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All eyes on Jordan McLaughlin in 2016-17

With the departure of Julian Jacobs and transfer of two guards, USC point guard Jordan McLaughlin will be the center of attention for the Trojans and their key to success.

Jordan McLaughlin crouched down behind the 'The Gun' shot retrieval machine after Andy Enfield had dismissed USC’s basketball team from the first practice of the 2016-17 season Friday afternoon.

He had asked a member of the team’s sports information department before practice if any media were going to be in attendance. McLaughlin knew he was target No. 1.

With Julian Jacobs leaving early to enter the NBA draft, all eyes are on him. The junior point guard has led the team in scoring the last two seasons, but even more will be expected of the former four-star Etiwanda (Calif.) star. 

Following the early departures of four upperclassmen, this is undisputedly McLaughlin’s team. So he goes, the Trojans will likely go. 

McLaughlin understands. This summer he was chosen to represent USC with the Pac-12 All-Stars that traveled to Australia. With former Stanford and Cal coach Mike Montgomery leading the charges, the squad took on multiple Australian amateur teams and twice faced the Australian National Team as the Boomers prepared for the Olympics.

“It was fun. It was a great experience,” McLaughlin said. “Got to play against some good competition, so it was good.”

But McLaughlin wasn’t happy with his performance on the trip and the Trojans’ leader set out to remedy that as soon as possible.

“I felt like I didn't play up to my potential, so the first thing I did when I got back was I got in the gym and just got right back to it to keep working hard.”

McLaughlin’s work ethic is something he’s trying to carry over to the team, which began on Friday.

“It was a good first [practice]. We just got to keep growing. We can't take no days off. We can't stay stagnant. We just got to keep getting better.”

It is McLaughlin’s job to make sure that his teammates do that. Rather than putting the ball in the basket, he needs to be a facilitator.

“Versus just going and trying to score the ball every possession, he needs to do what great point guards do and run a team,” Enfield said. “He's one of our leaders and he's been a huge part of our program the last couple of years. 

“We anticipate Jordan having a big year for us, but he understands as the point guard, he's going to have to get everyone involved.”

McLaughlin was second on the team and fifth in the Pac-12 in assists last year with 160. He averaged 4.7 per game and was one turnover away from having an exact 2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio. 

The Trojans may not be able to run a true two-point guard system as Enfield prefers like McLaughlin and Jacobs were able to do last season, but both the coach and his top player believe there are viable options to back up McLaughlin.

“I will be on the ball a little bit more,” McLaughlin said, “but we've got De'Anthony [Melton]. He’s a great ball handler. He plays all over the court, honestly. Then Jonah Mathews can handle it a little bit too. We have a couple different options, if I get tired on the ball. It'll be fine.”

Along with Jacobs’ departure, guard Katin Reinhardt and Malik Marquetti transferred leaving the Trojans thin on the wing. That will force true freshmen Melton and Mathews into bigger roles than may have originally been expected 

“I think we have a lot of guards that can dribble the ball, meaning make plays off the dribble and off ball screens like De'Anthony Melton and Jonah Matthews and Shaqquan Aaron,” Enfield said. “They can all put the ball on the floor, so I wouldn't say we have two true point guards like Julian and Jordan were last year, but we have a lot of players that have some of that capability. 

“As the freshmen learn the system and learn how to read ball screens and learn how to create at this level for their teammates, I think we'll be fine.”

Helping teach them will be McLaughlin because well…this team needs him to do it all. While he might try to hide from the media, there’s no hiding his importance for the Trojans’ 2016-17 season.

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