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USC fires basketball coach O'Neill

By Beth Harris

Associated Press

Published: Monday, Jan. 14 2013 11:40 a.m. MST

LOS ANGELES — Kevin O'Neill was fired as Southern California basketball coach on Monday after 3 ½ years during which he failed to turn around a program weighed down by NCAA issues that preceded his arrival and a string of player injuries.

O'Neill had a 48-65 record, including 7-10 this season after going 6-26 last year.

Veteran assistant Bob Cantu will serve as interim coach while USC searches for a successor. Cantu took over for O'Neill during a Pac-10 tournament semifinal game in 2010-11 when the coach was suspended for an incident involving a booster. He has remained on the staff through four coaching changes and is the longest tenured assistant in the Pac-12.

Athletic director Pat Haden said it became evident to him that the program needed new leadership.

"Despite a nice road win in our last game, I felt it was best to make a change now, with most of the Pac-12 season still ahead of us, in order to re-energize our team," he said.

The Trojans are 2-2 in the Pac-12 after a road split last weekend. They lost at Colorado before winning at Utah to snap a 14-game road skid. USC has lost nine of its last 13 games, which included a five-game skid.

"I enjoyed my four years at USC," O'Neill said in a statement. "It is a special place. I enjoyed the people I worked with, the players I coached and our fans. I thank USC for allowing me to guide their program. I couldn't be more proud to work anywhere."

Last season, the Trojans were hard-hit by injury, leaving O'Neill with just six scholarship players who managed to keep the team in nearly every game.

Upon arriving at USC in June 2009, O'Neill had to deal with the fallout from an ongoing NCAA investigation and the departure of star O.J. Mayo, who played one season before leaving for the NBA. The next season he lost three starters and four of his top six players from the rotation.

Then came last season, when the Trojans were plagued by injuries, most notably to point guard Jio Fontan, who tore his ACL after scoring 57 points in two exhibition games during an exhibition tour in Brazil. Forward Aaron Fuller (shoulder) and big man Dewayne Dedmon (torn MCL) also went down with season-ending injuries at various points.

O'Neill came into this season feeling optimistic, having a full complement of 13 scholarship players who were healthy.

"It was hard for me to evaluate him as a head coach until this year when he had enough players and veterans to compete," Haden said. "As the season progressed, it became evident to me that we needed new leadership."

Beth Harris writes for the Associated Press.

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