first_imgThe two sports that dictate the culture of most college athletic programs have always been — and always will be — football and men’s basketball.At the University of Southern California, the history and tradition of the football program speaks for itself — 11 national titles, seven Heisman trophy winners and nearly 500 players selected in the NFL Draft. Clearly, a football powerhouse, though, that notion has been put into question as of late.Then, on the other end of the spectrum, you have USC men’s basketball, whose season opener is right around the corner. When you’re speaking about the two respective programs’ histories over the past 25 years, you couldn’t have two more polar opposites. Not even the wide gap in the ideologies of the Democratic and Republican parties can trump the void between USC football and men’s basketball.Since 1990, the Trojans’ football team has won two AP national championships and five Rose Bowls, and has finished at the top of the Pac-12 Conference an astounding nine times. At the other end, the men’s basketball team has won only one conference title, which came via its heroics in the 2009 Pac-10 TournamentAs a result, there exists a belief on campus that USC is not— and never will be — a basketball school, despite world-class facilities in the Galen Center and being located right in the center of one of America’s hotbeds of prep basketball.To date, one of the greatest mysteries surrounding the USC athletics program has been how the school can have a dominant football team, yet have such a difficult time developing a premier basketball program. But history would likely have been much different had it not been for an unfortunate turn of events that took its toll on the program 25 years ago.Rewind to 1990, when a promising young player, Ed O’Bannon, out of Artesia High School in the Los Angeles area, was catching the attention of every college coach in America as a blue-chip recruit, while on his way to becoming a McDonald’s High School All-American and national high school player of the year. In the running for O’Bannon’s services were UCLA, Nevada Las Vegas and USC, among many others.At that time, the Trojans were led by legendary head coach George Raveling, who was recently selected for induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame as a member of the 2015 class. Raveling made quite the splash when he took over for his predecessor, Stan Morrison, in 1986. The Trojans never had the “Fab Five,” but they did have the “Four Freshmen” in star young players Hank Gathers, Bo Kimble, Tom Lewis and Rich Grande.After allegedly delivering an ultimatum to the group to decide in a timely manner whether they would be staying at USC or transferring, a threat that most of the players didn’t take seriously, Raveling proceeded to revoke the scholarships of every member of the “Four Freshmen” except Grande, who remained at USC.Gathers and Kimble transferred to Loyola Marymount, and Lewis took his talents to Pepperdine. Everything, well, unraveled, after the loss of these young standouts.Raveling endured four rough seasons, during which his teams finished with records well below  .500, that plummeted the Trojans to the bottom of what was then the Pac-10.Though the first four years were tough for Raveling, he believed that his team was on the brink heading into the 1990-91 season, especially if it could acquire the 6-foot-8 O’Bannon.Raveling had previously illustrated this idea to O’Bannon when he told the high school star that the Trojans were just one or two players away from becoming a national force.In order to try to get a leg up on the other schools, Raveling enlisted the services of one of his best friends — sports marketing impresario Sonny Vaccaro, who allegedly had been steering prized recruits to his preferred college programs. Vacarro, however, refused to attempt to maneuver O’Bannon to Raveling and USC. O’Bannon eventually signed with USC’s crosstown rival UCLA, after originally committing to UNLV.Then and there a curse was born, and it catalyzed a domino effect that would take its toll on the USC basketball program for years.A few seasons after his brother’s commitment, Charles O’Bannon also elected to play for the Bruins after also considering USC. UCLA, powered by the O’Bannon brothers, went on to win the 1995 NCAA championship.After losing both of the O’Bannon brothers, Raveling and the Trojans actually finished toward the top half of the then-Pac-10 with winning records for each of the next four seasons. But they were nowhere close to the pinnacle that Raveling had envisioned. As a result, the expected powerhouse of the future never came to fruition.Prior to the 1994-95 season, the 57-year-old Raveling was severely injured in a car accident that would force his retirement from coaching. With that, an era that was supposed to encompass, perhaps, the program’s finest seasons, was over.It has seemingly always been what could have been for the USC men’s basketball program. What if  Raveling had gotten one or both of the O’Bannons?You could argue that Ed O’Bannon’s commitment to USC would have completely shifted the tectonic plate that is recruiting in Southern California, and it could have been the Trojans —not the Bruins — at the forefront of college basketball … both locally and nationally.Darian Nourian is a senior majoring in print and digital journalism. He is also the sports editor of the Daily Trojan. His column, “Persian Persuasion,” runs Fridays.last_img read more