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After Big O, Malik Thomas might be USC’s next underrated star

By Rich Ruben

It may seem odd to label Onyeka Okongwu underrated coming out of high school. He is one of only five players who were twice named California Player of the Year and was a consensus five star recruit. Nevertheless, he is a better player than his recruiting ranking. 

Malik Thomas is a shooting guard who officially signed with the Trojans on Friday after committing months ago. He is a consensus four star and top 100 player and it is starting to appear that he is also better than his rating.

Okongwu Was Underrated Coming Out Of High School

Big O was ranked the 20th best player in the 2019 class by the one of the major recruiting services. He was not ranked higher than no. 17 by any of the services. He was behind forwards no. 3 Isaiah Stewart and no. 7 Jaden McDaniels who both entered the upcoming draft after one season at Washington. He was also behind Arizona guards no. 8 Josh Green and no 9 Nico Mannion who are also in this year’s draft. And Big O was ranked behind his teammate at SC Isaiah Mobley, who was rated no. 16 and has returned to the Trojans for his sophomore season. 

Big O was not selected to play in the McDonald’s All Star game, though teammate Isaiah Mobley was a McDonald’s All American. Chuck O’Bannon was a McDonald’s All American and ranked no. 28 in the 2017 class. The high school rankings aren’t always reliable.

Everyone knew before the freshmen arrived on campus last year to begin practice before their three game European tour that Onyeka was very good. After seeing a few practices last fall and talking to Trojan players and staff it was obvious that there were not 19 better freshman.

The final word on Onyeka’s standing among players in the 2019 high school class will be unveiled this week thru the NBA draft. In the scores of mock drafts put out by basketball “experts” he is predicted to be selected as high as third and as low as thirteenth. Most of the recent mock drafts predict Big O will be selected with the sixth, seventh or eighth pick. The NBA draft is very hard to predict; there are many trades involving draft picks every year in the days before the draft and each team has different priorities, but there is no doubt that Onyeka is a highly coveted player. 

To be clear, the mock drafts include every player eligible to be drafted or who entered the draft regardless of how many years they played college basketball. The draft also includes every foreign player eligible to be drafted. Onyeka is predicted to be the third or fourth freshman selected but he could be taken higher.

Trojan Signee Malik Thomas May Also Be Underrated

Thomas is a 6’3” four star guard who has moved slowly up the recruiting rankings over the past few months. He is currently ranked no. 87 nationally, moving from just outside the top 100. He is ranked as the no. 18 shooting guard nationally in the class and the fifth best player in California.

Malik has a nickname that suggests stardom: “The Chosen One.” The last Trojan player with a similar nickname in high school was Wayne Carlander who was called “The Franchise” in high school. Perhaps there is a good omen here; Carlander was the  best player on the last Trojan team to win the conference regular season (actually a first place tie) and was the conference Player of the Year in 1985.

Thomas plays for Veritas Prep in Santa Fe Springs. They play in the West Region of The Grind Session, which is composed of top tier athletic schools. The games in the West are being played mostly in Las Vegas. 72 current NBA players played at least one game in The Grind Session.

Thomas is playing at a very high level. In recent games his stat lines stand out:

– 34 points, 3 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 steals on 59% from the field and 82% from the line.

– 26 points, 9 boards, 3 steals and 2 assists.

– 40 points including 11-21 from the field and 13-13 from the line, 6 boards and 3 assists

– 31 points, 6 boards and 3 steals.

We won’t see Malik in a Trojan uniform until next fall, but he is a freshman to watch in the highly regarded 2021 recruiting class.