USC’s Jordan McLaughlin searches for competition in Australia
Jordan McLaughlin knifed to the rim at the Galen Center last week, then flicked a multi-colored FIBA basketball at the glass.
McLaughlin, the USC point guard, was practicing with the Pac-12 Conference All-Star team, which is in the middle of a three-game tour of Australia. The colorful ball, and the new uniform, were unusual for McLaughlin. Also strange: McLaughlin actually had a full team with which to practice.
This off-season, McLaughlin expected everyone to return from a USC team that made a surprising NCAA tournament appearance last season. Then he watched as player after player left.
First, Malik Martin and Malik Marquetti, both role players, decided to transfer. So did forward Darion Clark, the team’s best per-minute rebounder. Katin Reinhardt, who started for a significant portion of the season, left for Marquette.
After two starters decamped for professional basketball, USC didn’t even have enough players to scrimmage in summer workouts.
The sessions, McLaughlin said, “have been limited. We’ve only got like eight players right now, so we can’t quite play five on five.”
The two professional departures, McLaughlin’s fellow point guard Julian Jacobs and forward Nikola Jovanovic, were unexpected for McLaughlin. Neither was invited to the NBA combine, and neither, ultimately, was drafted.
McLaughlin thought they’d return right “until I heard the news.”
Said McLaughlin: “I texted them ‘Good luck, wish the best for you.’ And yeah, that was about it.”
The losses have shifted the trajectory of a team on the rise. McLaughlin said he expects the same style of play: fast tempo, quick shots, dunks. The personnel, though, will be younger and less experienced.
McLaughlin has been leading those players in summer sessions, but the roster size is limiting. So he welcomed the news that he had been selected to the All-Star team, which has players from every team except UCLA and Colorado.
They practiced only four times before leaving for Australia. The team’s coach, Mike Montgomery, said he’s adhering to a philosophy.
“The KISS philosophy,” he said. “Keep it simple, stupid.”
The competition has given McLaughlin a chance to improve. Montgomery said McLaughlin is already skilled at creating for himself. On this trip, he said, he wanted McLaughlin to focus more on creating for others.
They also wanted to at least stay competitive. Most foreign trips are easy tuneups. But Australia’s Boomers are 11th in the FIBA world rankings. Their roster includes NBA players like Patty Mills, Aron Baynes and Matthew Dellavedova, who didn’t play Tuesday but is expected to play Thursday in the finale of the two-game series.
“We’re not going out to Australia playing a couple YMCA teams,” McLaughlin said.
The first game against the Boomers was encouraging. The Boomers won, 92-83, but they had to scrap for it. The Pac-12 All-Stars led after the first quarter. McLaughlin finished with eight points, an assist and four turnovers in 17 minutes.
And happily, for him, FIBA rules call for five players per team.
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