While things were going crazy over at Heritage Hall on Sunday afternoon, the USC men’s basketball team was having a crazy fun time at the Trojan Tip-Off.
Coming off another sub-par season that saw the Trojans finish 12-20 (3-15), Andy Enfield’s squad has been hard at work in preparation to try to things around this season.
But USC wanted to give the fans a taste of the new roster and the potential that lies beneath the cardinal and gold jerseys. The Trojan Tip-Off began with an hour-long fan session where players got an opportunity to interact with those in attendance, including many young children.
“It’s just fun,” Enfield said. “There are hundreds kids here, younger ages. To see them on the court afterwards getting autographs and enjoying it. It’s all about them. Hopefully, it gives them an interest of following SC basketball, but also gives them an interest in the game of basketball when they’re younger.”
Following the fan fest and a short session of drills by the women’s team, there were competitions against the Women of Troy, such as a three-point shootout (won by men’s freshman Bennie Boatwright) and a layup/free throw/3-pointer/half court shot challenge. Then the men’s team put on a show during a loose 10-minute scrimmage that featured more dunks that defensive stops.
“It doesn’t help us none, but it’s for the fans,” sophomore team captain Jordan McLaughlin said. “We love the fans. I love kids, personally, so I love to get out here and mess with them a little bit and just get after it with them.”
The atmosphere for the scrimmage was light with plenty of smiles and laughs to go around, but that belies the hard work the Trojans have been putting in during the early portion of their preseason.
“After what we went through last year, everybody has gotten in the gym and gotten better and got in the weight room,” McLaughlin said. “Everybody’s mentality has changed dramatically — everyone wants to create that winning atmosphere here.”
McLaughlin is a big key to that. The Trojans’ point guard led the team in minutes played per game last season (31.6) while averaging 12.1 points, 3.0 rebounds and 4.5 assists, but McLaughlin had his season cut short by a second shoulder injury. He had to have labral repair surgery on both shoulders -- the second surgery less than seven months ago on March 20. He was only recently cleared to participate fully in practice. However, Enfield hasn’t seen any signs of rust.
“I’m just surprised, shocked that he’s able to come back so quickly because he’s missed seven or eight months of an offseason. When he was cleared to play, he really looked terrific. He’s in very good shape physically.”
“We just need to cross our fingers with his shoulders and hopefully with the surgery and all the long hours of rehab and therapy that he did will stabilize his shoulders and hopefully, he’ll be injury-free the entire season.”
Because his shoulder injuries have become a chronic concern, McLaughlin said he’s had to change his game in some regards. While he doesn’t want to betray his aggressive nature, the Trojans’ top creator said he has to play smarter and pick his spots to attack.
While McLaughlin is getting back in the swing of things, the rest of the roster had an opportunity to gain some valuable experience in August when the team finished 4-0 during took a 10-day tour of Italy. The Trojans got an opportunity to bond with one another, play alongside one another, but also got a chance to experience and explore some historical sites, such as the Colosseum in Rome, something Enfield believes his young players will remember for the rest of their lives.
it was also the first chance for freshmen forwards Bennie Boatwright (pictured above) and Chimezie Metu to show their stuff. The two newcomers have infused the roster with more talent. Metu has the potential to be a monster on the boards with an athletic 6-foot-11 frame while Boatwright is an automatic mismatch with ball-handling skills and an outside stroke while standing 6-foot-10.
“They’ll be great additions to our teams. They’ll be able to help us a lot,” McLaughlin said. “Boatwright can shoot the ball, so he’ll be able to space the floor out. Then Chimezie is a freak athlete. He’ll be able to help us on offense and defense.”
“I think any time you bring quality players into your program, it usually makes you a better team. That’s the idea of recruiting good players,” Enfield said. “That in addition with returnees that have improved their decision-making and their skill set should make us a better basketball team this year.”