Canzano: USC going big -- and bendy -- with the recruits these days
Plus... the Trail Blazers are churning again.
Offensive line coaches are always looking for good feet and balance along with height, strength, weight and length in prospects.
It can help, especially with avoiding injury. But I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anything quite like USC offensive line signee Cooper Lovelace, who touts himself on Twitter as “The most flexible big man you have ever seen.”
Lovelace is 6-foot-5 and 320 pounds. He didn’t play football until his senior year of high school and went to Butler Community College in Kansas. USC got in the recruiting game late, but Lovelace picked the Pac-12 Conference program over Florida, Oklahoma State, Rice and Tulsa.
He told reporters Trojans’ coach Lincoln Riley, who offered him a scholarship 90 seconds into their first phone conversation. He’s apparently already enrolled at USC and will be on the field next season.
USC doesn’t make a habit of signing JC players. Lovelace is the first since defensive end Nick Figueroa in the 2019 class. I suspect Riley saw what we all saw last season — USC got overpowered in the trenches. Not by some boulder-carrying SEC program. But by Pac-12 foes such as Oregon State, which physically dominated the Trojans on both sides of the ball in a blowout win last season.
Lovelace looks like a Cirque du Soleil performer in that stretching video. It went viral. That makes sense to me. But take a close look at the photograph I’ve included at the top of this column. I’m very interested in the baseball cap that the commit is wearing in the photo.
It reads, “RUN THE DAMN BALL.”
Riley’s offense at Oklahoma averaged 175.3 rushing yards per regular-season game last season. That ranked 55th nationally. Not awful. Not dominant. Riley’s offenses aren’t typically built to smash defenses as much as spread them out.
Will USC run more next season?
I suppose we’ll stretch out (on the sofa) and find out.
AS THE WORLD CHURNS: My friend and ace reporter Jason Quick of The Athletic had an interesting observation this week about the Trail Blazers.
He noted on social media that the NBA franchise fired its Director of Player Health and Performance, Vice President of Communications, their basketball operations coordinator, a video coordinator, two assistant general managers and a Senior VP.
All of this in the last five months.
This week alone, the NBA franchise dismissed assistant GM Bill Branch and Amanda Mann, who was in charge of Rose Quarter operations. There’s some natural churn in any professional sports organization, but the personnel moves raised some eyebrows and questions.
Feels to me like the Blazers are getting the front-office balance sheet (and roster) cleaned up for a potential sale. I reported earlier this week that I expect the franchise will be auctioned off. I don’t think anyone was surprised by the news. I’m being told to keep an eye, particularly, on two potential bidders — Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison and Laurene Powell-Jobs, Apple co-founder Steve’s widow.
Powell-Jobs, who is a big WNBA supporter, is more intriguing to me.
I’ve had my differences with the Blazers’ ownership and front office over the last two decades. The franchise has frequently been short-sighted, insecure and petty.
The franchise stripped me of my season media credential after I wrote critically of GM Neil Olshey and the broken culture he fostered in a 2017 column. If I wanted to attend home games in the following season, I had to apply for a credential on a game-by-game basis. I am not alone, either. The franchise pulled this act with at least one other reporter.
A few years before that, ownership also forbid head coaches and GMs from speaking 1-on-1 with me. It didn’t stop them. We still had rogue conversations. Also, the media relations staff was directed that it wasn’t to assist me in getting player interviews for the radio show I host. I had to secure interviews directly with players.
LaMarcus Aldridge, Wesley Matthews, Nic Batum, Brandon Roy, CJ McCollum, Anfernee Simons, Meyers Leonard, Bill Schonely and some others with the franchise joined me on the show in spite of the directive. I always appreciated that.
There have always been good, talented, rational, reasonable people employed by the Blazers, on the court and off. But the franchise is infected by a thick, dark cloud that permeates from the Vulcan, Inc. headquarters. It’s smothering, distracting and ultimately inhibits the success of the operation.
When team president Chris McGowan quit in November of last year, it was a major red flag. McGowan was running the business side of the operation. He has a sterling reputation in the industry, treats people well, and is smart. The franchise is not better off without him. I believe McGowan simply had enough.
He set himself free. McGowan has since gone to work in Detroit as president and chief executive officer of Ilitch Sports + Entertainment, the business division of the Detroit Red Wings and Detroit Tigers, among others.
I’m eager to see what happens to the Blazers in the next year. I’m not just rooting for a sale of the franchise. I’m pulling for one that feels stable, ambitious, professional and anchored to Portland. The NBA franchise is still being run from Seattle and that’s never really worked.
KICKING IT OFF: Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News is expecting kickoff times and television assignments for the first three weeks of the Pac-12 Conference football season to be released today. Keep an eye on this. I’m interested to see how many Friday night games we’ll see, among other developments.
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