The gang is getting back together.
The USC men's basketball program will return all their critical pieces from this year's team that won two games in the NCAA tournament after the school announced redshirt sophomore Shaqquan Aaron had withdrawn his name from the NBA draft pool and planned to return for his junior season on Twitter:
Aaron was the final piece to reject the NBA this offseason. Sophomore forward Chimezie Metu and junior point guard Jordan McLaughlin declined to enter their names into the draft pool while junior guard Elijah Stewart flirted with the idea, but ultimately chose not to either. Sophomore forward Bennie Boatwright was an early entrant, but like Aaron chose not to hire and agent. Only a few days after the deadline to enter the draft, Boatwright had received the feedback he needed and chose to return to school.
The Trojans return every underclassman, losing only graduate transfer Charles Buggs, who played only sparingly last season due to a lingering knee injury. They are already being ballyhooed as a Pac-12 championship contender with the additions of three quality freshmen and former Duke point guard Derryck Thornton Jr., who will be eligible this season after sitting out a year due to NCAA transfer rules.
Aaron will only add to that. The 6-foot-7 wing has the ability to shoot over anyone and can create his own shot, but he contributes best when he works within the constraints of the offense. But part of the reason Aaron tested the waters is because minutes are going to be harder and harder to come by next season with all the talent that Andy Enfield has accumulated, particularly on the perimeter.
This will be an important offseason for the talented but mercurial game of Aaron. He started 20 games and averaged 20.8 minutes, scoring 7.6 points and 3.1 rebounds. He even earned Pac-12 Player of the Week the final week of January after a breakout performance against UCLA saw him score a career-high 23 points. However, late in the season, he became the odd man out down the stretch after Boatwright returned from a knee injury. He played just 24 total minutes in USC's three NCAA tournament games.
Aaron needs to makes some improvements in order to be a prominent figure in the rotation next season. His outside shot needs to be more consistent so can be a catch-and-shoot option on the wing when his teammates create. Aaron also has the ability to penetrate and get into the lane, so improving his three-point shot will only broaden the horizon of his game. The Trojans coaching staff also wants Aaron to be more invested defensively. He could be a defensive weapon with his long arms and quick hands, but he had just 14 steals and six blocks in 36 games last year.
With Aaron's return, USC will face much grander expectations than it has seen in the last decade. The Trojans have increased their record from 11-20 to 21-13 to last season's 26-10. Continuing that trend could put the 2017-18 squad in rare Trojan company. They are expected to be ranked in the preseason poll for the first time since 2009 and have a shot at cracking the top 10 before the season for the first time since 1975.
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