Three nights removed from a gut-wrenching one-point loss to Arizona State in Tempe, the USC men’s basketball team (21-8, 8-8) takes the court at the Galen Center on Wednesday in search of its first win in 20 days. The Trojans’ opponent: the Washington State Cougars (13-15, 6-10).“We’ve been impressed with Washington State all season,” head coach Andy Enfield said after Tuesday’s practice. “Coach [Ernie] Kent’s done a great job with them, especially in Pac-12 play.”The two teams last met on Feb. 3 in frosty Pullman, Wash., where USC rode a hot offense to an 86-77 win. The Trojans shot 57 percent from the field in that contest and rallied from an 11-point deficit in the first half. Sophomore forward Chimezie Metu scored a career-high 29 points, and freshman guard Jonah Matthews added 18 off the bench. The Trojans left Washington with a sweep for the first time in 15 years, a healthy squad for the first time all season and a four-game win streak in tow.This time around, USC carries a four-game skid into Wednesday night’s game, which is threatening the Trojans’ postseason hopes. It’s their longest losing streak in two years.“It’s a different sort of feeling,” junior guard Elijah Stewart said. “We let a couple games go that we should’ve won. We’ve just got to finish out strong right now.”But morale is not down, and intensity has ratcheted up.“Practice has gotten a little chippy,” Stewart said. “We’re all competitors. We all enjoy the intensity. It’s going to make us better in games.”USC expects to earn a postseason berth, whereas Washington State knows it has two games left to play this year. That spells danger for USC, as the veteran Cougars may come into this contest ready to empty the tank. On Sunday — Senior Day in Pullman — all four Cougar seniors scored in double figures to beat favored in-state rival Washington, 79-71.“We have to play as hard as we can, and whatever happens happens,” Enfield said.Two seniors in particular, guard Ike Oroegbu and forward Josh Hawkinson, have paced the Cougars throughout the season. Oroegbu scored 22 versus the Trojans earlier this month, and he has scored at least 15 points in four of WSU’s last five contests. For the season, he is averaging 12.6 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game.Hawkinson, meanwhile, has found his place in the annals of Cougar basketball. Last time versus USC, he became WSU’s second all-time rebounder — a testament to his four years of hard work in the paint. He finished that game with 17 points and 16 rebounds. On Wednesday night, he could set the school record with 11 more boards. Enfield called Hawkinson a “double-double machine.”On the other side of the court, USC will be significantly younger, playing no seniors and three freshmen.“Our freshmen have had terrific seasons,” Enfield said. “They’ve been a little streaky, but most freshmen are. We would not have 21 wins without our four freshmen contributing. They’ve got to play like sophomores the last week of the season and into the tournament.”For USC’s postseason aspirations to stay alive, those freshmen will have to help USC get at least a 22nd win Wednesday versus Washington State.“We’re taking it one game at a time,” freshman guard De’Anthony Melton said. “If we start looking too far forward, we might lose to a team we should beat.”
Theodore “Tappa” Whitmore, head coach of Jamaica’s Senior Reggae Boyz, who was recently contracted to lead the nation’s footballers back to the promised land of World Cup glory, is not a happy camper.That position became very clear in a recent newspaper interview when he lamented the apparent lack of support from his employers, the Jamaica Football Federation, in helping him solve some areas of concern he has identified in his pool of players.Need European-based players He had proposed to the federation that European-based players be engaged in an obvious effort to bolster certain areas on the pitch and his team set-up that he thought were of paramount importance.The new CONCACAF Nations League, a qualifier for the CONCACAF Gold Cup Tournament, is set to kick off next month and the proactive Whitmore had long asked that the JFF make arrangements for him to travel to Europe, primarily the United Kingdom, to meet with and discuss his plans for the future and the roles he envisaged these individuals playing.He wanted to visit these players prior to the end of last season and long before they would have penciled in their vacation itinerary with their families.Whitmore knew that despite engineering a fairly successful run to the Gold Cup final last year with a team comprising mainly locally based players, a few from Major League Soccer, as well as others from the lower leagues of American football, a number of key areas was void of real quality to take the team to the next level where it can consistently compete for top honors in the region.High frustrationHis frustration was brought to the fore as he’s now inside a month to kick off of the CONCACAF Nation’s League and he has not yet managed to meet with these players, much less arrive at a position to integrate them into the team.At the time Whitmore had expressed a desire to speak with Adrian Mariappa, Michael Hector among others who had not been selected to the Reggae Boyz squad since the forced departure German coach Winfried Schaefer nearly two years ago.The Reggae Boyz are scheduled to play two friendly internationals in the eastern Caribbean in the coming week – against Grenada on August 17, and Barbados three days later.With those games falling outside the FIFA-approved window for international games, Whitmore will have to rely on local-based players only to do the job then.The job the current players are expected to do against these weaker Caribbean teams, but, moreso, against the more seasoned Central American and North American teams enhances Whitmore’s view that these players would be inadequate to consistently execute the job.But can the obvious discord between the technical leader, Whitmore, and his bosses at the JFF survive?Only time will tell, but how did they get here in the first place, and is this a surprise?Impasse isn’t surprisingTruth be told it is not a surprise. One only needs to reflect on the long, drawn-out saga relating to Whitmore being contracted to a four-year agreement in the first instance.Jamaica’s Sport Minister Olivia Grange was forced to intervene and bring the parties together in order for common ground to be reached. This was after Whitmore had tendered his resignation from the post as interim head coach after he ran out of patience with the “nothingness” that the Mike Ricketts-led administration had employed.It had reached such a low point at one stage that the senior team journeyed to the eastern Caribbean for two games and Whitmore, who had tendered his resignation during the time the team was announced, was initially snubbed from the touring party, with assistant Jerome Waite and Donovan Duckie given the reins of the team.Compromise reached Though the parties had technically reached an agreement prior to the team’s departure, Whitmore was not reinstated as head coach. However, immediately after news broke that the man who would be tasked with selecting players had not been reinstated to guide the team for the two friendly games, a compromise was arrived at where Whitmore was booked to travel but not as coach of the team. That scenario gave a clear and unambiguous indication that Whitmore and the hierarchy of the JFF were at odds.Given basket to carry waterAnd now on the eve of the new CONCACAF Nations League there seems to be no amicable working relationship between the two, leaving Whitmore to believe that he is being given the proverbial “basket to carry water.”It is our view that the JFF has to lead from the front and indicate in no uncertain manner its policy regarding the use of European-based players, so that coach Whitmore and his technical staff can reasonably plan and strategize with the full knowledge of the pool of players at their disposal.But the JFF should be aware that if it does not lend support to the head coach, failure to advance to the Gold Cup under this new format or failure to progress in World Cup qualifiers could prove a political disaster.They had better think on these things.