By Rich Ruben
The USC Trojans secured five new commitments in the last couple of weeks. The list includes one 2020 freshman, two grad transfers for 2020, and two freshmen for 2021. With Onyeka Okongwu entering the draft, and Kyle Sturdivant in the transfer portal, the Trojans return only four scholarship players who played this season, three rising sophomores and one rising junior, plus a redshirt junior transfer who sat out this year.
Let’s take a quick look at what the 2020-2021 roster looks like as of now and consider where the Trojans still need help.
The front court group may be complete. Evan Mobley joins his brother Isaiah and new freshman commit Boubacar Coulibaly, who is a true 5. This group has good size and a good mix of skills. The big question is whether Boubacar will be ready to contribute as a freshman. Evan is a good defensive player, and though he won’t bring the same inside defensive presence, explosiveness, and shot blocking as Big O, he is three inches taller, blocked a lot of shots in high school, and is a much more complete offensive player. The major issue for this group is that all three need to gain weight and strength.
The Trojans have a pair of wings with good size; Max Agbonkpolo and grad transfer Isaiah White are 6-foot-8 and 6-foot-7, respectively. Like the front court players, Max also needs to gain strength, but he is very athletic and can shoot. White can play with one of the big men when Andy decides to use a smaller lineup, similar to the role Daniel Utomi filled at times this season. White is an inch taller, a better rebounder, and much more athletic than Daniel and finishes very well at the rim, though he does not have the same outside shooting ability.
At guard, there is a nice mix of players. Junior Elijah Weaver and redshirt junior Noah Bauman are both 6-foot-6 with very different skill sets. Elijah is athletic, a reasonably good defender who can get better, and is at his best offensively on fast breaks, driving to the basket, and taking open threes. Noah is more of a catch and shoot player and not as athletic. SC has used Elijah at times as the primary ball handler over the past two seasons, but he is much better playing off the ball.
The other two guards are point guard Ethan Anderson and grad transfer Tahj Eaddy. If the staff believes Tahj can spell Ethan at the point as well as playing alongside Ethan, then perhaps they will not look for another lead guard. However, one injury could cause a big problem, and it makes sense to look for one more player who can comfortably play lead guard if needed.
No one can predict whether Drake London will be in the mix for playing time in the second half of the upcoming season. It is likely that the staff is recruiting on the assumption that he will not have an impact; he does not use one of the basketball scholarships.
What The Coaching Staff Should Still Be Seeking
The Trojans still have five scholarships left for 2020, though they won’t necessarily use them all. They have several needs. It is also likely that a player or two will enter the transfer portal after next season since it seems to happen to almost every team each year. The Trojans hold three commitments from high school players for the 2021-2022 season, two guards and a 6-foot-9 forward who prefers to play outside. After the coaching staff decides whether to recruit a point guard, there are a few other needs.
With the possibility that one or both Mobleys may enter the draft after the upcoming season, and with two grad transfers who have only one year of eligibility, the staff also needs to think beyond next season as they continue to build the program. They can afford to take a transfer who fills a long term need who has not graduated and will redshirt as they look ahead to the following season. One obvious need in 2021-2022 is in the front court. Boubacar may the only big left after this coming season. One name that has been linked to USC and is in the transfer portal is Long Beach State freshman center Joshua Morgan who had a nice freshman season. At this point Morgan is better defensively than on offense.
The other big need is a top tier outside scorer who can contribute right away. Without Jonah and Daniel, the Trojans need outside production for the upcoming season. Some may come from the Mobleys who can both shot from 15 feet and beyond. Max, Noah and Tahj can also make shots beyond the arc, but the Trojans still need a guard who they can count on to consistently score to replace Jonah. Top-10 national recruit Ziaire Williams is rumored to be deciding between the Trojans and Stanford; he would be a perfect fit.
The Trojans also need to build more depth in the back court with one more player or two who will likely stay for three or four years like Jonah Mathews and Jordan MacLaughlin. The strategy over the last few years seems to be to blend a one and done player with upper class talent, which is a good formula for USC. If the Trojans don’t land Williams or another very good player, Than at least one new guard needs to be capable of taking a spot in the rotation this season, and the Trojans will likely need all freshman guard recruits to become significant contributors the following year. With the great majority of top tier high school talent signed or committed, the staff may need to look for a junior college transfer, though USC has not taken a JC player in many years.
When the season was abruptly cancelled two and a half weeks ago, the staff knew Big O would leave and they likely knew there was a reasonable probability that Sturdivant would leave as well; even though Andy Enfield said several times this season that he thinks Kyle will be a very good player, they had to know they might lose him. Since the last-second win over UCLA, the Trojans’ staff has done an amazing job in locking down five new commitments from quality players. Although none of these players will arrive with five stars attached to their names, USC faced significant competition for each of them.
It will be very interesting to see how the staff fills out the roster, and we can then consider what we might realistically expect from the 2020-2021 Trojans.