- Erik McKinney, ESPN Staff Writer
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When head coach Kevin O'Neill took over the USC men's basketball program earlier this season, he was immediately forced to watch the Trojans' 2009 recruiting class, a top-10 caliber collection of athletes, disband, killing every bit of momentum the program had gained over the past few years. But after just months on the job, O'Neill and his assistant coaches have bounced back incredibly well, picking up some more huge news on Thursday with the commitment of Taft High School SG Bryce Jones.
Jones, No. 98 in the ESPN 100, committed to the Trojans over offers from Arizona, Arizona State, UNLV and Gonzaga. UCLA was also recruiting Jones.
According to Taft head coach Derrick Taylor, Jones and his family were planning on waiting until Saturday to commit, but the senior-to-be just couldn't wait.
"They actually decided yesterday (Wednesday), but his mom wanted to get the e-mail out to the other coaches recruiting him," Taylor said. "She didn't want them to find out other than through her."
Jones' biological father and his step-father both attended USC, but the biggest pulls to the school, according to Taylor, were the proximity to home, the relationship Jones built with O'Neill and the promise of a degree from USC.
"He's not a kid who has to make the pros in order to do anything with his life," Taylor said. "If he makes his money there, that's a bonus. But he understands that the USC alumni base is so big and so powerful all throughout Southern California, which is where he plans on living."
Last season, Jones was forced to play on the JV team at Taft following his transfer from View Park High School, but after a big spring and a huge summer, it's a safe bet that he's about to explode this season.
In fact, Taylor said without hesitance that thinks Jones is the best senior player in the state.
"He's an explosive athlete," Taylor said. "I expect him to lead us to the city and state titles.
"He reminds you a lot of (former Trojan) Nick Young. He's that type of athlete. He's real long, wiry and is a relentless offensive attacker with the ball. He attacks constantly, and on top of that, maybe his greatest attribute is his ability to defend the perimeter. He's pretty close to a complete player."
ESPN's West Coast scout Joel Francisco agrees with Taylor.
"Bryce may be the most promising wing-type on the west coast with his impressive athleticism and promising frame," Francisco said. "He has very long arms, outstanding quickness, and can elevate in traffic and convert on a consistent basis.
"His handle is tight and he keeps the ball very low to break down defenders while weaving his way to the rim. He needs to tighten up his decision-making as he has a tendency to force the drive, and smoothen out his jump shot, but overall his upside is immense."
The fact that Jones spent last season on the JV team didn't keep him hidden from the USC coaches. Taylor said that USC assistant Bob Cantu has a "tremendous eye for spotting talent" and acted as the point man during Jones' recruitment. But it was O'Neill who finalized it for Jones, building a strong relationship with the rising star and alleviating his fears about the possibility of NCAA sanctions that seem to constantly hang over the basketball program.
"He (Jones) was originally (worried about sanctions)," Taylor said. "But the coaches put it up front. They told Bryce and his family as much as they know. There is that possibility and they should maybe expect something, but they wanted Bryce to keep an open mind, because they may not be as severe as other coaches are telling him. Nobody really knows what's going to happen."
Once that was cleared up, the idea of being an integral part of rebuilding the USC basketball program was too much to pass up for Jones. Taylor said the fact that immediate playing time would be a likely option didn't hurt either.
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