last season (Dwight Lewis and Leonard Washington). The loss of Johnson (combined with the loss of Renardo Sidney) means that they only have two highly regarded recruits that are still signed: Derrick Williams is a quick and skilled power forward who will probably be more suited to the small forward position in the Pac-10, where he'll be a little undersized for the paint, and Lamont Jones is a highly skilled and athletic shoot-first point guard, who should put up a lot of points to go with a lot of turnovers. But neither of those recruits are expected to be stars from day one like Johnson was, and it's safe to say that it's going to be a very, very long year for Trojans basketball fans.

I originally projected USC to finish fifth in the Pac-10 in 2010, and to collect a 10 seed in the Tournament. But those projections assumed that they'd have Taj Gibson, Renardo Sidney and Noel Johnson on the team. Sidney is now gone, Johnson is as good as gone, and Gibson looks likely to leave as well. Assuming that the reports on Johnson are true, and that Gibson stays in the Draft, I don't see any likely path to the Tournament for USC. They'll be talented enough that they'll be worth keeping an eye on, but they will certainly be out of the next BP65 (due out in about a month). At this point, a higher priority than saving the 2009-10 season should probably be trying to save the program for future years by beating the investigations and proving that the school did nothing wrong.

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