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  • Blue Ribbon Analyais of #11 USC by Bruce Pasco

    #11 USC
    LOCATION: Los Angeles, CA
    CONFERENCE: Pac-12
    LAST SEASON: 26-10 (.722)
    CONFERENCE RECORD: 10-8 (t-5th)
    NICKNAME: Trojans
    COLORS: Cardinal & Gold
    HOMECOURT: Galen Center (10,258)
    COACH: Andy Enfield (Johns Hopkins ’91)
    RECORD AT SCHOOL: 70-64 (4 years)
    CAREER RECORD: 111-92 (6 years)
    ASSISTANTS: Tony Bland (San Diego State ’03), Jason Hart (Syracuse ’00), Chris Capko (USF ’06)
    WINS (LAST 5 YRS.): 14-11-12-21-26
    RPI (LAST 5 YRS.): 122-181-198-61-37
    2016-17 FINISH: Lost in NCAA second round.


    During Andy Enfield’s first three years at USC, just about everything was right on schedule. Eleven wins in year one. Twelve wins and a pair of freshmen with solid NBA potential (Bennie Boatwright and Chimezie Metu) in year two. Then 21 wins and an NCAA tournament appearance in year three—with just about everyone on track to return. Then the reality of modern-day high-major college basketball hit: Starters Julian Jacobs and Nikola Jovanovich decided to stay in the NBA draft, even though they weren’t projected to be picked, and were not. Then four other guys transferred.

    All of a sudden, Enfield’s program appeared headed the wrong way.

    But instead, he put up probably his best coaching job yet, turning low expectations into 21 wins and two NCAA tournament victories (counting a First Four game). Then Enfield got some unexpected payback when it was all over. In the spring, four key players declared for the NBA draft: Boatwright, Metu, Elijah Stewart and Shaqquan Aaron—and all of them returned. What’s more, nobody transferred.

    All of a sudden, Enfield has a team worthy of the national title conversation. His trajectory at USC had just been delayed, not thrown permanently off. Chances are that it happened, at least in part, because Jacobs and Jovanovich provided a lesson of sorts. Like, if you’re going to leave, maybe make sure you will at least get drafted. Enfield said the decisions of Jacobs and Jovanich didn’t make the difference in themselves, but that “when you always have an example from your teammates ... it’s only human nature to at least consider what their path was.” As it turned out, Stewart didn’t even officially sign papers to enter the draft, though he considered doing so. Metu and Boatwright both came back by the end of April, and Aaron, after not being invited to the NBA combine, decided to return just before the May 24 deadline to do so.

    Famine, then feast.

    Enfield said he tried to stay level. “This business is unpredictable at times, and we didn’t go into this as a coaching staff in the offseason thinking or expecting certain players would stay or leave,” Enfield said. “We just were trying to focus on what was right for our players, and give them as much information as we could. We tried to help them through the process without
    recommending they stay or leave.

    “We did not make recommendations, but I truly believe they made great decisions for their long-term future because they can develop another year at the collegiate level and be on a successful team. They have a chance to build on what they did last year and to enjoy another year of college basketball.”

    In other words, their individual numbers may not rise, or possibly even fall, but the Trojans’ overall success should elevate their profile while their practices alone have the potential to make them all better players. Enfield has a virtual two-deep full of potential starters, not only returning all his starters from last season but adding Duke transfer Derryck Thornton, Jr. and McDonalds
    All-American Chuck O’Bannon, among others.

    The only problem Enfield might have is keeping everyone happy. It’s a good problem to have.




    F-CHARLES BUGGS (6-9, 2.3 ppg, 1.8 rpg, 8.8 mpg, .583 FG, .500 3FG, .778 FT). Buggs started 21 games and averaged 24.0 minutes for Minnesota in 2015-16, but faced a potential crunch for playing time the following season and joined USC as a graduate transfer.

    Turns out, he had even more competition at USC, and being banged up for much of the season didn’t help. Buggs missed several games with a knee issue and, according to the Orange County Register, had to get his knee drained weekly. He also missed USC’s Pac-12 tournament games against Washington and UCLA. Then, in what was probably both fitting and agonizing – Buggs sat out the second half of USC’s season-ending loss to Baylor after falling hard to the floor in the first half.

    His college career literally ended with a thud

  • #2

    PG-JORDAN McLAUGHLIN (6-1, 180 lbs., SR, #11, 12.9 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 5.5 apg, 34.1 mpg, .459 FG, .402 3PT, .799 FT, Etiwanda HS/Etiwanda, Calif.). Julian Jacobs’ departure meant the point guard duties all fell on McLaughlin last season, and he passed that test.

    McLaughlin ran the Trojans’ offense with a sleek, efficient style, fashioning a 2.5-1 assist-to-turnover ratio while proving a reliable shooter all over the court, including at the free-throw line. Combine that production with the steady play over his first two seasons, and it’s no surprise McLaughlin ranks second on USC’s all-time assist list (457), eighth in career steals (141) and 22nd on its all-time scoring list (1,188 points). He broke the USC single-game assists record with 16 against Louisiana in 2015-16, though he’s unlikely to catch Brandon Granville (779, from 1999-2002) as the program’s all-time assists leader.

    What’s maybe more important this season, with Derryck Thornton now eligible and able to handle some of the point guard duty, is that McLaughlin be a firm leader on and off the court. “Jordan’s made huge improvements over his career, and his assist-to-turnover ratio has gotten better,” Enfield said. “We’d like to see him increase his efficiency running the team.”

    Adding Thornton should help. There were times last season that Enfield should have rested McLaughlin, but couldn’t. McLaughlin averaged 34.1 minutes and ranked No. 126 nationally in percentage of available minutes played (85.0), according to Kenpom.

    “He’s such a good decision maker,” Enfield said. “When you have a guy like that running your team, it’s hard to take him off the court. There were probably times he was tired in the second half, but I couldn’t take him out.”

    SG-DE’ANTHONY MELTON (6-4, 190 lbs., SO, #22, 8.3 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 3.5 apg, 1.9 spg, 27.0 mpg, .437 FG, .284 3PT, .706 FT, Crespi HS/North Hollywood, Calif.). One reason the Trojans succeeded despite all those offseason defections was that Melton was really more than one guy.

    He was a secondary offensive threat. The team’s leader in steals. A rim protector. An excellent rebounder from the backcourt, and a guy who knew how to get the free-throw line. And, even as a 6-4 freshman, a guy who helped fill in when stretch four Bennie Boatwright was out for 17 games with a sprained MCL.

    Melton’s box scores, routinely, were stuffed. The only thing that stood out as a negative was his 3-point shooting, which Enfield hopes can increase this season. “De’Anthony affects the game in a variety of ways, with his defense, rebounding, blocking shots and length,” Enfield said. “But the 3-point numbers need to come up and his 43 percent [shooting] from the field can come up.”

    Then again, that hole in Melton’s game is one reason he wasn’t a five-star recruit coming out of the San Fernando Valley. He did everything else well, except the one thing people notice the most—scoring.

    USC was the only power-conference team to offer him a scholarship, and Melton’s production so far is exactly the kind of payoff it hopes to receive in its recruiting approach.

    “We have to do unique recruiting,” USC assistant coach Jason Hart told the Los Angeles Daily News in a story about Melton last season. “We can’t recruit where everybody recruits. That’s not how we can recruit. UCLA can recruit like that, because they’re a big-time school and the school sells itself. We have to find steals. Steals with talent. And that’s what Melton is.”

    SF-ELIJAH STEWART (6-5, 190 lbs., SR, #30, 12.3 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 1.2 apg, 1.2 bpg, 29.8 mpg, .431 FG, .386 3PT, .704 FT, Westchester [Calif.] HS/DeRidder, La.). Stewart’s flirtation with the NBA draft in 2017 took something of a comic twist. Stewart initially told the Los Angeles Times he would enter the draft but not sign with an agent and probably return to school.

    But two reports surfaced in late April that Stewart actually didn’t have a choice ... because he didn’t apply. “He unfortunately forgot to submit the paperwork to the NBA,” Draft Express’ Jonathan Givony tweeted.

    To which Stewart replied on Twitter: “you really need to do facts checks my guy, I’ve been studying for my finals, all you had to do was DM me ... no one forgot.”

    Stewart, who also sparred on Twitter with stat guru Ken Pomeroy over a contention that the Trojans were statistically “lucky,” ended his reply to Givony with a garbage emoji.

    Whatever really happened, USC and Stewart wound up better off. Stewart wasn’t a projected first-round pick anyway, and now he returns to a loaded team with a chance to break two program career records.

    Stewart is already fifth on the 3-point chart with 175 and probably will break Lodrick Stewart’s record of 232 by February if he hits as many 3s (78) as he did last season. Having played in 102 games already, Stewart is also on track to break Dwight Lewis’ record of 133 games played (2007-10).

    While Stewart’s 3-point percentage dropped from 42.9 to 38.6 last season, he’s a streaky, volume shooter with the capability of taking over a game. And on the other side of the ball, Stewart aggressively uses his athleticism, accumulating 42 blocks and 29 steals last season.

    PF-BENNIE BOATWRIGHT (6-10, 230 lbs., JR, #25, 15.1 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 1.7 apg, 27.6 mpg, .428 FG, .364 3PT, .907 FT/Village Christian HS/Mission Hills, Calif.). The MCL sprain and hip injury that cost Boatwright 17 games came with a silver lining in more ways than one.

    First, it may have contributed to Boatwright’s decision to withdraw from the NBA draft, so he can have an entire season to work himself into the first round—though Enfield downplays that possibility.

    “I don’t think his injury may have affected that decision,” Enfield said. “But I think his development as a player, being healthy over the whole season ... All guys think they can improve, and as a team they can put themselves in position to be a legitimate draft pick and have a legitimate NBA career.”

    Secondly, Boatwright’s absence allowed the development of younger players such as Melton and Nick Rakocevic, while Chimezie Metu took on a bigger role inside—and the Trojans still fared surprisingly well during that period. USC went 5-4 in the first half of Pac-12 play without Boatwright and 5-4 in the second half with him, and then continued to improve in the postseason as Boatwright improved. The Trojans nearly knocked off UCLA in the Pac-12 tournament, beat Providence and SMU in the NCAA tournament and came just two buckets shy of the Sweet 16 in their second-round loss to Baylor.

    With a whole season ahead of him this time, Boatwright has a chance to improve his NBA stock by widening his skills past the prototypical stretch-four game he’s known for. In turn, that will benefit the Trojans.

    “You like to see Bennie become a better rebounder and better defender, and more versatile in the offense,” Enfield said.

    C-CHIMEZIE METU (6-11, 225 lbs., JR, #4, 14.8 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 1.5 bpg, 1.4 apg, 31.3 mpg, .552 FG, .741 FT, Lawndale HS/Lawndale, Calif.). After making a big jump as a sophomore, learning to stay out of foul trouble and becoming more efficient offensively, Metu appeared a serious threat to leave for the NBA.

    His upside was beginning to surface and, with Metu being projected on the fringe of the first round, maybe 2017 was the time to cash in. But Metu only waited until April 17 until he posted a photo on Instagram with USC fans cheering behind him, saying “Year 3 coming soon...”

    Not only do the Trojans get an obvious benefit in his decision, giving them undeniable rim protection and improving offense, but Metu might be able to keep increasing his pro stock. While he’s already a proven shot blocker, Metu still can tighten up his on-ball defense and, particularly, his footwork, in order to get in better position when opponents enter the paint.

    “He’s made huge improvements on offense and defensive rebounds, and he’s working on being a better defender,” Enfield said of Metu, last season’s winner of the Pac-12 most improved award. “We’d like to see him do it.


    • #3

      G-DERRYCK THORNTON, JR. (6-2, 185 lbs., R-SO, #5, 7.1 ppg, 1.8 rpg, 2.6 apg, 26.0 mpg, .390 FG, .329 3PT, .690 FT in 2015-16, Duke/Findlay [Nev.] Prep/Sierra Canyon HS/Los Angeles). After Duke’s Tyus Jones left somewhat unexpectedly for the NBA draft in 2015, Thornton reclassified and missed his senior year of high school so he could run the point for the Blue Devils in 2015-16.

      The rush didn’t appear to be worth it. Thornton started 20 games and played a significant role for the Blue Devils but had to scramble to get up to speed, finishing up high school over the summer rather than arrive early at Duke. And, according to his trainer, Mark Edwards, he didn’t get the ball-screen opportunities he was promised during the season.

      Thornton “gave up being McDonalds All American, Jordan Brand All American, Elite 24, Adidas Nations, Steph Curry Camp etc FOR WHAT?” Edwards tweeted.

      Although it cost him a mandatory redshirt year last season, Thornton now gets to hit the reset button at USC.

      Whether out of the starting lineup or off the bench, Thornton is likely to share point guard duties with McLaughlin, possibly in a manner that Jacobs and McLaughlin did successfully in 2015-16.

      McLaughlin may be a more experienced decision maker at this point in his career, but Thornton is an aggressive offensive threat who can attack the rim, while also causing trouble defensively.

      “Derrick Thornton is very good with the ball in his hands, a good decision-maker, and we expect him to be our primary ball handler,” Enfield said. “Jordan and Julian played together, and the way our system works, with the freedom we give players and how we spread the floor, we expect them to play on and off the ball.”

      G-SHAQQUAN AARON (6-7, 190 lbs., R-JR, #0, 7.6 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 1.1 apg, 20.8 mpg, .392 FG, .336 3PT, .720 FT, Rainier Beach HS/Taft [Calif.] HS/Mater Dei [Calif.] HS/Seattle/Louisville). In a sneaky way, Aaron had probably more incentive to leave than anyone on the USC roster last season. He was about to turn 22, and his playing time decreased notably late last season after he started 20 games, most of them when Boatwright was out with a sprained knee.

      His opportunities don’t appear any greater this season, either.

      So, even though he wasn’t invited to the NBA combine and wasn’t projected to be drafted, Aaron stayed in the draft pool until the last minute before deciding to return as a redshirt junior this season.

      He’ll still have plenty of chances to improve his draft stock. Aaron has the size and experience to play either forward spot, giving Enfield extra flexibility.

      “Shaqquan and [Charles] O’Bannon are probably true wing players,” Enfield said. “And when we go small, Shaqquan can play face-up four. Jordan Usher can play the wing or face-up four also.”

      G-JONAH MATHEWS (6-3, 185 lbs., SO, #2, 7.0 ppg, 1.8 rpg, 1.1 apg, 20.4 mpg, .372 FG, .331 3PT, .692 FT, Santa Monica HS/Santa Monica, Calif.). The son of a college coach and the brother of a Final Four player last season, Mathews displayed an unsurprising maturity about his game as a freshman.

      Although Melton gained the most attention of the Trojans’ first-year players, Mathews had a significant impact on both sides of the ball, hitting 42 3-pointers and recording 31 steals. He delivered 26 points against Wyoming in December and 18 points and six rebounds at Washington State in early February.

      Adding versatility to a backcourt that also includes Thornton, McLaughlin and Melton, Mathews can seek help not only from dad Phil Mathews, the former San Francisco coach, but also from older brother Jordan, who spent three seasons at Cal before helping Gonzaga reach the Final Four last season as a grad transfer.

      Because USC often played on Wednesday and Sunday last season, and Gonzaga on Thursdays and Saturday, the two had a chance to watch each other a fair amount.

      “It’s not healthy how emotionally invested I am in his games. I start throwing Gatorade at the TV,” Jordan told the Spokane Spokesman-Review. “It’s different for me now watching my brother play college basketball because I know how hard he’s worked to get to that point, and to see it pay off and him get to the tournament is really special.”

      G-CHARLES (CHUCK) O’BANNON, JR. (6-6, 200 lbs., FR, #13, 21.4 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 4.0 apg, Bishop Gorman HS/Las Vegas). O’Bannon knows where you may have figured he’d go to college. And he did the opposite.

      The son of Charles O’Bannon and nephew of Ed O’Bannon, two guys who helped UCLA win the 1995 NCAA title, Chuck nevertheless announced last December he was choosing the Bruins’ crosstown rival to play college ball.

      That was OK with dad. “I love UCLA, of course, but you want him to have to make the decision that’s best for him,” Charles Sr. told NevadaPreps.com before his son picked the Trojans. “I would never push UCLA more than I would push another school just because I went there. I want him to make his own decision and be able to accept it when he gets older, when his career is over.”

      Enfield’s first McDonald’s All-American signee, O’Bannon gives the Trojans a big, versatile option on the wing and the potential to be a strong defender.

      “He’s a very athletic wing who can score in bunches,” Enfield said. “We expect him to help on both ends of the floor.”

      F-NICK RAKOCEVIC (6-11, 215 lbs., SO, #31, 5.2 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 14.9 mpg, .563 FG, .671 FT, Saint Joseph’s HS/Chicago). Nobody benefited more from Boatwright’s absence than Rakocevic, whose development was in turn a big reason the Trojans stayed afloat when Boatwright missed 17 games.

      Rakocevic started eight games and averaged almost 15 minutes, showing a big motor and an improving offensive game. He scored seven points in the second half of USC’s First Four win over Providence, when the Trojans overcame a 15-point halftime deficit.

      “Three of the freshmen last year—Mathews, Rakocevic and Melton—helped us win a lot of games, especially when Boatwright [was out],” Enfield said. “It was a chance for other players on the team to elevate their games and develop their games quickly. In the NCAA tournament game against Providence, Nick was tremendous.”

      While Rakocevic will have to fight to play similar minutes this season because of all the talent around him, Enfield is expecting he will make the often-big jump players sometimes make between their freshman and
      sophomore years.


      F-HARRISON HENDERSON (6-10, 220 lbs., SO, #3, 1.3 ppg, 0.9 rpg, 3.8 mpg, .357 FG, .400 3PT, .417 FT, South Grand Prairie HS/Dallas). Enfield is also looking for Henderson to make a good jump as a sophomore, but considering the Trojans’ depth, that may not surface much on the court.

      Henderson, who played in only 13 games last season, is from Dallas but was born in Durham, N.C., where his biological father, the late Phil Henderson, played for
      Duke between 1987-90.


      F-VICTOR UYAELUNMO (6-11, 220 lbs., FR, #34, 13.5 ppg, 15.0 rpg, 5.0 bpg, Calvary Christian [Fla.] Academy/Gulliver [Fla.] HS/Lagos, Nigeria). Uyaelunmo steps into a crowded pack of talent in the USC frontcourt, but brings a uniqueness that could warrant playing time right away.

      That is, he’s a long, athletic rim protector who can play a role on a team that already has plenty of offense around him.

      “He’s 6-11 and athletic,” Enfield said. “He can defend and block shots, and as he develops his offensive game at this level, his future is very bright.”

      F-JORDAN USHER (6-7, 220 lbs., FR, #1, Wheeler HS/Sequoyah HS/Canton, Ga.). If there’s a prototypical Enfield player, Usher might be it. He’s a high-motor, athletic combo forward who gives Enfield the versatility and talent he needs to keep running an up-tempo attack.

      He can play as a big wing or a face-up four depending on the scheme Enfield wants to run, all with an infectious attitude.

      “He brightens the team,” Enfield said. “He’s the hardest-playing and most energetic guy on our roster, and that’s something you can’t teach. His energy uplifts our
      team every day in practice.”
      Last edited by chaseinmanhattan; 10-05-2017, 01:47 PM.


      • #4



        So there’s depth, experience, length, size and athleticism everywhere. What doesn’t Enfield have?

        “We don’t really have any true centers,” Enfield said. “Nick, Victor and Chimezie are versatile because they’re so skilled. They can guard fives or fours and can move their feet.”

        That’s probably good enough, especially considering the nature of the modern-day college game.

        Besides, the versatility Enfield has in both the frontcourt and backcourt allows him to play virtually any way he wants. He can go small and quick or big and long

        He can pop in a 6-7 guy in the post to guard a small opposing frontcourt and seek out offensive mismatches all over the court. Mixing and matching different guys could help Enfield answer the first big intangible question, too—keeping everybody engaged and happy, considering this is a team that could go more than 10 players deep.

        But there’s another intangible challenge Enfield isn’t sure about: Can his guys develop a killer instinct instead of sitting around waiting until trouble develops?

        In 13 games last season, including both their NCAA tournament victories, USC came back from double-digit deficits to win. Asked about that trend after USC beat Providence in the NCAAs, Rakocevic didn’t have an answer.

        “I think it’s just, give coach a heart attack or something,” he said.

        Enfield wonders if he’ll have to endure the same sort of stress this season.

        “My question is ‘Why are you down 10 points?’” Enfield said. “Can you play a consistent 40 minutes?”

        For USC to reach its lofty potential this season, the
        answer has to be yes.
        - Bruce Pasco

        Last edited by chaseinmanhattan; 10-05-2017, 01:48 PM.


        • #5
          Thanks. Good read.


          • #6
            What is exciting this year is with this depth, off nights, no defense or ball hogging will be a ticket to the bench.