Stewart at peace in final run at USC
Lodrick Stewart no longer comes home only to wonder why he ever left. Sure, he'll be excited for one last college appearance in his hometown...
Seattle Times staff reporter
Lodrick Stewart no longer comes home only to wonder why he ever left.
Sure, he'll be excited for one last college appearance in his hometown when USC plays at Washington at 7 o'clock tonight, and glad to see friends and family — including 2-year-old son Jaylin, who lives in Seattle. But getting back on that outbound plane isn't so hard anymore.
"It's all worked out for the best," said Stewart, the former Rainier Beach High star whose sometimes turbulent USC career will end with him playing a starring role for a team headed to its first NCAA tournament since 2002.
A 6-foot-4 senior, he is the team's second-leading scorer at 14.2 per game, became USC's career leader in made three-pointers last week, and is 54 points away from breaking onto the school's top 10 career scoring list.
And for once, he returns to Seattle with the upper hand on his hometown team.
At 21-8 overall and 11-5 in Pac-10 play, the Trojans are playing this weekend to improve their NCAA tournament seeding, and for a shot at finishing second in the conference while the Huskies are likely NIT-bound.
"It's good to see Lodrick go out like this," said UW coach Lorenzo Romar, who says he's always rooted for the Stewart family despite the controversial manner in which their initial commitment to USC developed. Romar, then in his first year at UW, avidly recruited Lodrick and his twin brother Rodrick. But when a commitment didn't come, UW forced their hand by taking Tre Simmons, leaving no room for both with the Huskies.
"It's been great for him just to be committed and coachable," Romar said. "He's settled in on a great niche on that team."
It wasn't always so.
His first two seasons featured four coaches — including the fired Henry Bibby, and Rick Majerus, who resigned before coaching a game — and enough second-guessing to fill a year's worth of plotlines of The Usual Suspects.
"You're always thinking 'Did we make the wrong decision leaving home?' " Stewart said, especially as the Huskies grew to prominence with the help of some of his closest friends, including Rainier Beach teammate Nate Robinson.
The thoughts grew so heavy with Rodrick that he eventually decided to bolt, transferring to Kansas early in the 2004-05 season. But Lodrick stayed put, deciding in part that the two might be better off being separated for a while, though also acknowledging his playing situation at USC was better than his brother's.
Lodrick Stewart says the turnaround came with the hiring of Tim Floyd in 2005.
"Last year, it finally started to feel like this is where I should be," he said. "I stopped thinking about whether I should leave."
Not that it's been completely smooth. Last season ended with a thud — seven losses in the final nine games — to keep USC out of any postseason.
Stewart then was held out of practice for the first 10 days this season while trying to meet Floyd's demand that he lose about 12 more pounds and get down under 220.
Floyd praises Stewart's attitude since, saying, "He's worked hard to maintain the levels we gave him."
Stewart says it helped that Floyd would sometimes run with him during morning workouts. "I'd never had a coach before that really cared for me like that," he said. "It reminded me of coach [Mike] Bethea at Rainier Beach."
Feeling more spring in his step, Stewart regained some of the athleticism that was a trademark of his Rainier Beach days, and his game has been more well-rounded this season other than just firing away from the three-point line. That, Stewart hopes, could clear a path for a career in the NBA. But unlike the days when he and his brother told reporters during their freshman year that they'd leave for the NBA as soon as they could, Lodrick Stewart now talks more realistically.
"I just hope I can impress one person," he said. "Anything can happen. Who knows? If it's meant to be, it's meant to be."
Stewart says he's learned there's more to life — he says he's on track to graduate in May with a degree in social science history.
"He stayed the course and I'm glad he did that," said his father, Bull. "He made a decision and he stuck with it and that will make him a better man in life. He grew up and became a man. Maybe going away from home had a lot to do with that."