It was just three days ago that the USC Trojans football team kicked off spring ball, the basketball team was preparing to face Arizona in the second round of the Pac-12 tournament, and the football coaches reeled in their first verbal commitment of the spring.
Over those last three days–the following 24 hours, really–everything about this spring changed, as USC, the Pac-12 conference and the NCAA announced protocols to fight the spread of COVID-19. USC spring ball was postponed indefinitely. The Pac-12 basketball tournament as well as the men’s and women’s NCAA tournaments were canceled. And recruiting in all sports was transitioned into a dead period.
What this means for USC football is that it will miss its first padded practice today and will not participate in any full team activities–strength and conditioning, team meetings, etc.–until this postponement is lifted. If USC is able to pick back up with spring ball at some point in the future, it’s likely that the NCAA will need to make adjustments to its rules. As USC has already had a practice, there likely won’t be any way for it to hold all 15 spring ball practices and still fall within the 34-day limit that is allowed for the 15 practices to take place. Certainly, that is a bridge that will be crossed when the time comes.
Quarterback Kedon Slovis was fully healthy for Wednesday’s practice and looked ready to take the next step after a terrific freshman season. We got to see glimpses of tight end Daniel Imatorbhebhe, wide receivers Bru McCoy and Kyle Ford, and linebacker Solomon Tuliaupupu–four players who have earned plenty of expectations from fans and arguably rank as four of the most anticipated players in the conference for the 2020 season. Will we be able to see them at all this spring, or even during summer player run practices?
What this means for USC basketball is still to be determined. The NCAA announced recently that it would explore eligibility relief for spring sport athletes–giving participants an extra year of eligibility in the wake of season cancellations and postponements. That includes baseball, men’s volleyball, beach volleyball, golf, lacrosse, rowing, softball, tennis, track and women’s water polo.
There will also be further discussion about what to do with winter sport athletes, which includes basketball, bowling, gymnastics, hockey, fencing, skiing, swim and dive, and wrestling. USC men’s basketball players have been quoted as saying they wouldn’t explore an extra year of eligibility, but that’s a situation worth monitoring if the option presents itself.
It’s tough to see a full year being granted for players who might have not missed any games at non-tournament programs, or just one or two at other programs. And if that last-second win against UCLA is the final USC moment for the seniors and players who leave the program early, it’ll feel bittersweet for now, but it’s not a bad lasting memory.
On the recruiting front, USC is one of the programs who was a little lucky in that it was able to host an elite junior day last weekend. While the Trojans were scheduled to host a number of out-of-state visitors and local prospects throughout the remainder of spring ball, USC coaches were still able to get some face-to-face time with a large number of targets in the 2021 and 2022 classes this spring. Now, with on and off campus recruiting on hold, the USC coaches will still be allowed to make phone calls, text and interact via social media during this hiatus.
The biggest recruiting news this week came Wednesday, when offensive tackle Mason Murphy (San Juan Capistrano, Calif./JSerra) announced his commitment. USC signed six offensive linemen in the 2020 class, but it’s likely the Trojans have learned from the past few years, where they fell woefully short in recruiting big men. Murphy is the first offensive line commitment in this class, but the Trojans are in on several others.
One of those talented big-man targets is Bram Walden (Scottsdale, Calif./Saguaro), the nation’s No. 88 overall prospect with offers from programs across the country and Oregon likely out in front at this point. But USC was able to get him on campus and this staff has talked about outrecruiting everybody for prospects it wants.
The Trojans also hosted a number of prospects from local power St. John Bosco, including 2022 defensive lineman Nate Burrell.
Burrell is in the same class as top offensive line prospect and teammate Earnest Greene, who was also at USC this past weekend. And those two were joined by 2021 offensive line target Maximus Gibbs.
In terms of out of state prospects, the Trojans were able to get dynamic wide receiver Destyn Pazon (New Orleans/Edna Karr) on campus for a visit. Pason is a top-100 prospect with offers from Alabama, Florida, LSU, Oklahoma and others.
USC cornerbacks coach Donte Williams spoke during his introductory press conference about how important it is for him to approach each recruit individually, and never send the same conversation-starting text to multiple prospects. It looks like that approach will extend to various parts of recruiting, as the Trojans staff was able to put together a very unique, New Orleans-esque photo shoot with Pazon.
USC was also able to get an unofficial visit from 2021 wide receiver Jaedon Wilson (DeSoto, Texas/DeSoto) recently. The 3-star receiver doesn’t yet hold a USC offers, and also stopped at Cal and UCLA during his California trip. Wilson is the younger brother of former Ohio State running back Donte Wilson.
That’s it for unofficial and official visits for the foreseeable future, as all on and off campus recruiting is on hold. The off campus bit doesn’t really affect anything yet, as coaches aren’t allowed to visit prospects for the evaluation period until April 15. But on campus recruiting being stopped is a major hit to a USC staff that seemed very excited to get recruits on campus this spring to get a close look at a program hoping to inject some energy on the field and in the recruiting department.
And in basketball recruiting, the Trojans were able to add a commitment Friday night, as three-star center Boubacar Coulibaly (San Gabriel, Calif./San Gabriel Academy) pledged to the Trojans.
The 6-foot-10 center joins 7-footer and No. 1 overall prospect Evan Mobley in USC’s 2021 recruiting class. With Onyeka Onkongwu likely off to the NBA after his one year at USC, and senior Nick Rakocevic exhausting his eligibility, the addition of two big men in this class will help the Trojans’ front line.