By Rich Ruben
On Wednesday afternoon I participated in a zoom conference call between USC head coach Andy Enfield, point guard Ethan Anderson and longtime Trojan season ticket holders, where Enfield and Anderson gave their thoughts on a wide range of topics.
The most notable issue facing the USC team right now is an apparent lack of available guards for this season, and I asked Enfield whether the team has sufficient numbers at guard. The Trojans passed on a couple of potential guard transfers before Elijah informed the staff that he was entering the portal. They would still like to add a guard if they can find a player who would fit and provide help this season. The only guards among the nine scholarship players currently on the team and eligible to play this season are Anderson, Tajh Eaddy and Noah Baumann. The Trojans’ 2020-2021 roster includes wings Max Agbonkpolo and Isaiah White, and big men Evan and Isaiah Mobley, Chevez Goodwin and Boubacar Coulibaly.
Enfield was also asked about the departure of Elijah Weaver, who has since announced a commitment to Dayton. Enfield didn’t provide any specifics about Weaver, but he did say that there have been approximately 1,000 transfers among the 351 Division I schools each of the last few years and that USC has had three transfer out – Chuck O’Bannon, Kyle Sturdivant and Weaver. The Trojans also had five players transfer in, though two will redshirt this season.
Enfield noted the increased support for basketball from President Carol L. Folt and Athletic Director Mike Bohn. Enfield and Anderson both said that crowds like the last game against UCLA give the Trojans an important home court advantage. The Trojans were 8-1 at home in the Pac-12 last year and 15-2 overall at home. Andy made the point that 7,000 energized fans every game would greatly help the Trojans at Galen, and emphasized that they face loud and raucous road crowds when they play most road conference games.
Enfield talked about each player on the roster. He described Anderson as a very good position defender who improved over the course of the season at both ends. He will likely guard the opponent’s best perimeter player each game. Ethan had seven assists and no turnovers in the final win over the Bruins.
They anticipate a big jump in Agbonkpolo’s play. The Trojans need him to use what will often be a big size advantage over most players who guard him, and score from outside. They are also expecting a lot of improvement from Isaiah Mobley, who is now completely over his foot injury. Baumann made a very high percentage of his three-point shots at San Jose State, and they expect him to be an important offensive force.
The three grad transfers must contribute right away. Chevez Goodwin will provide good front court depth. Newly married Isaiah White, a 6-foot-7 forward, is a terrific rebounder and very athletic. Tajh Eaddy is a combo guard who can score from outside and drive to the basket.
The big addition is seven-foot freshman Evan Mobley. He has a 7-foot-5 wingspan and averaged 6.5 blocks per game last season. He is very athletic, is faster down the court than some guards, and jumps up to 12.5 feet. The other big freshman, Boubacar Coulibaly, is 6-foot-10. He came to the US three years ago from Mali and didn’t know English when he arrived. He is also very athletic, though he will likely not play big minutes this year, but he has a good future.
Two transfers will redshirt this year. Drew Peterson is an athletic 6-foot-8 guard who can handle the ball and score from inside or outside. Six-foot-11 Josh Morgan is very fast and was the top big man transfer in the West. Peterson will have two years of eligibility left and Morgan will have three years.
USC led the Pac-12 in holding opponents to 64 points, 37% from the field and 29% from three-point range. It is the second time in three years the Trojans led the conference in defense. Last season they finished ninth in the country in defensive efficiency. In discussing the recent success on defense, Enfield mentioned that D’Anthony Melton led the NBA this season in steals per 48 minutes
All of the big men can protect the rim, and Enfield wants to play to his players’ strengths. They adjusted the offense last year when teams began to regularly double team Onyeka Okongwu. He expects there will be some mid-season adjustments when they see how other teams play Evan Mobley. The staff will evaluate the defensive abilities of the new players, and decide how to employ the team’s size and athleticism. These are not the Trojans of a decade ago when Taj Gibson had to play North Carolina’s deep front line by himself in the NCAA Tournament—this team is big. This past season, USC played with two bigs inside most of the time while the year before, Nick Rakocevic played inside and Bennie Boatwright played a lot on the perimeter on offense to take advantage of the combination of his size and three point ability.
Recent Basketball Success
Jonah Mathews and Rakocevic left USC with 88 wins, the most for any Trojan player. They didn’t get the chance to add to the total when the post season was lost. The team has won 105 games over the last five years, by far the best five-year win total in program history. They have the third-most wins in the conference over that period, behind Oregon and Arizona.
Enfield’s USC run of success began with signing Jordan McLaughlin. JMac picked the Trojans over UCLA and other basketball powers. The signings of Weaver, Chimezie Metu, Boatwright, Melton, Mathews and Rakocevic followed. Okongwu and the Mobley brothers could have gone anywhere. Enfield believes the Trojan basketball brand is much stronger now than it has ever been. There would have been two more NCAA tournament invitations if this year’s post season wasn’t cancelled and had the Trojan team’s second place finish in the regular season and in the Pac-12 Tournament team three years ago not been slighted by the selection committee.
The Last Second Win Over The Bruins
Anderson said that Mathew’s game-winning shot was the biggest play he has ever experienced. Enfield didn’t celebrate when the shot went in; instead he froze. He looked at the clock and saw that over a second remained and he immediately thought back to the buzzer beater half-court shot by Stanford to beat the Trojans three years ago. He saw Mathews and Mobley celebrating as they strutted down court and Okongwu jogging with his back to the ball. Rakocevic was the only Trojan who realized the game wasn’t over and tried to influence the shot, which turned out to be very short
More From Ethan Anderson
Anderson is staying with his parents in Compton this summer and has been constantly working out. He decided to attend Fairfax High because of basketball. He left home each day at 5 am in order to work out before classes started. After practice it usually took an hour and a half to get home. It’s that determination that the Trojan coaches saw early and led to Anderson becoming the starting point guard.
The game slowed down for him as the season went on. He learned to value each possession. The USC staff had very detailed scouting reports and were particularly helpful with him on defense, showing what each opposing guard tried to do and how to defend them.
He has a couple of individual goals for this season He wants other teams to consider him a threat. He has been working on his three-point shot and also wants to average five rebounds per game.
The schedule is tougher this fall. The Trojans third game is against Gonzaga in Portland. Enfield expects the Zags to open the season as the No. 1 or 2 team in the country and they have a lot of returning veteran experience. USC also plays at Kansas and plays two games in Brooklyn against Notre Dame, Vanderbilt or UConn.
The conference schedule is also tougher. For the first time since the Pac-10 expanded to 12 teams, each team will play 20 conference games instead of 18. USC will play the Oregon schools once each, presumably at home since the Trojans only played the Oregon schools on the road this past season. The extra Pac-12 games will replace home games against smaller schools.
Enfield added that the team hopes to hold a scrimmage that is open to the public, though that assumes coronavirus-related issues don’t preclude it. There is no date set for that at this time.
Later in the summer I will provide a very early preview of this year’s team and try to compare the team to the 2019-2020 squad. The Trojans have talent and one of the best front courts in the nation. USC will rely on new players even more than last season. The Trojans returned seniors Mathews and Rakocevic and sophomore Weaver last year. This season the three returnees have only played one season each. That is a combined three years playing for the Trojans and in Enfield’s system. With three graduate transfers the team will not be one of the youngest teams in the country, but they will have as little returning team experience as any team in any conference.