While USC basketball made a historic run to the Elite Eight in the 2021 NCAA Tournament, Drake London started building his stock as a star for next fall and the eventual draft.
Not on the hardwood — London opted not to rejoin Andy Enfield's team for the 2020-21 season after appearing as a reserve wing in 2019-20. But London's basketball experience just might make him the best wide receiver in college football's coming campaign.
"Drake London reminds me of Michael Crabtree when he's on the outside, and it kinda correlates because both were really good basketball players, so they have extremely good body control," said Trojans tight ends coach Seth Doege.
Crabtree's certainly a complimentary parallel for any receiver, earning an invite to the Heisman Trophy presentation in 2008 as a star at Texas Tech. His Red Raiders lineage explains the comparison from Doege, a former Tech quarterback, and a contrast he said he's discussed with USC offensive coordinator Graham Harrell. Harrell and Crabtree connected for an outlandish 41 touchdowns in 2007 and 2008.
Before he was putting up video games on Big 12 gridirons, Crabtree averaged almost 21 points per game on the high school hardwoods of Texas. A 2007 New York Times profile recounts a story of Hall of Fame basketball coach Bob Knight, then at Texas Tech, asking Crabtree if he was going to pursue hoops or football.
Choosing football proved savvy for Crabtree, as it promises to be for London. Enfield said in December when London opted not to rejoin the USC basketball team he "made the right decision."
Don't consider that a slight of London's basketball game — he can ball. As a senior at Moorpark High School, he averaged 29.2 points and 11.9 rebounds per game.
The qualities that made London a 4-star basketball prospect translate for USC football. He's a rangy 6-foot-5 and can extend to make difficult receptions the same way he'd step into passing lanes to generate turnovers, and his explosive vertical is as well-served on a jump ball in the red zone as throwing down an alley-oop dunk.
The basketball highlight reel is reminiscent of one Randy Moss, another two-sport star who opted for football over basketball and earned a trip to the Heisman Trophy ceremony.
But there's more to London's basketball skills that correlate to his rising football star.
"One thing about it, slants and fades are kinda what we do offensively ... especially vs. man coverage. And it's really hard to guard Drake London when he's outside running a slant or fade route right now," Doege said. "And I remember, that was Crabtree's deal, too. You couldn't guard him on a slant, you couldn't guard him on a fade.
"They weren't burners," he added. "Neither one were extremely fast players, but they're big, physical, extremely competitive with good body control and good body position."
London's versatility is a game-changer for the very look of the USC Air Raid, allowing the Trojans to roll with 12 formation that utilizes a running back and two tight ends. Expect to see this look in red-zone situations plenty come fall — and expect to see London making plays like this from it.
But his usage in the 2021 season will be more than just hauling down lobs. During spring practice he also demonstrated his fast-break playmaking.
And he's shown he can break ankles like he's crossing over a defender on the perimeter.
While his basketball skills and natural athletic ability will certainly translate from the hardwood to the gridiron, the Trojans are certainly counting on big things this season from London and the feeling is mutual. London was named first-team All-Pac-12 by Athlon Sports, joining quarterback Kedon Slovis, linebacker Drake Jackson and defensive back Chris Steele in that distinction.
— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.