With Pac-12 Media Day is just around the corner, USC Men's Basketball is starting to come together as a unit working under first-year head coach Andy Enfield, who seems extremely excited about what these players have showcased and how receptive they have been on the Galen Center practice floor.
The Trojans have spent a good deal of their practices working to limit turnovers, while continuing to push the pace with fortuitous 15-second shot clocks.
"Our players are starting to understand what it takes it have a good offense, meaning push the ball in transition and space the floor. When we don't space the floor, we don't look very good," Enfield says.
In the midst of final preparations for what looks to be one of the these most exciting seasons since the Sweet Sixteen season under Tim Floyd, here are some of the key story lines that have stood us to this point.
MINOR INJURIES MOUNTING:
Obviously part of the territory that comes with early-season basketball practice is dealing with injuries, and luckily for the Trojans most of the set backs early in camp have been rather precautionary more than serious.
"It's some preseason bumps and bruises, nothing serious. Other than D.J. being out for a few weeks everyone should be back the next couple of days," Enfield said earlier this week.
Four Trojans sat out of team activities at Wednesday's practice, resting up two full days before returning to the floor D.J. Haley (neck), Omar Oraby (knee), Katin Reinhardt (leg) and Byron Wesley (ankle). Enfield also has said that he wants to keep it safe with forcing his players back on the court, especially with plenty of depth to utilize on the practice floor.
These minor breaks have allowed J.T. Terrell, Strahijina (Luis) Gavrilovic and Chass Bryan to be steady forces on the floor, which has already starting to improve their games. These three are players to immediately watch under Enfield, because of the favorable system to the "wild, yet controlled" offense that the Trojans have employed throughout practice.
DECISION MAKING CONTINUES TO IMPROVE:
"What you need to do as a player is be able to read how the defense is overplaying," Enfield told USCFootball.com, before diving into the route of all successful schemes on offense that he hopes to implement. "A great offensive team or player will understand that this is the play that's called, this is where I'm supposed to go but the defense is over playing me because they know our plays as well, so how do I make that readjustment to get open or get my teammate open."
LEADERS BEGINNING TO EMERGE:
After losing team captain Jio Fontan and leading scorer Eric Wise from last year's squad, the Trojans are looking for players to step up their games early in camp. The one one player who has taken the biggest leap might be shooting guard J.T. Terrell, who should be prime for a breakout campaign during his second season on campus.
"I've been very impressed with (Terrell's) leadership and his attitude," Enfield said. "He's playing hard and is very unselfish. Sometimes he is a little too unselfish and needs to be a little more aggressive. He has come in and said 'whatever I need to do to help us win, I'm willing to do that.' I'm very proud of him and my expectations are that he continues to grow as a senior leader."
Not to mention that seven-foot presence Omar Oraby has gotten in much better shape over the past few months, and is running the floor like a player capable of contributing in a fast-paced offense this season. "As long as Omar gives the effort, it's hard when you're 7-foot-2 and that big. He's in good shape but he's a big man," Enfield said. "He'll have to push through fatigue at times this year if he wants to be successful."
FRESHMEN ENTER THE FOLD:
The Trojans five rated incoming freshman Roschon Prince, Julian Jacobs, Devon Pflueger, Khalil Dukes and Nikola Jovanovic have impressed the entire coaching staff through the opening weeks of practice, but not necessarily in the most conventional of ways. "The nice thing is that they have an opportunity to play minutes for us this year. The frustrating thing a coaches it that they are freshman, and sometimes look like freshman," Enfield said of his youthful roster.
Through the first two and a half weeks of practice, point guard Julian Jacobs has emerged as a leader on the team according to Enfield, mostly because of his ball-handling and game management skills. The Trojans top recruit entering the class is Prince, and he has showcased great athleticism and perimeter defense early in camp. Khalil Dukes may have the highest sealing of all the young guns on this roster but a slew of minor set backs have limited his development.
That being said, his extensive work on shooting with assistant coach Tony Bland will only help the freshman contribute as the suddenly-loaded point guard position once he returns to full health. The most interesting position battle to watch this year will certainly revolve around the PG role with young guns Julian Jacobs and Khalil Dukes working for plentiful time at the position along with returning sophomore Chass Bryan, who worked limited minutes under Jio Fontan last season.
FINAL NOTE MOVING FORWARD:
In the midst of massive euphoria and new-found excitement for the upcoming season, Coach Enfield cautions that while improvement has been drastic with this group of players, work still needs to get done especially in shot-clock management situations on offense. All of which will continue to improve at practice before opening the season November 8th.