By Rich Ruben
Here are the latest news and notes from the world of USC basketball, as the Trojans prepare for the 2019-2020 season, which tips off with an exhibition game against Villanova on Oct. 18.
– At practice on Wednesday, Jonah Mathews wore a brace which appeared to be regulated to work on his left shoulder during conditioning, but took it off when the practice began. He said he “ tweaked” the shoulder during a recent scrimmage, and that it was “sore”. During the portions of practice open to the media, he was not limited in any way. The team is otherwise healthy.
– Practice was on the main court in Galen. One recruit and his father were present.
– At the beginning of practice, they were practicing a secondary break, similar to what UNC has used forever. Grad transfer Quinton Adlesh was impressive, moving the ball up court very quickly.
– Later, they went full court five on five, with both sides playing man defense.
– Everything freshman Onyeka Okongwu does appears effortless and smooth. When he leaps for a rebound, he gets off his feet very quickly. Can’t remember another front court player for the Trojans who was so athletic.
– Before practice began, former walk on guard and current grad assistant Kurt Karis swished a shot from half court. Jonah teased him to do it again, and he did.
Interview with Andy Enfield
– Andy complimented Ethan Anderson when Ethan left the court after practice.
– He is not close to settling on a starting lineup for the Villanova exhibition game.
– They have 5 scholarships available for next season. He would like to find a seven footer and some shooters to replace the guys who will leave after this season.
– In answer to whether he was surprised that Onyeka was not included on the Pac-12 Media preseason team, he said he doesn’t pay any attention to preseason predictions.
– I asked him why he rarely speaks to players when they come off the court during games. He said that he is concentrating on the game when he makes substitutions. He gives his assistants a lot of responsibility including talking to players when they come out and correcting any problems they see, and he doesn’t want to show a player up if he is being replaced because of mistakes.
Interview with Chuck O’Bannon
– Chuck stayed after practice and worked on his shot. He said he feels great for the first time since he has been at SC.
– He sees his role to play hard on both ends whenever he is in the game, and to contribute offensively.
– He said he has a great passion for basketball, and has worked on his game his whole life. Now that he is healthy, he hopes fans will judge him based on how hard he plays this year and what he contributes, without preconceived opinions.
– One basketball staffer told me that he has been very pleasantly surprised by Chuck’s energy, passion and hard work, and believes Chuck really wants to contribute this season.
Preseason Pac-12 Media Poll
The conference media picked the Trojans to finish 5th, behind Oregon, Colorado, Washington and Arizona. It is interesting to note that among the top four, only Colorado has the bulk of its players and scoring back from last season. The other three, like the Trojans, will depend a lot on new players. With so many key freshmen on many teams, it’s legitimate to question how accurate this preseason poll will prove to be. Washington’s ranking sticks out; they lost four starters who were the top four scorers and the leading two rebounders. They must also must replace the Pac 12 Defensive Player of the Year, who made their zone lethal.
The media also selected a ten player preseason All PAC 12 team, and senior forward Nick Rakocevic was selected, along with 2 freshmen from Washington and one from Arizona. The Trojans did not have anyone on the five man second team. Arizona and Oregon each had a freshman on the second team. Senior guard Jonah Mathews and freshman forward Isaiah Mobley were named honorable mention. The conference has a number of the top freshmen in the country, but It’s very surprising that SC’s freshman forward Okongwu was completely overlooked. Let’s hope he uses this as extra motivation.
Other tidbits from media day: UCLA was picked to finish 8th, and UCLA and Cal are the only teams without a player named on any of the lists.
The fall signing period is only a month away. A previous column addressed five star big man Evan Mobley verbally committing to the Trojans, and that some recruiting services are listing four star guard Jaylen Clark as a likely SC signee. The services list several other players who include the Trojans in their top five, though in most cases it is hard to know whether this information is accurate. For some players, the list of final schools vary by site. Notwithstanding the caveats, here is a list:
Five star Ziaire Williams, 6’7” small forward from Sierra Canyon
Five Star Makur Maker, 6’11” center from Pacific Academy in Irvine
Four Star Keon Ambrose-Helton, 6’8” power forward from Toronto
Four Star Tari Eason, 6’8” power forward from Seattle
Three Star Bradley Ezewiro, 6’8” center from Oak Hill Academy in Torrance
It is interesting that all of these players other than Clark and Williams are front court players.
The October 18 Villanova exhibition game will be previewed early next week.