After eight years spent patiently building, the breakthrough season of Andy Enfield’s tenure at USC was played largely in isolation. The most talented player USC has seen in a generation spent his lone season dominating in empty arenas.
The question now, with another season set to begin Tuesday, is how the Trojans move forward with both firmly in the rearview.
Evan Mobley is off to the NBA, and the pieces from USC’s run to the Elite Eight have been rearranged. But with Mobley’s older brother, Isaiah, back to take the reins of a roster with deep March experience, the coach is confident he can continue building off the Trojans’ magic last March.
“We won 47 games the last two years, and it’s really because of our players,” Enfield said at the Southern California tipoff luncheon last month. “This is our deepest team since we’ve been at USC. Last year we took five players because two years ago when they shut the COVID season down, we only had three returning players. We woke up three weeks after the season with three returning players, we had signed Evan Mobley, and we went to the transfer portal last year and it worked out well for us because we started three transfers. We have some of those guys coming back.”
Evan Mobley’s subtle star power set USC on a path for March, but Isaiah Mobley’s sudden rise down the season’s final stretch elevated the Trojans to another level in the postseason.
Isaiah’s performance was impressive enough for him to seriously consider joining his younger brother in the draft. Evan was selected third overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers, while Isaiah chose to return, aiming to become the focal point of USC’s offense.
His defense, Enfield says, may be even more important.
“We feel that Isaiah has turned into what I think is the best defensive big man in our conference,” Enfield said.
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That would go a long way in replacing his brother, who averaged nearly three blocks per game on his way to Pac-12 defensive player of the year honors. But USC still has plenty of size in its frontcourt, especially with the addition of 6-foot-11 forward Josh Morgan in the frontcourt. Morgan sat out last season after transferring from Long Beach State.
The better question might be how Isaiah Mobley will handle being at the center of it all. He seemed just fine in March, when he shot 66.7% from three-point range through the postseason. Enfield said he’s developed into “a true inside-outside player” and “a great passer.”
Time to Boogie
USC built last year’s team largely out of the transfer portal, adding an array of talented transfers on the fly. It took the opposite approach this season, adding just one transfer.
But that player could have an outsized impact. Boogie Ellis was the American Athletic Conference sixth man of the year at Memphis last season and returns home to Southern California in search of a major role. From what Enfield says, it sounds like he’ll have one.
“He’s a dynamic scorer, great quickness and shooting ability and playmaking,” Enfield said at Pac-12 media day, “so we’ll rely on Boogie a lot. He’s also a terrific on-the-ball defender.”
Ethan Anderson was expected to be the engine of USC’s transition attack and its best perimeter defender last season. But debilitating back pain kept him out for six weeks and limited him for even longer. The point guard never quite found his footing. He averaged just 5.7 points and 2.7 assists per game.
But signs point toward a bounce-back season for Anderson, who has run the offense in early practices. He’s expected to step back into the point guard role, with Tahj Eaddy, last year’s second-leading scorer, now playing in the G League.
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How to watch USC’s season opener
VS. CAL STATE NORTHRIDGE
When: Tonight, 6 p.m.
Where: Galen Center
On the air: TV: Pac-12 Network; Radio: 790.
Update: USC returns six of its top eight scorers from last year’s team that went 25-8, placed second in the Pac-12 and advanced to the NCAA tournament‘s Elite Eight. USC forward Isaiah Mobley, who was named to the preseason All-Pac 12 first team, averaged 9.9 points and 7.3 rebounds last season. CSUN is in rebuilding mode under the direction of interim coach Trent Johnson. The Matadors went 9-13 last season and have eight newcomers on the roster. Point guard Darius Brown II, who earned All-Big West second-team honors last season, paced the team with 10.5 points and 5.2 assists.