Kevin O’Neill Danny Moloshok

With a rotation of seven players, three of whom average 33 minutes or more in Pac-10 games, Kevin O'Neill was forced to go easy on his USC Trojans during a short Friday practice at McKale Center.

Things might be a bit different if he still had three one-time USC commitments who are now the Arizona Wildcats' three top scorers - Derrick Williams, Solomon Hill and MoMo Jones.

Oh well. KO was just as philosophical about the three would-be Trojans as he has been about returning to the place where he served as interim head coach in 2007-08, only to be dropped from the staff upon Lute Olson's brief return after that season.

When you see guys like Williams play, do you ever wonder what-if?

A: It wouldn't do any good. It's just the way it is. He's one of the better players in the country right now, if I had to guess."

What do you think of his NBA prospects?

A: I was in the NBA for 11 years. He's going to play in the NBA. When the best time is for him to do that, I don't know. That's a decision that he and his family and coach have to make. But he is a guy who's going to play in the NBA. I'm not one of those coaches who lobbies for guys to go out early, because I'm not so sure it's the right thing for guys.

When Jerryd Bayless was here, you said if you're a top-10 pick, you've got to go.

A: I think if you're a lottery pick, you gotta go.

Do you have any doubts about his size or anything else?

A: No. This guy can flat-out play. He can flat-out play. He's got it all. He's only going to get better. The guy's improved so much in one year."

Does it make your depth problems worse knowing that Arizona's three leading scorers were all USC commits?

A: They're all excellent players and you feel the effects when you look at our roster and there's no sophomores and one junior. We lost basically two classes and 12 players in one year. So we feel fortunate to have been competitive last year, and we feel fortunate to be competitive this year. We've played a hell of a schedule.

So we're moving in the right direction. We have players coming in, and we've got players who are sitting out. So it's just a matter of time for us."

Can you beat anybody on a given day?

A: Yeah. It depends if we defend and rebound. You just look at our record. We're 10-1 when we hold people under 40 percent. We're 2-8 when we don't."

Is it better in your second year because you've got some continuity?

A: Our guys have been great. But it's harder because we lost those (committed) players, and then we graduated four of our top six. That's 70 percent of our scoring from a 16-win team. So it's not like we were a juggernaut already.

What do you think about Nikola Vucevic's improvement?

A: He's come a long way in two years. He really has, through hard work and dedication. We graduated three senior perimeter players, so he had to take on even a bigger load in terms of scoring and things like that. He's still young - he's only 20. He's Derrick's age. If we didn't have Nik, last year we might not have won seven or eight games. This year, I don't know where we'd be.

What do you think about Fendi (Onobun, whom O'Neill coached at UA) being in the NFL?

A: Is he in the NFL? I didn't know. Is he? Good for him. Good for him.

Did you ever feel he had the skills and size for football?

A: I could never tell. He's big, strong, fast. You've got a roster of 60, it doesn't matter. You can waste a couple of spots and hope they get better.

When you come back to Tucson, do you see a lot of friends?

A: We had a bunch of our friends from Tucson at our game (at ASU on Thursday) night. We're seeing a bunch of friends (Friday) and (today), because we can't get out until Sunday.

I enjoy coming here. If they had a bad team, I'd really enjoy it. But they don't. They have a good team.