By Rich Ruben
USC basketball continues its prep for the 2019-20 season, as an intriguing mix of newcomers and veterans should make the Trojans a talented team capable of making a run in the NCAA Tournament this coming spring.
Head coach Andy Enfield is very pleased with the first week of practice, and said the team is practicing hard.
– They will be a deep, physical team, that has a lot of good shooters. The physicality of the practices has stood out; far more physical than last year’s team. He said there have been more charges taken in the first week of practice than all of last year.
– They will play all three bigs together a lot, and will play zone when all three are in.
– Onyeka Okongwu is a tremendous talent. He is physical, and a very quick leaper. He is fast to the ball in his defensive rotations. Isaiah Mobley is somewhat behind. He broke his foot and had surgery four months ago. He didn’t play on the European trip, but is now getting back to his game. Mobley’s best day of practice so far was on Monday.
– They will need a lot from the freshman class to achieve the success they all expect, and he thinks the freshmen are up to the task.
– The coaches will try different combinations in the Villanova exhibition game. He is looking forward to seeing the new players against a top tier college team.
-Elijah Weaver is excited about this season. He has grown an inch, and is now 6’6”.
– He will play both guard positions, and believes he has improved his ball handling and his passing skills.
– Among the new players, Onyeka has made the biggest impression on Elijah; he is also high on Ethan Anderson. Elijah says Ethan is a smart player with great court awareness
– Jonah Mathews is a captain this season, and sees himself and Nick Rakocevic as the team leaders. He said the grad transfers’ D-1 experience has been very helpful
– He believes the team will be very good; the freshmen can all play. He is especially impressed with Oneyka. He also complimented Ethan.
– Jonah wants USC to be the team that other teams don’t want to face in the tournament in March. They didn’t reach that level last year, but Jonah said this team is deeper and more athletic.
Other News and Notes
– One of the most important decisions for the coaching staff over the rest of preseason practice will be to decide who they want to have the ball at the end of tight games. Last year it was clearly Bennie Boatwright, and the year before Jordan McLaughlin. The coaches want one or two players to step up and earn that right.
– Two recruits with their parents were at practice on Monday.
– The new player I have been most impressed with so far is grad transfer Daniel Utomi. In shooting drills on Monday, he made nine straight threes from the top of the key with a very smooth shot. In team drills he drove hard to the basket and finished. He has a very strong upper body and is an athletic 6’6” and listed at 225 pounds, though he looks bigger.
– Jonah Mathews has been working after practice with Assistant Coach Jason Hart on Jonah’s moves to the basket from the left side of the key.
– The two freshman point guards, Ethan Anderson and Kyle Sturdivant, were shooting corner threes after practice, each making a high percentage.
– Almost everyone on the team has a good three point stroke, at least in drills. Lot of three point shooting practice so far.
– At Monday’s open portion of the practice, they worked on three on three and four on four half court rotations in their zone defense. It appears to be more of a matchup zone than a zone which tries to trap the ball.
– Anderson has very quick hands and should be able to get his hands on a lot of balls on defense, especially in a zone. I’ve been told that he looks to pass first on the break, but I have not seen any 5 on 5 practice.
– It looks like there is a lot of work and competition going on in practice and the players are also having fun.
– The two grad transfer shooting guards look very different, and bring different skills sets. Although they both are good three point shooters, Quinton Adlesh appears to want to play on the perimeter, while Daniel Utomi can be effective anywhere.
– I was told that Onyeka was the star of the European trip. He has a big body, and is very athletic. From what I’ve seen, he has a nice shooting form from the outside, though I have not seen him make a high percentage. He gets off the floor very quickly to contest shots and rebound.
– Freshman Max Agbonkpolo, a 6’8” wing, has a very smooth outside shot.
– In a dribbling drill, Onyeka, Max and freshman power forward Isaiah Mobley all looked comfortable handling the ball.
– My eyes haven’t been drawn as much to Mobley as many of the other new players. Andy’s explanation that Isaiah is still catching up makes sense; Andy emphasized that Isaiah, like Onyeka, is a very skilled big man.
– The Trojans suffered their first injury of the preseason. Returning walk on 6’5” guard McKay Anderson will have surgery for a leg injury and will likely miss the season.
– Finally, it is being reported by some recruiting sites that four star top 75 shooting guard Jaylen Clark from Etiwanda is projected to sign with the Trojans. SC will need to add shooters in this class, with the two grad transfers and Jonah Mathews leaving after this season. 6’6” San Jose State transfer shooting guard Noah Baumann will have two years of eligibility after sitting out this season.