By Rich Ruben
With USC men’s basketball practice set to begin October 14, head coach Andy Enfield provided a look back at the challenges and obstacles faced over the past few months, and a look ahead at a breakdown of the strengths of each player on the Trojans’ 2020-21 roster.
The Trojans have been able to avoid having any player or staff member test positive for the virus, but the virus has seriously impacted the team in other ways. Enfield described the recruiting process this spring when recruits were not allowed to visit campus and coaches could not meet recruits in person, though the USC staff was still able to sign five transfer players.
“It was challenging during the pandemic when everything was shut down and there was a recruiting ban beginning on March 12 or 13, when the season shut down, that has been extended thru January 1, 2021,” Enfield said. “We were not able to go out and recruit. A lot of our time was spent on Zoom and the telephone to try to recruit players from all over the country. The transfers had never been to the USC campus and we never met them in person, or their families. We were fortunate to still sign a good recruiting class. It was a unique time in the recruiting world and college basketball.”
LA County treated universities the same as public health clubs and gyms.
“We were not allowed to have our players work out at Galen Center so there was no reason for the players to return to campus since we couldn’t do anything,” Enfield said. “The fall semester started at USC on August 17 and there were no in-person summer classes.”
When classes began, the team started to workout on the football field under a tent with masks on.
“They could do conditioning and strengthening with the strength coach. In the last few weeks we were able to go outside on campus tennis courts where baskets were set up,” he said. “The players wore masks and gloves in the 95 degree heat. Each player had his own ball and they could not pass the ball to each other. The coaches wore gloves and passed the ball to individual players and they got their own rebounds. There was no interaction among the players.”
The state guidelines were recently relaxed to allow a larger group to be inside together. Thursday, October 2 was the first day in over six months that the Trojans were able to work in the gym and have player contact. Formal practice will begin on October 14.
In March, when the season came to an abrupt end, the players were very disappointed, and it was a challenging time. Enfield said the team and staff felt great about their prospects in the Pac 12 Tournament and winning some games in the NCAA Tournament. He was proud that the players understood in a very mature way that the pandemic is a world wide health issue and was much bigger than basketball. The players masked their disappointment and they handled it very maturely, though Andy said the staff knew that the players “were very devastated because they could not compete for a Pac-12 championship and in the NCAA Tournament.”
The college basketball season will begin on November 25 with a 27 game season. Enfield understands that each Pac-12 team will play a 20 game league schedule as planned before the pandemic. Each team can also play two games in one multi-team event (MTE) and 5 other non-conference games. None of USC’s non conference games are yet definitely scheduled; every school all over the country is scrambling to complete their schedules. Some teams are backing out of their MTEs. The Trojans were scheduled to play two games in Brooklyn as part of a four team event, though the event has recently been moved to Connecticut. Andy has heard rumors that not all three of the other teams have recommitted to play. If the event is held, the Trojans will participate.
Coach Enfield’s Comments On Each Trojan Player
Sophomore Isaiah Mobley – “He should have a breakout season and will be relied upon to be more productive than he was last year in all areas of his game. He is a talented young man and we expect him to have a terrific season offensively and defensively. He has been working on his overall consistency because he will be relied on to produce at a high level this year.”
Sophomore Max Agbonkpolo – “Max will be relied on to produce in much the same way as Isaiah. He did not play as much as Isaiah did last year. He has to take the next step from a leadership and from a productivity standpoint. We have a young team and though we do have three grad transfers our young players like Max and Isaiah and our freshmen have to play well for us to have a chance for a successful season. Max can play everywhere; he can play on either wing and as the four man if we go small.”
Sophomore Ethan Anderson – “ Ethan has to make a jump with his scoring and his play making. He has to be a reliable scorer. I thought he improved a lot last year. Our coaching staff is very hopeful that he will become one of the better distributors in the league. Ethan leads by example. He has an outstanding work ethic and is a great competitor and we are looking for leadership from him.”
Red Shirt Junior Noah Baumann – Noah has two years of eligibility. “ Noah is probably the best pure shooter on the team. He needs to use his strength; he’s a big, strong young man at 6’6” with a strong build. He will be asked to guard smaller and bigger people and we need his outside shooting to stretch the floor for our offense.
Grad Transfer Tajh Eaddy – “Tajh is a combo guard and can play on or off the ball. He’s experienced and averaged 15 points a game as a sophomore and 9 or 10 as a junior. We will rely on his shooting and his play making. Ethan and Tajh will be our two primary ball handlers.”
Grad Transfer Isaac White – “Isaac is a terrific athlete and a big time energy rebounder and slasher to the basket. He has a very quick first step with the ball. He will play all over the court for us and will be a big factor in what we are trying to do. He’ll play both wing spots and as the four if we go small.”
Grad Transfer Chevez Goodwin -“Chevez is a big power forward and elite rebounder and runs the floor very well. He has a back to the basket game and provides great energy on the boards.”
Freshman Evan Mobley – “Evan is very skilled at seven feet tall. Defensively, he is very long and he can average as many blocks as Onyeka last year or more and change the game defensively with his length and athleticism. He has a great touch at the rim and he has a good perimeter jump shot. He is working on his three point shot; he needs to work on his three point technique and we expect him to shot the three ball well this year.”
Freshman Boubicar Coulibaly – “Boubicar is an exceptional athlete and is very fast. He has a high motor on the offensive glass. We expect him to really help us as a freshman and will compete for playing time. He plays very hard and is such a good athlete. He has only played basketball for three years and has a very high upside. Once he gets comfortable with college basketball we think he will be an exceptional player.”
Junior Transfer Drew Peterson – “He is a complete basketball player and scored, rebounded and distributed the ball well at Rice. He will sit out and work on his game this season.” Drew is a 6’7” guard and has two years of eligibility remaining.
Sophomore Josh Morgan – “Josh is filling out and needs to work in the weight room He’s proven himself to be a potentially elite defender and rim protector with his shot blocking and length. He has an unbelievable positive attitude and should continue to improve dramatically this season and help the team to prepare for games.” He is 6’ 11”and was the Big West Defensive Player of the Year at Long Beach State as a freshman last year and has three years of eligibility left.
Analysts’ Predictions For Trojans
Several analysts have released their Pac-12 predictions, and most have USC In the upper part of the second division. The returning players combined for only 14 points last season and none of the players have been in Coach Enfield’s system for more than a year. The Trojans have great size and will be strong inside at both ends but the team has only nine scholarship players for this season. The Trojans have enough talent to make the NCAA Tournament if (1) each player meets the coaches’ expectations, (2) they jell very quickly as a team, and (3) avoid major injuries.