USC ended a strong week of recruiting with another major statement on Friday afternoon as four-star Class of 2019 forward Isaiah Mobley pledged to the Trojans.
The second major Class of 2019 commitment for USC during the week, the 6-foot-9 power forward joins five-star big man Onyeka Okongwu. The Compton Magic teammates should be able to help replace the loss of Bennie Boatwright and Chimezie Metu, with Mobley playing the skilled, floor-spacing Boatwright’s role and Okongwu providing the interior energy of Metu.
Having two highly-touted big men commit in the same week is huge for USC. And it looks like the start of even bigger things in a continually-evolving SoCal recruiting war against Pac-12 rival UCLA.
Landing both Mobley and Okongwu is significant for the Trojans for a number of reasons. As previously mentioned, both come from the famous Compton Magic grassroots program that runs on the adidas Gauntlet. While landing AAU teammates from a regional program is common for high-major programs of USC’s stature, the commitments signify that the Trojans are the ones with the biggest pull with the Magic at the current moment.
And the Magic used to get raided by UCLA.
In the past few years, the Bruins signed T.J. Leaf, Ike Anigbogu, Jaylen Hands and Jalen Hill from the Compton Magic. Now, it’s USC who looks to be in the driver’s seat recruiting the program.
The Trojans aren’t done, either.
Newly-hired USC assistant coach Eric Mobley is the father Isaiah Mobley, as well as five-star Class of 2020 big man Evan Mobley. As Rivals national recruiting analyst Eric Bossi noted in his story about Isaiah, “Barring something strange happening, look for the younger Mobley to join his brother and father by committing to USC within the next two weeks.”
That would mean the Trojans would have landed three top-30 caliber big men in the span of a few weeks. That allows the USC coaching staff to recruit other positions extremely hard. Outside of Kentucky, USC has arguably the best future recruiting status of any program in the country.
The Trojans have taken full advantage of UCLA letting go popular assistant coach David Grace. The Bruins are still pulling in top-100 prospects, as evidenced by Grant Sherfield and Jaime Jaquez’s commitments in the Class of 2019, but losing two Magic kids in a week to a rival has to sting.
Considering where USC was last fall with the FBI investigation, who saw this type of recruiting swing coming? Other programs involved in the investigation like Arizona, Auburn and Oklahoma State have landed solid recruits. They also haven’t pulled in nearly the high-level talent that the Trojans currently have committed.
Even amidst the uncertainty surrounding the FBI investigation, USC is still pulling in elite talent while beating local rivals. It’ll be fascinating to see if the Trojans can continue to recruit at this level as they try to fill out the rest of an important recruiting class.
USC lands key commit in 2019 5-star Onyeka Okongwu
With one of the Pac-12’s top 2018 recruiting classes — even with the loss of Taeshon Cherry — set to enroll this summer, USC has moved on to filling the spots in its 2019 class. On Monday the USC program picked up its first verbal commitment in the class, with 6-foot-9 power forward Onyeka Okongwu announcing that he will don the cardinal and gold when the time comes.
Okongwu attends Chino Hills HS, where he led the team to the CIF-SS Division I title this season, and he plays his grassroots basketball for the Compton Magic program. While there are still some strides for Okongwu to make offensively, should he be able to transition to being a power forward who can step away from the basket, he’s an elite talent on the defensive end of the floor.
Okongwu’s commitment is a big first step for USC with regards to the 2019 recruiting class, especially when considering everything the program had to deal with in the fall.
Former assistant Tony Bland was one of ten indicted in the FBI’s probe into corruption and bribes in college basketball/recruiting, and that led to some wondering that the effects would be on USC’s recruiting both in the short and long-term. But Andy Enfield and his staff managed to put together a good 2018 class, featuring guard Kevin Porter Jr., and to land a player of Okongwu’s talent is certainly a good start to the program’s 2019 class.
Add in the fact that the Trojans are also in the running for highly-regarded southern California based talents such as 2019 guard Cassius Stanley, 2019 forward Isaiah Mobley, 2020 forward Evan Mobley (Isaiah’s brother) and 2020 guard Johnny Juzang, and USC is well-positioned to continue to be a factor within the Pac-12 moving forward.
The 14 players with the most on the line at the NBA Draft Combine
The NBA Draft Combine begins on Wednesday, and meaning that nearly 70 of the best basketball prospects this side of the NBA will be trying to prove themselves up close and personal with NBA front office personnel.
This is, essentially, a job fair for NBA prospects, and there are quite a few that will have plenty on the line this week.
This list is made up of 14 players that have quite a bit on the line as this week commences.
A player with a * next to their name has not yet signed with an agent.
THE GUYS THAT WEREN’T SEEN
One thing that was clear with the players that were invited to the Combine is that the NBA prioritized the unknown. College basketball All-Americans like Trevon Bluiett and Joel Berry II, players that every NBA scout has seen play dozens of times, did not get invited while talented underclassmen that missed some or all of last season did make the cut.
MICHAEL PORTER Jr., Missouri: The big thing for Porter in this draft process is going to be his medical records and who he decides to share them with. He missed essentially the entire season after undergoing back surgery, and no team is going to risk a top five pick on him unless their doctors give the all-clear. That likely will not happen at the Combine. What will happen, though, is that Porter is going to have a chance to interview with some front offices, and that could help assuage some other concerns about him: That his arrogance and cockiness is too much. Does he already think he’s an NBA superstar? Is the work ethic there to capitalize on the potential that he has?
JARRED VANDERBILT, Kentucky*: Vanderbilt is another guy whose season was derailed by injury. He averaged just 17 minutes in 14 games this season, missing the first 17 games of the year with a lower left leg injury, the same thing that kept him out of the lineup for Kentucky’s final six games of the season. Vanderbilt is a big-time athletic with a body that can handle some physicality and the versatility to defend multiple positions. For someone whose career has been marked by injuries, selling a team on taking him early enough that he can get some guaranteed money has more importance for him that it does other players at his level.
DE’ANTHONY MELTON, USC: Melton was in line for what many believed to be a breakout season before getting caught up in the FBI’s investigation into college basketball. He didn’t play one possession for USC this year despite putting up impressive per-40 assists, steals and blocks numbers as a freshman. He’s had nearly a full year to train and develop for this year’s draft, and this week will be his chance to show to NBA scouts what he’s now capable of. Proving he has a consistent jumper would be nice.
BRIAN BOWEN, South Carolina*: Bowen, a top 25 prospect coming out of high school, did not play this season after the FBI alleged that a $100,000 payment plan was set up to get him to Louisville. Bowen has since transferred to South Carolina, but there is no guarantee that he’ll ever be eligible to play next season. If he can get himself drafted in a range where he can get a guaranteed deal, that might be his best bet.
BILLY PRESTON, Kansas: After spending the first two months of the college basketball season waiting to get cleared, Preston left to sign a professional contract in Bosnia. He played a few games for KK Igokea, but he didn’t make much of an impact. Preston was a five-star prospect coming out of high school, a 6-foot-10 power forward with plenty of talent and even more question marks. There is a lot on the line for him this week as he tries to prove he is an NBA talent with an NBA outlook.
THE 3-AND-D GUYS THAT NEED TO PROVE THEY CAN 3 OR D
Everyone knows how valuable a 3-and-D wing can be, but that’s not the only thing that NBA teams are looking for. They want multi-positional defenders that can prevent penetration as well as rim protectors, all of whom that can, of course, make threes. Here are four names that could play their way into the first round.
KEVIN HUERTER*, Maryland: The guy that NBA draftniks fell in love with from Maryland was Justin Jackson, their long-armed, 6-foot-7 combo-forward who spent much of this season battling through injury. Jackson has some things to prove in his own right this year, but it may surprise some Terps fans to know that there’s an outside shot of Huerter playing his way into the first round of the draft. Huerter, a lanky, 6-foot-7 wing, averaged 14.8 points on 42 percent three-point shooting last season. The key question with him is going to be whether or not he has the tools to be a multi-positional defenders. The shooting stroke is already there.
SAGABA KONATE*, West Virginia and OMARI SPELLMAN*, Villanova: In an ideal world, an NBA team would be able to draft both Konate and Spellman and then blend Konate’s shot-blocking ability — a block-rate of 15.6, better than Jaren Jackson and Mo Bamba — with Spellman’s ability to stretch the floor — 43.3 percent three-point shooting — to create the NBA’s ideal 3-and-D center. Unfortunately, this is not yet something that is medically possibly, which means that NBA teams will be evaluating a couple of things during the combine. Just how much more room for improvement is there with Omari Spellman’s body? Can he lose more weight and get more explosive, thus making him a better shot-blocker, without doing himself any physical harm? With Konate, NBA teams will likely be looking at whether or not his 79 percent free throw shooting (on 100 attempts) is the kind of thing that could lead to being a capable three-point shooter at some point in his career?
MELVIN FRAZIER, Tulane: Frazier’s name is probably not one that you’ve heard all that much about, but there is a very real chance that the Louisiana-native hears his name in the first round. An athletic, 6-foot-6 wing, Frazier is well-built with a 7-foot-2 wingspan. He also significantly improved his shooting this season, making 38.5 percent of his threes and improving this true-shooting percentage by more than ten points. Defensive-minded, positionally-versatile and three-point range. That has NBA role player all over him. The question that people at the combine will be looking to answer is whether or not this shooting was a fluky season or a legitimate improvement.
THE GUARDS TRYING TO PROVE THEY CAN BE NBA PLAYMAKERS
TYUS BATTLE, Syracuse*: Trying to figure out what to make of Battle as a prospect is difficult. On the one hand, he spent this season as an inefficient, shoot-first lead guard that had more turnovers than assists. On the other hand, he was more or less the only outlet offensively on a Syracuse team that didn’t provide him with much help and asked him to take a large number of bad shots. Did he shoot under 40 percent on the season because he’s a bad shooter or a good shooter that spent the season taking low-percentage shots? That, along with the question of whether or not Battle is going to be a good defender at the NBA level, are the things he will be looking to prove to NBA teams.
DONTE DIVINCENZO, Villanova*: DiVincenzo is in such a weird spot here. He was very much in the eye of NBA scouts this year, playing on the nation’s best team alongside four more guys that could end up getting to the NBA at some point. But he also spent the year looking like he was an inconsistent, streaky scorer that struggled when handling the ball against pressure. Can he prove he’s more than that?
JEVON CARTER, West Virginia: We all know how good of a defender Jevon Carter is. The question that needs to be answered is whether or not he can be a point guard. One problem he had throughout his college career was shot selection, but like Battle, was that a product of who he is as a player or the way that West Virginia played?
DEVON HALL, Virginia: People don’t seem to realize just how good Virginia’s players are until they get to the NBA. Tony Bennett has done a terrific job of turning his program into a pipeline for role players at the next level, and Hall might be the next in line. A lefty-playmaker, Hall shot 43.2 percent from three and averaged 3.1 assists despite playing at the slowest tempo nationally and not being a point guard. He has good size and, playing for Virginia, is clearly going to be able to defend. This will be his chance to prove himself worthy of a pick that will get him a guaranteed contract.
JAYLEN HANDS, UCLA*: Jaylen Hands didn’t exactly have a great season. He didn’t defend well this season, he made poor decisions, he’s not a great passer, he’s an inconsistent shooter and he he did all that while playing behind one of the best point guards in the country in Aaron Holiday. That last part might be the one that is the most relevant here. Were Hands’ struggles this season a result of simply being forced out of position by a guy having an all-american season, or should there be legitimate concern about Hands’ future as a basketball player?
VIDEO: Stanford beats USC with half-court buzzer-beater
Nothing beats a good buzzer-beater. Except a great buzzer-beater.
Stanford defeated USC when Daejon Davis’ prayer from beyond halfcourt was answered to give the Cardinal a one-point victory over the Trojans.
USC looked like it had wrapped up a victory with Jordan McLaughlin’s go-ahead bucket with under 2 seconds to play, but Stanford got the ball in to Davis, who took one dribble to balance himself and then launched the game-winner on a night when USC led for much of the contest.
After comeback wins over Providence in the first four and No. 6 seed SMU in the first round, it looked like No. 11 seed Southern Cal’s second-round matchup with No. 3 seed Baylor was going to follow the same script.
The Trojans erased another double-digit deficit and had all the momentum in the final minutes of regulation, but a third Hollywood ending would not take place on Sunday night in Tulsa, as Manu Lecomte caught fire, leading the Bears to an 82-78 win to advance to the Sweet 16.
It was when USC took a 67-65 lead that Lecomte finally got in the scoring column, and it couldn’t have come at a more critical time for Baylor. Several minutes earlier, Johnathan Motley found himself on the bench with his fourth personal foul. In the span of less than a minute, the 5-foot-11 redshirt junior guard converted on a four-point play, knocked down another set of free throws and connected on a lay-up; an individual 8-0 run that the Bears up 73-65 heading into the final official TV timeout.
In the first round, Lecomte was quiet offensively, scoring 10 points — off 3-of-9 shooting — against No. 14 seed New Mexico State. It marked only the sixth time all season the Belgium native failed to make a 3-point field goal.
He went on to score 12 points, all of them coming in the final five minutes. Motley, who fouled out 90 seconds left, finished with 19 points and 10 rebounds. Terry Matson had 19 off the bench. King McClure scored 14 of his 17 in the first half.
Chimezie Metu had a game-high 28 points. Bennie Boatwright ended with 16.
USC trailed Providence by 17 in the First Four and was behind by a dozen to SMU in the first round before pulling off two improbable comebacks.
Baylor advances to the Sweet 16 to play the winner of No. 2 seed Duke and No. 7 seed South Carolina.
A 17-point deficit wasn’t enough to keep USC from moving on from Dayton to Tulsa.
The Trojans erased a big deficit to dispatch Providence, 75-71, on Wednesday night to set up a first-round matchup Friday against sixth-seeded SMU.
USC looked to be in serious trouble after the early lead it built in the first half quickly evaporated and then became a 17-point deficit before halftime finally ended their misery. The Trojans shot just 34.5 percent in the first half while allowing the Friars to light it up at 54.6 percent overall while making 8 of 15 (53.3 percent) from 3-point range.
By halftime, it looked like Ed Cooley would be preparing a gameplan for the Mustangs before too long.
It took 13 minutes for everything to flip.
Suddenly, the Trojans found their groove and the Friars fell off the track. Providence had coughed up their 17-point lead before the 6-minute mark of the second half. They would never get it back.
Bennie Boatwright scored 24 points to lead the Trojans while Jordan McLaughlin added 18 points, 10 rebounds and four assists.
Emmitt Holt had 18 points while Rodney Bullock and Jalen Lindsey both had 17 points for Providence, which shot 1 of 5 from 3-point range in the second half after going 8 of 15 in the first half.
Now, the Trojans head to Oklahoma to face a higher seed that they’ve already beaten this season. USC defeated SMU 78-73 in November. USC shot 50 percent on 24 3-point attempts that day while also blocking eight Mustang shots.