Stop me if you've heard this one before on our countdown...USC is thin at the post and going to be small in the frontcourt. It's worth beating into the ground to prep USC fans for this season.
The Trojans have four post players and will have to make things work with a 6'7" grinder in Darion Clark, the 6'9" Serbian bull, Strahinja Gavrilovic, and a pair of 6'11" power forwards that will be playing the center position in Malik Martin and Nikola Jovanovic.
Because of USC's depth concerns up front, the value of these players increases, pushing them higher on our list of Most Important Players for the Trojans. That's why freshman Malik Martin is all the way up at No. 3.
3. Malik Martin - Forward
It is a very probable possibility that Malik Martin doesn't even start this season. The Trojans have a pair of veteran post players in Darion Clark and Nikola Jovanovic, who seemed like the projected starters entering the season. However, in USC's exhibition victory over Cal State Los Angeles, it was Martin rather than Clark in the starting lineup.
Maybe USC head coach Andy Enfield was playing some head games with his players to try to get more out of Clark in the final week leading up to the regular season or to get the nervous jitters of a first game in the cardinal and gold uniform out of the way for Martin?
With the Trojans having seven potential starters, don't be surprised if the starting lineup is in flux throughout the season and ebbs and flows along with the development of the roster -- particularly the four true freshmen.
One of the keys to how well Andy Enfield's second season with the Trojans goes is the progression of Malik Martin.
Enfield told the OC Register recently that Martin has made tremendous strides already during the preseason, but he's only going to get better. The Miami native runs the floor well and plays above the rim, making him an ideal candidate for lobs on fast breaks. But he's not going to disappear when USC has to run half-court sets. Martin can finish at the rim.
On the offensive end, he brings versatility. He is both comfortable battling and posting up in the paint and stepping outside and using his quickness to go by bigger, slower defenders. Martin also has a really good outside shot. Expect him to contribute in a similar way Nikola Jovanovic did last year during his freshman year, cleaning up the glass for easy buckets and knocking down some open 3-pointers until teams realize his range.
Malik Martin is Liam Neeson's Taken character: He has a very particular set of skills, skills that are only going to get better over a, hopefully, very long USC career. Skills that will make him a nightmare for opposing teams. If you let him dunk, that'll be the end of it. He will not look for you, he will not pursue you. But if you don't, he will look for you, he will find you, and he will kill you on the offensive and defensive end.
After a shaky start, which he attributed to nervousness, Martin finished the Trojans' exhibition victory with an impressive stat line. He airballed the first shot of the game, but recovered to shoot 3-for-6 from the field and a perfect 4-for-4 from the free throw line for 10 points. Martin grabbed seven rebounds -- five on the offensive end! He also dished out two assists and swatted a pair of shots as well.
It was just a taste of what he can do. Martin is only going to get better as he becomes more seasoned, but how quickly that maturation happens will be a big factor in if USC can make some noise this season rather than having to wait until next year.
Try not to drool too much when watching these Malik Martin highlights from high school/AAU ball in Florida: