With USC’s lax early-season basketball schedule about to turn hectic, the Trojans are crossing their fingers and praying they’ll get a reinforcement before Friday’s game against Oklahoma at Staples Center.
Guard De’Anthony Melton sat out the Trojans’ first six games while the school investigated a bribery and corruption case. But a resolution that would allow Melton to return to the court could be in sight, Vicki I. Podberesky, the player’s attorney, said Thursday.
“Adding another player like Melton improves our depth significantly,” said USC coach Andy Enfield, who added he was “hopeful” Melton would suit up Friday for the No. 25 Trojans.
USC-Oklahoma is the middle contest in the Hall of Fame Classic tripleheader. Arizona State and St. John’s will open things at 5 p.m. with Texas Christian facing Nevada in the final game at 10 p.m.
Melton hasn’t been accused of any wrongdoing but federal prosecutors have alleged David Elliott, a close family friend, accepted $5,000 in exchange for steering Melton to a specific sports agent and financial advisor. The 6-foot-2 sophomore guard has been practicing and traveling with the Trojans, but the school has kept him from playing during its investigation.
The return of Melton, who started 25 games as a freshman, averaging 8.3 points and 4.5 rebounds, would strengthen a team without guard Derryck Thornton. A redshirt sophomore, Thornton dislocated his right shoulder in practice last week and is expected to miss the rest of the USC’s nonconference schedule.
Speaking of the schedule, it’s about to heat up for the Trojans (4-2), who had just six games in the season’s first 22 days. After Oklahoma, USC will play six more times between Dec. 14 and Christmas, then open Pac-12 competition four days later.
“We’re a veteran team,” Enfield said. “We should be ready.”
Especially if they get Melton back. USC has used the same five starters in all six games this season but Melton’s return could send sophomore Jonah Mathews back to the bench.
“I don’t see no problems going to the bench. I did [it] last year,” said Mathews, who started only three games as a freshman yet averaged better than 20 minutes a game.
“It’s just about winning.”
USC opened the season with four consecutive wins but has lost two straight — the last one in painful fashion, with Southern Methodist overcoming a halftime deficit and outscoring USC by 20 points in the final 20 minutes to win going away.
“We have to play better as a team. And as individuals,” Enfield said. “It’s pretty simple.”
Oklahoma (6-1), which has won four in a row, is led by freshman guard Trae Young, who is averaging an NCAA-best 28.7 points a game. Guard Christian James (11.9) and forward Khadeem Lattin (11.1 and 9.1 rebounds per game) are also scoring in double figures.
Junior forward Chimezie Metu is USC’s leading scorer, averaging 16 points a game, just ahead of Bennie Boatwright (15.3).
When: Friday, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Staples Center.
On the air: TV: ESPN2; Radio: 710.
Update: Oklahoma is shooting better than 50% and is averaging 94.4 points; only Virginia Tech (96.6) has scored more. But USC has held opponents to fewer than 68 points a game, keeping three teams below 70. USC’s Jordan McLaughlin is averaging a Pac-12-leading 5.8 assists a game to go with a 13.5 scoring average and 4.8 rebounds.
Times staff writer Nathan Fenno contributed to this report.
Follow Kevin Baxter on Twitter @kbaxter11