USC basketball poised to bust school’s football reputation
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Southern California may no longer be known as a football school. The basketball Trojans have brought back their eight top scorers, added two impressive freshmen and are being tabbed to make a run at the Pac-12 title.
After winning a school-best 26 games last season, the Trojans were picked by the media to finish second in the league behind front-runner Arizona. That’s their highest ever preseason prediction and they even got one first-place vote.
“They’ve been to two straight NCAA Tournaments and have a chance this year to continue that,” fifth-year coach Andy Enfield said. “We have a lot of good younger players. We have a great recruiting class. We’re excited about our freshmen and our returning sophomores.”
Last year, USC finished 26-10 and tied for fifth in the league at 10-8.
The season begins Nov. 10 when the Trojans host Cal State Fullerton.
However, before the first ball is tipped there’s a shadow over the program. Tony Bland, Enfield’s top assistant, is on administrative leave after being accused of accepting $13,000 to help steer two players to certain business representatives as part of college basketball’s bribery scandal. USC is conducting an internal investigation.
“We all love Tony,” Enfield said. “It’s very difficult on a personal level; it’s very difficult on a program level because we all had great relationships with each other. We’re going to go on and try to prepare for the season. Obviously, we have to get through this part of it, but it is emotional and challenging.”
Enfield said he found out about the situation at the same time Bland was arrested as part of the sting. He’s been instructed not to comment during the ongoing investigation. Bland has been on the USC staff for 4 ½ years.
Here are some things to know about Southern California this season:
OFFENSE: The Trojans return a whopping 98 percent of their scoring from last season, including Bennie Boatwright (15.1 points), Chimezie Metu (14.8 points), Jordan McLaughlin (12.9 points), and Elijah Stewart (12.3 points). Boatwright, Metu and Stewart all withdrew their names from the NBA draft to stay in school.
MAC AT THE POINT: McLaughlin finished third in the Pac-12 in assists last season behind UCLA’s Lonzo Ball and Washington’s Markelle Fultz — the top two picks in the draft. McLaughlin averaged 5.5 assists to go with his offense and he is ranked second on the school’s career assists list. He’s got a solid supporting cast in the backcourt, including Stewart, who had a team-best 78 3-pointers last season, Shaqquan Aaron, De’Anthony Melton and Jonah Mathews. Derryck Thornton is eligible after sitting out last season as a result of his transfer from Duke. He averaged 7.1 points and 2.6 assists for the Blue Devils in 2015-16, and he will give the Trojans even more experience at point guard.
ANOTHER O’BANNON: Charles O’Bannon Jr., who answers to Chuck, is the son of the former UCLA great who led the Bruins to the 1995 national championship. The five-star recruit from Las Vegas is a 6-foot-6 guard.
BENNIE THE JET: Boatwright returned to form after a knee injury that cost him 17 games, averaging 18 points and 5.7 rebounds in three NCAA Tournament games. During the regular season, he made 47 3-pointers and averaged 4.5 rebounds. His frontcourt mate Metu looks to follow up on his breakout sophomore season in which he averaged 7.8 rebounds and 1.5 blocks. The Trojans’ other top recruit, Jordan Usher, can play either small forward or power forward.