USC basketball coach Andy Enfield claimed this week that he rarely looks at “the NBA stuff,” regarding where his players rank in the estimation of draft prognosticators.
“But,” he said, “when you’re on the first-round draft boards, you miss a guy like that.”
He spoke of De’Anthony Melton, the Trojans’ sophomore guard who has sat out the first 10 games of the season while the university investigates whether he was involved in a bribery and corruption case. USC has lost four, at least partially because of Melton’s absence.
Melton has not been accused of any wrongdoing, but federal prosecutors allege that David Elliott, a family friend, accepted $5,000 in exchange for guiding Melton to a sports agent and financial advisor. Melton practiced and traveled with the team until Wednesday, when the traveling party to Hawaii excluded him.
“Apparently there are some other issues that have cropped up,” Melton’s attorney, Vicki I. Podberesky, told The Times this week.
Now ineligible, Melton will not play in the Diamond Head Classic, which for USC begins Friday against Akron. Victories are of significant import, with the Trojans’ 6-4 record dropping their RPI to 94. A five-loss nonconference performance will harm their hopes for a high NCAA tournament seeding come March.
“It’s been a very challenging year so far,” Enfield said after USC’s loss Tuesday to Princeton.
Late that night, Enfield ticked off Melton’s statistical standing among his teammates last season: first in steals, second in rebounding, second in assists and third in blocks. He noted his 8.3 points-a-game average and his agreed-upon status as the team’s best defender.
“I’m just trying to prop him up because he deserves it,” Enfield said. “He’s a great basketball player. He worked hard to get to where he is. Sure, we miss him.
"When you lose one of your best players … ” he continued, his voice trailing off.
Melton's teammates continue to supply support. Senior walk-on Kurt Karis wore Melton's warmups Tuesday, and junior forward Chimezie Metu has frequently worn a T-shirt advocating for Melton to be freed.
“We’ve missed him a lot,” senior guard Jordan McLaughlin said this week. “It’s not fair to him that he’s not playing. He did nothing wrong.”
Asked what he is telling Melton lately, Enfield said, "Hang in there."
“Hopefully something will happen here in the near future," Enfield said. "We’re hopeful that he’ll play this year. But as I’ve said before, I don’t know a lot of the information and I can’t comment on it because I just don’t know and it’s not my place to comment anyway.”
Staff writer Nathan Fenno contributed to this story.
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