Caught up Tuesday afternoon with Kevin O’Neill, the former USC basketball coach, who recruited and – for a season and a half – coached Byron Wesley, the 6-5 wing player who just announced he’s headed to Gonzaga as a graduate transfer and will play this season.
O’Neill is living in southern California, doing studio work for Fox Sports, and hopeful of coaching again. He was midway through the 2012-13 season with the Trojans when fired by athletic director Pat Haden.
“He’s a really good player, exactly what Gonzaga needs to really help them get to the next level,” O’Neill said of Wesley. “He can score big-time, he makes other people better and I think he’ll be ready to do anything to win.
“He’s been through a tough situation at USC. Mark’s (Few, the Gonzaga coach) a good guy to coach him. It’s a good pairing at the right time.”
So much of this marriage seems to be about Wesley’s frame of mind and what he wants to get out of the year. He had a seriously bumpy ride at USC, with consecutive seasons of 6-26 (the Trojans were severely injury riddled), 14-18 and finally 11-21 under a new coach. Andy Enfield followed the interim coach who succeeded O’Neill, Bob Cantu.
Will Wesley arrive looking to boost his own stock, or with the mindset of making a good team better?
“This is a guy coming into a team that’s already got their identity established,” O’Neill said. “Mark’s been to 16 straight NCAA tournaments. I don’t see that being a problem whatsoever. With the guys Mark’s got around him, he’ll fit in really well.”
Stylistically, Wesley “automatically gets you to the bonus right off,” O’Neill said. “He gets to the basket, draws fouls.”
Noting the 6.4 rebounds Wesley averaged this season, O’Neill said, “He’s a great rebounder for a guard. And he can guard (positions) 1 through 4 in college.”
As a shooter, Wesley hit 17 of 35 threes in Pac-12 games as a sophomore. Then he fell off to .338 from distance as a junior. “Improved, but streaky,” is O’Neill’s assessment.
Is Wesley coachable?
“Yeah, he is,” O’Neill said. “Now I got on his ass all the time, and sometime he didn’t like that, but . . .”
Wesley represents another attempt by Gonzaga to get more athletic at the small-forward position. Last season, Providence transfer Gerard Coleman had difficulty picking up the system, couldn’t complement his attacking game with a perimeter shot and is transferring closer to his Boston home.
Wesley’s arrival is expected to push Gonzaga into some preseason top-10 rankings. The roster may be the most talented in school history.