It was understood that Onyeka Okongwu was going to be terrific during his one year at USC. And still, Okongwu exceeded expectations in a season where he helped lead the Trojans to a No. 4 seed in the Pac-12 Tournament and a likely NCAA Tournament berth.
Ultimately, USC fans are forced to marvel at what was, and live with the frustrations of what if. USC finished the season on a three-game winning streak and was set to face Arizona in the second round of the conference tournament before the season was cut short due to concerns about the spread of COVID-19.
And like that, Okongwu’s USC career was over.
The USC big man took to twitter to announce the news.
“What a ride it’s been my first year at USC. My freshman campaign at the school has been nothing short of spectacular,” Okongwu wrote. “However, all good things must come to an end. I want to take the next step when the opportunity presents itself. With careful consideration, I am announcing that I am declaring for the 2020 NBA Draft.”
The 6-foot-9, 245-pound Okongwu was the jewel of the 2019 recruiting class for the Trojans. The five-star prospect chose USC over Arizona State and UCLA, as the No. 20 overall prospect in his class. And while other recruits were more highly regarded, few made the immediate impression Okongwu did.
In his first college game, Okongwu nearly recorded a triple double, tying the USC record with eight blocked shots in a game, to go along with 20 points and 13 rebounds. Okongwu followed that performance with another double-double in his second game and a 33-point outburst in his fifth contest, while leading USC to a 5-0 record to start the year.
Okongwu was held below 10 points just three times this season, on his way to 12 double-doubles and 14 games with at least three blocked shots. And his three-quarter court three-pointer at the halftime buzzer against Arizona late in the year will be a staple of USC basketball highlight videos for years to come.
Okongwu is virtually guaranteed to go in the first round of the upcoming draft, and is a likely lottery pick. While Okongwu might not challenge O.J. Mayo as the highest-drafted Trojan of all time (Mayo went third overall in the 2008 draft), Okongwu could challenge DeMar DeRozan (ninth overall in 2009) as the second-highest drafted player from USC.
For the Trojans, the only reason this isn’t devastating news is due to how expected it was, but this will have a major effect on the roster next season. In Okongwu, USC is losing its leading scorer (16.2 points per game), rebounder (8.6 per game) and shot blocker (2.7 per game). And to compound that issue, USC is actually losing its top four scorers, two rebounders and two shot blockers.
Okongwu joins Nick Rakocevic, Jonah Mathews, Daniel Utomi and Quinton Adlesh off of this past team, with not enough on the roster to replace all of that production. USC also suffered a blow Tuesday night when freshman guard Kyle Sturdivant entered his name onto the transfer portal.
This will put some significant weight on returning players Ethan Anderson and Elijah Weaver at the guard spots, as well as Isaiah Mobley and Max Agbonkpolo as big men. USC will get a lift as transfer guard Noah Baumann becomes eligible and the Trojans reportedly received a commitment from grad transfer guard Tahj Eaddy, but the biggest addition, literally, will come in the form of 5-star center Evan Mobley.
The 7-foot center is regarded as the top prospect in the 2020 recruiting class, and the younger brother of Isaiah will hopefully fill a lot of the production the Trojans will be missing due to Okongwu’s departure. USC also received a recent commitment from Boubacar Coulibaly, though the 6-foot-10 center isn’t expected to make the immediate impact that Mobley will.
The Trojans are still chasing elite prospect Ziaire Williams in the 2020 class, but USC recruiting suffered a blow Tuesday night when 6-foot-10 Columbia grad transfer Patrick Tape committed to Duke.