USC Trojans hoops have been through plenty of growing pains under head coach Andy Enfield. He opened his tenure with the Trojans by going 23-41 through the first two season. But when the growing pains had subsided, Enfield had his recruiting classes in place and spring-boarded USC hoops into 21 wins, buying the Trojans a Tournament berth.
Following the turnaround season, USC hoops won 26 and 24 games over the next two seasons, taking the fifth and second spots in the PAC-12 conference. It has been three seasons of 20+ wins for USC, but now they face the toughest prospect yet: Recovering from a draining draft class.
Chimezie Metu, De’Anthony Melton, and Jordan McLaughlin are all headed to the NBA. The trio accounted for 36 points per game in the 2016-2017 season (the best under coach Enfield), each playing a full 36 game haul. While Melton received a suspension the next year, Metu and McLaughlin combined for 28.5 points per outing. McLaughlin also ran away with assists per game (7.8) on the team, Metu holding his own with a team-leading 7.4 rebounds each outing.
USC loses major contributing talent and veteran leadership, watching a senior, junior and sophomore all leave to the draft. Labeling the offseason as adverse would be an understatement for the exudes that has swept USC basketball. So now what? Who steps up for this team and what does it look like now that so much is gone?
The answer could be returner Bennie Boatwright.
Boatwright has been by and large the most frustrating man on the roster. As a freshman, he immediately established himself as the 3-point gunner for USC, attempting 5.1 shots per game behind and knocking down 35 percent of them. He was taking more 3s than 2s (4.2 attempts per game) and posted 24.4 minutes while staying starting in 32 of the 33 games he played.
After becoming a big part of Trojan basketball in his debut season, the 3-and-D wing struggled to stay on the hardwood, playing only 19 games in 2016-2017 and 23 in 2017-2018.
The most frustrating part is his consistency where he is really special: Deep shooting. Despite injuries, he still has managed 36 and 34 percent shooting from range while using his length on defense to guard the perimeter and bang back inside for rebounds. If he had been able to stay healthy, the Trojans could have used his 3-point scoring but he, unfortunately, was hampered by injury.
What needs to happen this year
Boatwright needs to transform (and stay healthy) into the number one option this season (also stay healthy). The top options are all gone. His outside shooting compadre, senior Elijah Stewart, has moved on. Now Jordan Usher, Jonah Mathews, and Nick Rakocevic are the lead cast for the Trojans, a collection of role players. And have I mentioned Boatwright needs to stay healthy?
Boatwright needs to be the guy this season that they can keep going back to this year. The Trojans will be very young this season and there will be some growing pains with the massive amount of talent headed for the door. Boatwright will have his number called a lot, especially starting the season, leaving him to guide the team through the early going.
The best case scenario
USC enters the summer with their highest-rated class in a decade, highlighted by Elijah Weaver and Kevin Porter Jr. Young talent may not be anything to lean on but will help douse the some of the fire that burned up exiting talent.
The most important thing for Boatwright his report with Usher established early. The young point guard only averaged 14.1 minutes per game in his freshman campaign but shot an efficient 44 percent in his limited role.
Boatwright played his best offense when rolling off action created by McLaughlin, the action he now needs Usher to create.
Rakocevic will play off the glass and Mathews is set to be the primary off-ball guard, the young talent can fall into place as stretch pieces. The pieces all need to step up but Boatwright needs to be the one that leads the way.
His shooting will open up lanes for Usher and Mathews, along with clearing out the glass for Rakocevic. Consistent shooting from Boatwright will give Usher confidence when he runs the offense. All this will keep pressure off the young talent on the Trojans roster.
Boatwright can bridge the Trojans areas while the highly touted recruiting class finds their sea legs. The only thing that remains to be seen is will he step up to the challenge?