With every key piece back, USC continues to rise
USC has taken strides each season under Andy Enfield. It won a combined 23 games during his first two years, before a breakout 21-win season in 2016 that included an NCAA Tournament appearance. Last March, the Trojans again raised the bar with a program-record 26 wins. With virtually the entire roster back, they’re hopeful that their current trajectory will continue.
At a Glance
HEAD COACH: Andy Enfield
2016-17 RECORD (PAC-12): 26–10 (10–8)
2016-17 POSTSEASON: NCAA: Lost to Baylor 82–78 in the second round
The Trojans were big winners at the NBA Draft’s early entry deadline, particularly in the frontcourt. All of their underclassmen return, including forwards Bennie Boatwright and Chimezie Metu, who were thought to be potential late first-round draft picks. Both players, who will be juniors, offer unique skill sets.
The 6'11" Metu is one of the more athletic big men in the country, known for his flurry of finishes at the rim and shot-blocking ability. He earned the Pac-12’s Most Improved Player award last season and took on a larger role in the paint while Boatwright missed two months with a knee sprain. Boatwright is akin to a stretch-4. The 6'10" forward finished as the team’s leading scorer at 15.1 points per game, shooting 36.4 percent from beyond the arc. Enfield is fond of mentioning his “guard-like skills.”
Nick Rakocevic, an active 6'11" forward, offers depth. Rakocevic was instrumental last March when the Trojans rallied from 17 points down to defeat Providence in the First Four.
Charles O’Bannon Jr., a 6'6" freshman who was USC’s first McDonald’s All-American since 2008, should see minutes, too. His father, Charles O’Bannon, starred on UCLA’s 1995 national championship team, as did his uncle, Ed O’Bannon.
USC is particularly experienced on the perimeter, led by a pair of seniors who were among Enfield’s earliest recruits — Jordan McLaughlin and Elijah Stewart. They have been fixtures during the program’s yearly improvement and are key reasons why the Trojans could advance deeper into the NCAA Tournament. McLaughlin, a point guard, is a dependable distributor who has also developed as a scorer. He averaged a career-high 5.5 assists per game last season as a junior. Stewart, a wing, is a streaky shooter, capable of scoring 30 points any night, and an explosive athlete. He made the game-winning 3-pointer to upset sixth-seeded SMU in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in March.
There’s also young talent. De’Anthony Melton, a do-everything guard, joined Dwyane Wade last season as the only other freshman since the 1992-93 season to average at least 4.5 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.9 steals and 1.0 blocks per game. Melton stands 6'4" but boasts a 6'8" wingspan and remains one of the Trojans’ more skilled defenders despite once being an overlooked high school prospect.
Derryck Thornton, a transfer from Duke, presents a new dynamic to the veteran backcourt. A former five-star recruit, Thornton averaged 7.1 points and 2.5 assists in 26.0 minutes per game for the Blue Devils two years ago. He will split point guard duties with McLaughlin, a setup that is familiar to the Trojans. Two seasons ago, they used two point guards, McLaughlin and Julian Jacobs.
This is easily Enfield’s deepest team. There is no talent shortage. A handful of players figure to be first-round NBA Draft picks in 2018. And there is depth. The Trojans will have 13 scholarship players, having fully recovered from NCAA sanctions that followed the O.J. Mayo scandal. The challenge will be for the team to match the new expectations and for the staff to blend the talent together.