By Rich Ruben
Today the conference media day was held by zoom. Each coach and one player per team answered questions from the host, national basketball analyst Andy Katz, and media members. The media has picked the Trojans to finish sixth, one spot behind Arizona. Wildcat coach Shawn Miller said he thinks his team is ranked too high as a result of massive roster turnover. The Trojans have the same issue for the second straight season. My take is that the Trojans can finish a little higher if all of the new and returning players meet expectations; a better result will be much easier if Drew Peterson becomes eligible to play this year. As of today there is still no word from the NCAA.
Preseason All-Pac 12 Team
Evan Mobley is on the ten-player Preseason All-Pac 12 team. No other Trojan is included on the five-man second team or honorable mention. Last year Isaiah Mobley was listed as preseason honorable mention but he was not included this time. UCLA has four players on the three teams (two are honorable mention) and no Arizona player is included.
Each coach brings his top returning player to these events. USC only has three returnees and Ethan was the right choice for the Trojans. Seven of the other 11 players who took part today are on the Pac-12 first team and two more are on the second team. Arizona included Jermal Baker, a junior guard who was a reserve last year and averaged only 5.7 points on 36% shooting from the field. Washington included junior big man Hameir Wright who was the third choice on the Huskies front line last season because the Huskies had two five star freshman big men who have declared for the draft. The most surprising player getting pre season notice is preseason second-team guard Tyger Campbell from UCLA. It seems a stretch that Campbell is one of the fifteen best players in the conference.
Yesterday was the first day players can sign national letters of intent. Enfield said he wasn’t sure whose letters have been received in part due to a computer glitch. He expects a full list will be published Monday. Six-foot-five guard Kobe Johnson from Wisconsin, 6-foot-5 top-50 guard Reese Dixon- Waters and 6-foot-9 forward Harrison Hornery from Mater Dei have tweeted that they have signed. Another high school guard and a junior college forward are also expected to sign with the Trojans.
Comments From Andy Enfield
Andy Katz said at the beginning of USC’s session that he expected the Trojans to be in the thick of the conference race and in contention for the NCAA Tournament. He also remarked that the Trojans are going from a freshman lottery pick last season to another one this year.
Coach Enfield discussed the success the Trojans have had over the last five years, winning 109 games, which is third best in the conference. He also said that when Big O is drafted next week, he will be become the fifth Trojan player in the NBA in the last three years, joining D’Anthony Melton (Memphis), Jordan MacLaughlin (Minnesota), Chimezie Metu (San Antonio) and Kevin Porter (Cleveland).
Enfield said that it has been hard to rebuild most of the roster two years in a row and it is challenging to teach so many new players the offense and defense.
“The players did a tremendous job last year and this year’s team is even more unselfish,” Enfield said.
Both of the Mobley brothers have tremendous basketball IQs and Chevez Goodwin is also very smart on the court. Their size and length will help the point guards get the ball to the big men in the right places.
This season will be very unusual.
“We were 8-1 in home league games last year and several other teams have great home court advantages,” Enfield said.
Enfield expects there will be more road wins in the conference this year.
Andy Katz complimented Ethan Anderson and called him “very impressive.” Enfield said Anderson “was tremendous for us last year.” He has great toughness and leadership. Anderson “needs to get close to double figures and 6-7 assists per game” this year. A lot of the leadership on last year’s team is gone and Anderson will fill part of the void.
The Trojans will rely on their defense again this season. Last year Onyeka and Nick couldn’t stretch the floor on offense and the staff decided before the season that the Trojans would be a defense-first team. This year both Evan and Isaiah can step out and make shots and are great passers and they will create more room for the guards. The staff expects the offense to be better than last season.
Enfield was asked how hard the Mobley brothers compete against each other. He said that they compete at a very high level and gave as an example that Isaiah received a hard elbow from Evan yesterday in a scrimmage. Enfield joked that it might have been an opportunity for the younger brother to get back at his older brother and said “it is fun to watch them play and compete.”
Comments From Ethan Anderson
Evan and Onyeka are similar in how they dominate. Neither is vocal and Onyeka never complained about not getting the ball. It is great to know that he can lob the ball almost anywhere near the rim and Evan will go up and get it.
Ethan is focused on being a threat to score at all three levels and he worked on his shot all summer. He shot threes very well in high school and his confidence is much higher than last season. He has made 47% of his threes in the fall scrimmages.
“The game is coming to me much easier,” Anderson said.
He didn’t know any of the five transfers when they started working outside over the summer. They are all unselfish and very competitive in practice.
“It already feels like I’ve known them most of my life,” he said.
Ethan anticipates that he will be defending the opponent’s best offensive guard and knows that his roles on offense and defense will be a key for the team’s success. He is looking to average double figures and it will be his responsibility to make sure his teammates are in the right place on each play. He also expects to get some easy shots because the Mobleys are great passers and scorers and defenses can’t sag off either of them.
Andy Katz asked Anderson whether the Trojans can build off the team’s momentum from the end of last season even with a large roster turnover. The team has been watching a lot of film from last season particularly on defense. They are trying to develop some of the same defensive identity. This team is much taller and it feels like he’s playing with giants.
The last question was whether academics are more challenging this year. He said that it “has been a challenge for me; I learn better in person”. It’s hard for him to be on a computer all day and he has found that he needs to force himself to pay more attention.
The first game is less than two weeks away. It hasn’t been possible to evaluate any player or the team since the practices are closed due to the virus. The conference is deep, but it was deep last year too. Three Arizona freshman are in this draft (Nico Mannion, Josh Green and Zeke Nnaji), as are the two Washington freshman big men (Jaden McDaniels and Isaiah Stewart), and Stanford’s great freshman point guard Tyrell Taylor. All of them have been listed as potential first round picks in at least some mock drafts. Onyeka is expected to be the first Pac-12 player drafted, but the Trojans filled his spot with a player possibly more talented in Evan Mobley.
The Trojans were not expected to finish in a tie for third place last season, a game out of second and two behind the leader. This season’s team has returning sophomores instead of returning seniors, but the transfer talent is better. With much less time together than teams in other states due to California and Los Angeles COVID restrictions, we won’t know if this team can be successful until they start to play. The Trojans must avoid injuries, especially to Evan and Ethan, and the entire roster must play to their potential. If all of this happens this Trojan team could exceed expectations again.