By Rich Ruben
Will Evan Mobley Play For USC?
The Trojans’ only fall signee was a “big get” in more ways than one. He is seven feet tall, and is the No. 3 overall prospect in the 2020 high school recruiting class. Evan Mobley is the Trojans’ highest rated recruit since OJ Mayo and is a very likely one-and-done. He is very athletic and handles the ball well for a big man. He has good post moves and can score from inside or outside. Evan is also a good interior defensive player and shot blocker. He does not have Onyeka Okongwu’s strength or explosiveness, and may have trouble with bulky inside players, but he has a much greater offensive skill set.
The issue hanging over Evan and college basketball everywhere is whether there will be a season, and if so, what type of season. He turned down an opportunity to play and get paid in the G League in order to play with his brother Isaiah for maybe the last time, and to play with good friend Max Agbonkpolo. He is also close to Onyeka, but Big O played so well last season that he will be a lottery pick and possible top-5 draftee. Of course, having his father, USC assistant coach Eric Mobley, on the coaching staff didn’t hurt.
Under the current system, a high school player can not be drafted until he has been out of high school at least one year. If there is no college basketball or no Pac-12 basketball in 2020-2021, Evan will be eligible for next year’s draft. It is hard to imagine that he will stay at USC for a second year hoping to play for the Trojans.
President Carol Folt has not yet decided if the campus will be open for the fall semester, even on a delayed opening basis. It seems likely that if the student body is not on campus that the basketball season will not start in November, even without fans.
Guard Transfers Leave A Gaping Hole
USC has not yet announced its spring recruiting class. They are waiting on at least one player in order to announce all recruits at the same time; it is unclear if they are waiting for a player who previously committed and may be having second thoughts or needs to complete a class to be eligible, or possibly waiting to add a previously uncommitted player. Another possibility is that a high school guard who has committed for the 2021 season is working to reclassify in order to play this fall; there have been some rumors that one of the two shooting guards committed for 2021 may try to reclassify. Reese Dixon-Waters is ranked as a top 50 prospect and Malik Thomas is a top 100 player.
The Trojans are in desperate need of backcourt help this year. Chuck O’Bannon leaving in December didn’t impact next year’s roster very much, if at all. He barely played and was often injured while at USC, and there was doubt about his mental toughness and commitment.
But since the season ended, two more guards have entered the transfer portal. Freshman back up point guard Kyle Sturdivant has already committed to Georgia Tech. He did not play a lot this past season. However, Andy Enfield said a few times during the season that Kyle will become a very good player, and that he and fellow freshman point guard Ethan Anderson might play together at times next season. Kyle’s future may be as an off guard. He is athletic and fast, and will likely be a good scorer when given the opportunity to play more. His ball handling skills are not elite, but he would also have been a back up ball handler. With the death of his father late in the season, his transfer to be near home in Georgia wasn’t a surprise.
The big surprise was the decision of Elijah Weaver to enter the portal. Weaver started for the first half of this past season and then became the key backup at both guard positions. He didn’t show as much improvement from his freshman to sophomore season as the coaches hoped, but he had flashes. He was the main reason the Trojans beat Stanford in a key home game. He made a very difficult off balance three to tie the game with only a few seconds left, and scored most of the Trojan points in overtime. Elijah became very effective in driving to the basket and making difficult shots, and made enough three point shots that he couldn’t be left unguarded outside. He hasn’t stated publicly his reason for leaving USC.
Assuming all of the players who have committed to USC enroll, the Trojans need help in the backcourt. The only three guards on the roster for next season will be Ethan Anderson, Tahj Eaddy, and Noah Baumann. Anderson was a pleasant surprise and became the starting point guard. He was a late recruit last spring, flipping from UNLV after a coaching change. Grad transfer Eaddy is a 6’2” guard who averaged 9 points last season at Santa Clara and made 33% of his three point shots; both numbers were better the prior year. He was a part time starter last year and averaged 15 points in the games he started and he made 83% of his foul shots. The Trojans may be able to use Tahj to spell Ethan at times, but he is not a natural point guard.
The third guard is 6’6” San Jose State transfer Noah Baumann who sat out last season at SC though he practiced with the team. He has two years’ eligibility left. At San Jose he was a good spot up three point shooter and made 45% of his threes and averaged 10 points as a sophomore. He is not especially athletic and may have issues guarding quick guards. I didn’t see enough of him at practice to know if he can beat a defender off the dribble, but he is a legitimate three point threat.
Even with Elijah and Kyle the off guard position needed of another scorer. The Trojans have to replace Jonah Mathews’ scoring, defense and leadership, and also replace Daniel Utomi’s three point scoring. With the loss of the two transfers, the Trojans need at least two more guards, one of whom must be able to play the point at times, and both need to play reasonably good defense and score from the outside. The coaching staff swung for the fences this recruiting cycle and made a big effort to sign top 10 players Ziaire Williams and Josh Christopher, both of whom committed very late. Williams signed with Stanford and Christopher with Arizona State.
One possible avenue to fill the need for guards likely won’t be available. The NCAA is likely to defer to a later date a rule change which would allow non graduates to transfer once without sitting out a season. It is now late enough in the recruiting cycle that all of the high school guards in the top 200 have signed or are committed elsewhere, and the same for highly ranked grad transfers. The Trojans are left with three options to find the players they need: junior college transfers, reclassification of 2021 commits, or find a late diamond in the rough as they did last spring in Ethan Anderson. He was not highly ranked by the recruiting services but played well above his ranking this past season.
There is precedent at USC for a very late reclassification. Freshman point guard Ryan Francis was home in Louisiana to visit his mother over the Mother’s Day weekend in 2006 when he was tragically killed by a gunshot. The shooter missed the intended victim and hit Ryan instead. Daniel Hackett reclassified after Francis’ death and enrolled at USC a year early to fill the open point guard position.
It will be interesting to see if the coaching staff can fill the need for quality backcourt help. If they do, and if there is a season, the Trojans will be a team to watch.