Goodbye

This will be my last post on this blog. The Daily News is moving me to the Los Angeles Kings beat. Scott Wolf and Phil Collin will handle USC basketball. I’m not sure if they will keep a separate basketball blog or merge it back into Scott’s USC blog. I enjoyed interacting with all of you over the past year. Thanks for reading.

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Ciao?

Daniel Hackett will find out in the next couple days whether he will go with the team to Mexico or head back to Europe to play for Italy in the FIBA European Championships, which could lead to a spot for Hackett in the next Olympics.

Playing for the Italian national team over the summer, Hackett impressed enough to be contending for the final spot on a team that includes two NBA players — Andrea Bargnani of the Toronto Raptors and Marco Belinelli of the Golden State Warriors.

Of his experience in Italy, Hackett said: “I showed them I can play at that level. I’ve learned to take care of the ball better. I think I’ve improved my feet quickness. I’m quicker with the ball, can handle it better and shoot better. Playing at a pro level all summer obviously helps boost your confidence.”

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Taj update

Taj Gibson said he increased his weight from 210 to 224 pounds in offseason workouts and measured in at 6-foot-9 without shoes.

He talked about the team practicing twice a day in preparation for the Mexico trip: “It’s rough but I know it will help us in the long run. That’s why we really appreciate this time. We’ll learn plays, learn defense and learn to take care of the ball so that when the season comes we should be ready.”

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Angelo will not make trip

Floyd said that freshman point guard Angelo Johnson will not go with the team to Mexico at this point, even if he gets passed through the NCAA Clearinghouse before the weekend.

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More from Mayo

Tim Floyd joked at the beginning of today’s press conference that O.J. Mayo would redshirt this year. Of course, that won’t be the case.

Mayo gave a cryptic answer when asked about the possibility of staying at USC more than one year.

“Right now, I plan on staying more than one year unless my situation changes and I have the opportunity to make a living for my family,” Mayo said.

Uh, I’d say the chance of him having that opportunity is pretty good since he enters the season projected as a lottery pick in the 2008 NBA draft, if not one of the top three selections.

“I’m working hard but I could maybe not have a good year. You never know. I can get hurt, have an Achilles’ heel injury, knee, anything.

“If (NBA) coaches call coach Floyd and I have the opportunity to get picked, maybe a lottery pick, and take care of my family, I’ll certainly have to look at that but right now, education-wise, I plan on coming back next year.”

Mayo said he wants to study business management and learn about investing in real estate.

“A friend who goes to SC said in Brentwood it’s $2,100 (a month) for an apartment,” Mayo said. “If there’s 700 rooms at $2,100, that’s a lot of money. So hopefully I can pursue a career in that and make some more money to support my family.”

Mayo spent many summer days at UCLA working out with NBA players such as Kevin Garnett, Jason Kidd, Kobe Bryant, Sam Cassell and Jalen Rose. He said Cassell took him under his wings.

“Cassell said, `You’re a great player. You should do this, this and this and it will make you that much better,’ ” Mayo said. “That excited me a lot that he had watched me before. He told me how to work on the pick-and-roll when defending it.”

Mayo said he came out to Los Angeles on his own, packing 10 outfits like he was going on a business trip. He calls his mother back in Huntington, W. Va., four to five times a week to let her know he is OK, but says the more he calls the more he gets homesick.

“There’s a lot of bad activities going on back home now, a lot of people getting shot, so she’s like, `I never thought I’d be so happy to have you 3,000 miles away,’ ” Mayo said. “The only thing she’s worried about is she always heard USC was in South Central, in a bad neighborhood. From the outside looking in, maybe it seems like a bad area, but you have campus police and they do a great job of patrolling the university. Everyone looks out for you at this university and makes sure nothing happens to you while on campus.”

Mayo said he hopes to get his mother out to games once or twice a month, even if he has to dip into his monthly stipend to get her a plane ticket. He said she works nine hours a day, six days a week as a nursing assistant. He said family and friends are already trying to raise money to charter two buses to New York for when the Trojans play Memphis at Madison Square Garden in December.

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More on first day of practice

Here’s my story that ran in Tuesday’s paper. It has a little additional info and color than was given on the blog. I’ll be at the press conference for the Mexico trip today and will provide updates. Coach Tim Floyd and players O.J. Mayo, Taj Gibson and Daniel Hackett are scheduled to speak and answer questions.

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Como se dice …

Mayo and Simmons said the trip to Mexico would be their first time outside the country. Asked if he knew how to say anything in Spanish, Mayo said only “como estas.”

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Weight gains

Dwight Lewis says he added 15 pounds and Keith Wilkinson says he added 10 pounds in offseason weight-lifting.

“We came in last year as freshmen, kind of small and not really muscular,” Lewis said. “But now we’re growing and can’t really get pushed around anymore.”

Floyd said the improved strength of the returning players is what stood out in the first days of practice.

“Anyone who’s lifted will tell you that it helps in terms of ability to finish (around the basket), ability to hold their ground in the post and stamina,” Floyd said.

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Diarra struggles

I heard freshman Mamadou Diarra had a tough time catching balls around the basket in a drill, similar to Abdoulaye N’diaye’s problems with his hands in recent years. It’s something he’ll have to work on. N’diaye never really improved in that aspect of his game.

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Add Simmons

Marcus Simmons was another freshmen participating in his first official USC practice. Simmons said the practice was rough because he’s learning all the plays. In one drill, he was asked to set screens, something he said he had never really done before. But, after practice, Simmons was more excited than frustrated. He was one of the last players to leave the court, staying to battle one-on-one with both Kasey Cunningham and Dwight Lewis.

“Believe it or not, I was in the locker room just hollering and running around before hand,” Simmons said. “It was exciting for me. I got out there and it made me feel good, like I’m part of something.”

Simmons perhaps didn’t see the midseason Tim Floyd.

“When we met in his office, he said he’d be hard on me,” Simmons said. “But I thought he was pretty soft today and I’m happy with that.”

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