USC basketball is counting on Ethan Anderson to lead the way

USC guard Ethan Anderson goes to the basket as Utah forward Timmy Allen defends.
USC guard Ethan Anderson goes to the basket as Utah forward Timmy Allen defends in the first half on Feb. 23 in Salt Lake City.
(Rick Bowmer / Associated Press)

In one offseason, USC lost a potential NBA draft lottery pick, the two winningest players in program history and the leadership of two steady graduate transfers. Andy Enfield was left with a roster built mostly with transfers and promising freshmen, but as he’s surrounded by new players, the coach will count on a familiar face to steady his team through an uncertain season.

Ethan [Anderson] is going to take that big jump this year,” Enfield said Thursday on the Pac-12’s men’s basketball media webinar.

The Trojans need Anderson, one of just three returners who played regularly last season, to go from game-managing freshman point guard to standout sophomore as he tries to lead USC to its first NCAA tournament since 2017. The 6-foot-1 guard averaged 5.5 points and 4.3 assists last season while playing in all 31 games with 28 starts. USC, with a 22-9 overall record, was primed for the NCAA tournament before the COVID-19 pandemic.


“I don’t think the role so much has changed dramatically, but I feel like my mind-set and my confidence is what has changed dramatically,” Anderson said Thursday. “Now coming into the game, it’s like ‘OK, I’m the leader.’ … In terms of me being in that situation in that mind-set — ‘I’m here and this is my moment on the floor.’”

Owning the moment is not about scoring the most, Anderson said, but about making the right play for teammates and choosing his spots. Enfield called Anderson one of the team’s most important players last year for his toughness and leadership. In hopes of continuing the momentum from last season, which ended with a thrilling rivalry win over UCLA at Galen Center, the Trojans have poured over old film, noting defensive principles and learning offensive play calls.

This season’s Pac-12 basketball will offer new scenarios and challenges due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Defense will be an anchor of the team again, said Anderson, who added he wants to guard the opposing team’s best player. If he gets that defensive assignment, it will come in addition to lofty offensive expectations, as Enfield said Anderson will need to average close to double-digit points with six or seven assists.

Anderson prepared for his hopeful breakout season by using his local basketball connections to find training opportunities during the pandemic. The Carson native found gyms through his local trainers and worked to improve his shooting, especially from three-point range. After shooting 37.8% from behind the arc as a freshman, Anderson — who averaged 20.8 points per game as a senior at Fairfax High — said he’s shooting at close to a 47% clip in practice.

Anderson also credited Pooh Jeter, a former Gardena Serra guard who played with the Sacramento Kings briefly, with his offseason training.

“He’s given me the most priceless thing there is, which is knowledge,” said Anderson, who said he learned nuances of the pick and roll from Jeter. “To have someone like that in my corner really gives me the advantage because I know the stuff I’m being told works.”