Snubbed by the NCAA Tournament last season, the Southern California Trojans are determined to make it back behind coach Andy Enfield’s highest-rated recruiting class.
They feature a younger roster but have a seasoned veteran in forward Bennie Boatwright, who toyed with leaving early for the NBA draft.
Boatwright went down with a season-ending knee injury in February, had surgery in April and was sidelined for most of the summer. It was the latest injury to befall the 6-foot-10 senior. He missed two months of his sophomore season with a sprained knee.
“Bennie is very determined this year to come back and have a tremendous senior season,” Enfield said.
USC began last season as a top-10 team — its highest ranking in 42 years — only to miss out on a third straight NCAA Tournament appearance. The selection committee bypassed the Trojans despite their second-place finish in the Pac-12.
The school also was linked to the FBI investigation into corruption and bribery in college basketball. Tony Bland, Enfield’s top assistant, was arrested on federal charges of accepting $13,000 to help steer two players to certain business representatives. He was later fired. De’Anthony Melton was ruled ineligible last season as part of an extra benefits scandal and left school to enter the NBA draft.
The Trojans overcame all the distractions to finish 24-12 overall and 12-6 in the Pac-12.
Entering Enfield’s sixth season, the Trojans will be looking to deliver him a league title for the first time.
“It’s really going to be on a couple of our players this year to help our team develop a unity that we had the last few years because we don’t have the great leaders,” Enfield said. “We lost them to the NBA.”
The Trojans open the season against Robert Morris on Nov. 6. They play seven of their first nine games at Galen Center, including visits by Vanderbilt and No. 7 Nevada, and a neutral site game at Staples Center against No. 20 TCU.
Here are some things to know about USC this season:
BUZZY NEWCOMER: Kevin Porter Jr., a 6-6 guard from Seattle, caused a stir with his high-flying performance at last summer’s Nike Hoop Summit. He averaged 27 points and 14 rebounds as a high school senior. Porter could crack the starting lineup, especially since the Trojans must replace Jordan McLaughlin, last season’s Pac-12 assists leader.
FRONT LINE: The Trojans lost leading scorer and rebounder Chimezie Metu to the NBA draft. That puts pressure on Boatwright to show he can again produce when healthy. He averaged 13.6 points and 6.4 rebounds in 23 games as a junior. Without Metu as their chief rim protector, the team will count on 6-11 junior Nick Rakocevic to step up. There’s opportunity for guard Charles O’Bannon Jr., who was limited to 14 appearances as a freshman. Forward J’Raan Brooks recommitted to USC after the FBI investigation.
BACKCOURT: Fourth-year junior Derryck Thornton will look to fill McLaughlin’s shoes. He started once in 25 games and averaged 14.2 minutes. “We’re expecting huge things from him,” Enfield said. Freshman Elijah Weaver needed surgery after stepping on someone’s foot and should be able to play by early December. The backcourt also features junior Jonah Mathews, who shot 42 percent from 3-point range last season, the fourth-highest returning percentage in the Pac-12. Senior Shaqquan Aaron and sophomore Jordan Usher can play multiple guard spots, giving Enfield the ability to mix and match his lineups.
Source: The Associated Press