When USC lost the majority of its rotation to season-ending injuries last season, Maurice Jones played almost 40 minutes a game in a valiant but ultimately futile attempt to keep the shorthanded Trojans competitive.
It will be the exact opposite situation next season, however, with USC's full complement of players returning and Jones unable to play.
At the same time as its top-ranked football team played its season opener against Hawaii, USC quietly announced that Jones is academically ineligible to play and will miss the entire 2012-13 basketball season. The 5-foot-7 junior is expected to return to the Trojans for the 2013-14 season.
"Maurice Jones has been nothing short of magnificent for us for two years," USC coach Kevin O'Neill said in a release issued by the school. "Mo has been a great guy and great player and we want him to graduate from USC. I support him 100 percent in all that he does."
The absence of Jones adds to an already bad weekend for USC basketball.
The Los Angeles Times reported Saturday that former Trojan standout Davon Jefferson received about $3,700 in cash during the 2007-08 season from a key figure in an ongoing corruption scandal at the Los Angeles County assessor's office. The NCAA already penalized USC for extra benefits fellow one-and-done O.J. Mayo received that same season.
While the Jefferson revelation may have long-term consequences for USC, the short-term problem will be figuring out how to replace Jones. The 5-foot-7 spark plug led USC in points per game (13.0), assists per game (3.5) and steals per game (1.8), though his efficiency plummeted because the Trojans relied on him so much.
Were Jones available, USC would likely have started him in a three-guard look alongside senior Jio Fontan and Wake Forest transfer J.T. Terrell. Now the Trojans will probably have to go bigger with Fontan and Terrell in the backcourt, Dewayne Dedmon at center and some combination of Wake Forest transfer Ari Stewart, UC Irvine transfer Eric Wise, Tennessee transfer Renaldo Woolridge and returning starter Aaron Fuller at forward.
Before learning Jones would not be eligible, many thought USC had a realistic chance of going from 6-26 overall and 1-17 in a woeful Pac-12 last season to contending for an NCAA bid next March. Not having Jones is not a death blow for the Trojans the way Fontan's offseason knee injury was last year, but it certainly diminishes USC's guard depth and decreases the chances of an instant turnaround.