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NBA Draft’s Potential Celtics: USC C Nikola Vucevic 06.06.11 at 12:11 pm ET
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USC center Nikola Vucevic's stock has risen ever since he walked onto a college campus three years ago. (AP)

WEEI.com continues to provide daily insight and analysis on the 2011 NBA draft. This is one in a series of profiles of players who might be available for the Celtics to select with one of their two picks (25th and 55th overall).

Nikola Vucevic

Position: Center

Team: University of Southern California

Height: 7-foot

Weight: 260 pounds

Stats: 17.1 ppg, 10.3 rpg, 1.4 bpg

What he brings: Nikola Vucevic may be a European center, but unlike many before him he’s not an unknown commodity. He played his senior year of high school at Stoneridge Prep (Simi Valley, Calif.) before earning a scholarship to USC.

After averaging just 2.6 points and 2.7 rebounds as a freshman, he captured Pac-10 Most Improved Player honors in his sophomore campaign and produced 17.1 points (50.5 FG%, 34.9 3-PT FG% & 75.5 FT%), 10.3 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 1.4 blocks before declaring for the draft after his junior season.

The tallest player at the 2011 NBA combine, Vucevic possesses a lot of qualities generally associated with European bigs — touch around the rim, a reliable mid-range jump shot (as well as developing 20-foot-plus range) and a lack of athleticism. He’s been criticized for his failure to play “above the rim” and his lack of success against athletic NBA-caliber big men. However, his high motor, particularly on the defensive glass, has separated him a bit from the stereotype.

More skilled than a guy like Semih Erden, Vucevic is expected to be a valuable backup center in the NBA — a role the Celtics most definitely need to fill. Touted for his high character, Vucevic has hinted that he may play in Europe for a year should a lockout threaten the 2011-12 NBA season, and such experience could actually serve the still-developing center well.

Where the Celtics could get him: First or second round.

What they’re saying: “His strength, his conditioning, and the key, for me, for Nik to make it in the NBA, he has to become a proficient NBA 3-point shooter, which is a much harder shot than the college 3. And he’s not a totally proficient college 3-point shooter, yet. He’s got to be shooting four times a week, 1,000 NBA 3s a day. That’s what he needs.” — USC coach Kevin O’Neill

Notes: The Swiss-born Vucevic was raised in Belgium before moving to Montenegro as a teenager. Both of his parents — father Borislav and mother Ljiljana — played both professionally and for the Yugoslavian men’s and women’s national teams, as chronicled in this LA Times piece. Vucevic himself has played for the Montenegro U20 national team, averaging 15.5 points and 10.8 rebounds during the 2009 European Championships. Oh, and Vucevic, who said he would want to be an actor if he weren’t a basketball player (hence, USC), learned English partly as a result of watching “Love & Basketball” over and over.

Video:

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What they said… BC coach Al Skinner 03.20.09 at 11:34 pm ET
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Al Skinner said he was concerned early in the week that he didn’t know which BC team would be showing up on Friday night. He got his answer on the Metrodome floor and as it turned out, Skinner had reason to be worried. His team didn’t have enough answers in the second half for Taj Gibson and the Eagles went ice cold from the floor, scoring just 21 second half points while allowing 42.

A 34-30 halftime lead turned into a 72-55 loss and it will be USC advancing to play in the second round on Sunday in Minneapolis. Here’s how Skinner evaluated things afterward, beginning with an opening statement.

COACH SKINNER: Basically, obviously the game was decided in the second half, and we did not execute as well as we needed to. We were impatient at times and in comparison to the first half when we took our time, executed. I thought the second half we got a little anxious.
And because of that, didn’t get the shot selections or get ourselves into rebounding position to keep ourselves in the game. And basically that’s the difference in the second half.

And because we missed as many shots as we did, it allowed them to get into transition and score and obviously shoot a very high percentage.

Q. Coach, could you just talk about the guy, Taj Gibson. Kind of a beast.

COACH SKINNER:
Yeah, we didn’t do a particularly good job on him.
Not as well I was hoping we would do. I mean, he obviously had a tremendous night. We did not defend him as well as I thought we would have, so that was a little bit disappointing.

But obviously his quickness was a factor, and we just didn’t adjust to it well. Because he was pretty persistent. I thought as times we did a good job, but he just kept coming. And we did not work as hard as he did.

Q. How did you want to defend him coming in? Did you feel that the matchup was kind of not necessarily a mismatch, but did you feel it was a matchup that would be an x factor?

COACH SKINNER: No, I didn’t think that would be a difference in the ball game. As a matter of fact, even though I know he had a great line, that really was not the difference in the ball game.

To me, the difference was we allowed some other people to score. And I thought we could have done a better job with them.

We knew that this was going to be a tough matchup for us, even though, again, I expected to do a little bit better than what we did.

But I thought we could defend those other individuals a little bit better than we did and we did not. And to me that was the difference in the game. Read the rest of this entry »

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What they said… Tyrese Rice and Joe Trapani at 11:25 pm ET
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That was not the way Tyrese Rice wanted his career to end. The senior point guard and BC team leader made just four of his 11 shots on the night and finished with nine points as the Eagles fell to Southern California, 72-55, in a Midwest Regional first round game in Minneapolis.

Here is what Rice and teammate Joe Trapani had to say following a loss that finished their season at 22-12.

Q. Talk about the difference in philosophies. Tim Floyd was saying that he wanted to not necessarily focus on you, but focus on the parts around you. You know what I mean? How difficult did that make it for you?

TYRESE RICE:
I mean, I think that’s what most teams do on defense. I don’t think anybody just focuses in on me solely, but I just think that they just try to come up with some kind of scheme to stop everyone. I don’t think they just focused it on me.

Q. Tyrese, can you just talk about your last game now. This is you guys got back into the tournament, you did what you wanted to, you accomplished this part. How difficult is this right now?

TYRESE RICE: Of course I wanted to do more, but overall, I mean, pretty good year. I can’t really complain. Probably give or take winning a couple more games than we have, but overall I think it was a pretty good year.

I definitely wanted to make more of a run in the tournament, but, I mean, that’s how it is sometimes. That is how it was for us my sophomore year and my freshman year. We probably could have went farther in both of those years, too. So we can’t really harp on it, but just say it was great.

Q. Tyrese, it felt like in the first half you had your fingerprints more on you were very active scoring wise and the second half things fell off. Describe the differences and what happened.

TYRESE RICE: I just think we executed more in the first half, which opened more things up. We went through more of our offense in the first half and got to the second and third options. And then if something broke down, we then made something happen.

In the second half, when something broke down, we just automatically just thought like get a shot up instead of just keep going through the whole thing and then waiting for something to come about. But in the second half, I think they bunkered down a little bit tighter on defense and made things a little tough. Read the rest of this entry »

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What they said… USC coach Tim Floyd at 12:46 pm ET
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Tim Floyd coached the Chicago Bulls in the NBA after Michael Jordan left in the late 90s. He has had a more successful and certainly more enjoyable time coaching the USC Trojans. This season his team caught fire at the right time, winning its last five games, including a run to a Pac-10 title that earned them a berth against Boston College tonight in Minneapolis.

Here’s how Floyd summed up his opponent on Thursday night.

Q. Hi, Coach. What do you know about B.C. by now? And what concerns you most about them?

COACH FLOYD:
Well, from the coaching standpoint I think he is the best coach that nobody ever talks about. The job he’s done there with seven NCAA tournaments in 12 years. A young team this year that obviously believes in what they’re doing. Great shot selection, great conviction to what they run offensively. Play with a physicality, terrific offensive rebounding team. And great role definition with their players in terms of knowing what they should do and when they should do it.

And they have a star caliber with Rice. You know, a developmental big guy in Southern who is getting better and better. The 2 guard is outstanding, maybe could have been an All ACC player with a little bit more attention paid to him because he has been terrific the last five games. Just very good basketball team. Read the rest of this entry »

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What they said… USC players at 12:33 pm ET
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Just so you know what they’re thinking heading into tonight’s showdown with the BC Eagles, here are three of the stars from the USC squad. DeMar DeRozan, Daniel Hackett, Dwight Lewis and Taj Gibson took to the podium, otherwise referred to as the dais, on Thursday. Here’s how they answered the questions from the media.

Q. Guys, coming in here, you know, what you’ve done these last five games. I mean, do you feel like you’re a pretty dangerous team just coming in on the right note?

TAJ GIBSON: I feel we’re coming in with a lot of confidence. Guys that are healthy this time of year, throughout the years, guys have been really banged up and injuries played a key role in a lot of our games, losing one point at Oklahoma, a lot of tough road games in the Pac 10.

DANIEL HACKETT: We feel good about ourselves. But we learned a hard lesson last year. Losing to Kansas State in the first round, so we don’t want to get our hopes too high. Stay humble and keep playing our basketball.

Q. Hey, Taj, how does last year’s experience and the previous years help you guys, with you, Daniel and Dwight and Keith Wilkinson all being here before?

TAJ GIBSON: It has its ups and its downs. My freshman year we went pretty far, then the mishap last year we lost to a tough Kansas State team.

Just a lot of experience. I hope we can use it to our advantage.
But, once again, we have a lot of young guys coming around at the right part of the season, so the sky’s the limit. But I know Boston College is a really skilled team, a lot of veterans on that team, so just looking forward to getting back out there and playing. Read the rest of this entry »

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What they said… BC ready for USC 03.19.09 at 10:23 pm ET
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The student-athletes of Boston College headed for the comforts of their hotel rooms but not before sharing their thoughts about facing Southern California on Friday night in Minneapolis.

Tyrese Rice and Rakim Sanders took questions from the media on Thursday. Here’s what they said:

Q. I was going to ask, do you guys feel like you’re playing your best brand of basketball right now? And also, even though you haven’t gone on a long, winning stretch, this tournament kind of requires it.
Do you feel like that makes a difference?

TYRESE RICE:
I don’t think we are playing our best basketball right now, but we are definitely improving. And we have to be ready for tomorrow.

As far as the winning streak, a lot of the No. 1 seeds have had big winning streaks. Really the only big winning streak right now is Louisville. So you can’t really say much about winning streaks; it is who is going to get hot at the right time or who is not.

RAKIM SANDERS:
What he said, we’re improving as a team. I mean, we haven’t like our last game we haven’t won, but we are learning from each game and getting better. So I think yeah.

Q. For both players, guys, talk to me about the national perception. The ESPN talking heads are both predicting Southern California, a fine ball club, to beat you guys rather easily. Despite the fact you are a higher seed, USA Today has you as an underdog in the paper. Nothing is really talking about your team or about the game. How do you guys feel about that kind of lack of respect that you’re getting by the national media?

TYRESE RICE: That’s nothing new when it comes to us. I mean even my freshman year we were No. 10 team in the country and still didn’t get any respect. So it doesn’t mean anything to me. I mean, everybody will always have us as the underdog regardless when we are playing Southern Cal or whoever else.

So we have been playing the underdog roles our whole life. Most of the people on our team have been playing the underdog roles, and we’re fine with that.

RAKIM SANDERS: Really don’t matter to me. At the end of the day, I mean, we’re going to leave it on the court anyway. So it really don’t matter. Read the rest of this entry »

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Skinner: It’s not a track meet, it’s basketball 03.18.09 at 11:12 am ET
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As they wing their way westward toward Minneapolis and a Friday night date with USC, the Boston College Eagles will be thinking about their first round opponent and how to go about beating them.

Those with concerns about BC’s chances point to the fact that Southern Cal is on a hot streak, winning the Pac-10 tournament just to get a ticket to the dance.

They also point out that USC is an athletic team that loves to get up and down the court and DeMar DeRozan will be a handful for the Eagles.

But BC coach Al Skinner isn’t looking at it that way.

“I’m not overly concerned about athleticism because when I last checked it’s not a track meet, it’s still a game of basketball,” Skinner said. “It’s about skills, you’ve got to be able to put the ball in the basket, dribble, pass. So, we concentrate on those areas. Athleticism can help but it’s still a game of skill.

“They like to get a little bit in transition. They have a lot of quick hitters. They have some individuals that are physically talented. We’re going to have to deal with that. They really like to attack the basket. They’re pretty athletic. They get around the rim and they do some good things.”

DeRozan, who scored 25 in the Pac-10 title game, is a quick hitter, as are Taj Gibson and Daniel Hackett. The Trojans feature a three-guard set under coach Tim Floyd, which points to Skinner’s belief that they will try to out-manuever the Eagles, who will try to run the flex offense.

This Trojans team erased a 15-point halftime deficit in the Pac-10 championship against Arizona State and won, 66-63. In other words, BC must bring it all game long and not let up.

“You just see what a little urgency does for a team,” Eagles point man Tyrese Rice said. “They realized they had to win a tournament to get into the NCAA Tournament and they went out and made it happen. We’re going to have to be aware of how hard they’re playing right now.”

Then there’s someone like Tyler Roche. He is a junior now, two years removed from advancing to the second round in 2007, when BC lost to Georgetown.

“It’s a big excitement,” Roche said. “I haven’t been to the NCAA Tournament since my freshman year and I’m just really excited to be back this year, and hopefully we’ll make some noise.”

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