Southern Cal's Fresh Faces Are Seeking A Fresh Start

A fresh start can be uplifting, as USC basketball aims to find out with its Aug. 6-16 tour of Spain and France.

The Trojans begin their three-game trip in Barcelona. That’s where the basketball world gets its first look at a revamped cardinal-and-gold lineup, welcoming six 2019 newcomers.

Headliners of the new corps—ranked No. 6 overall in the country—are 5-star prospects Isaiah Mobley and Onyeka Okongwu. USC also officially debuts 4-star recruit Max Agbonkpolo on the European swing.

The impressive freshman trio all signed with USC coach Andy Enfield from high schools in southern California. Mobley shined for national powerhouse Rancho Christian in Temecula; Okongwu comes from Chino Hills; and Agbonkpolo starred at Santa Margarita Catholic in Orange County.

USC’s impressive recruiting haul hits a reset button of starts after a disappointing two years for the program. The Trojans won a pair of games in the 2017 NCAA Tournament, and with a veteran roster returning for the following season, were tabbed in the preseason Top 10.

Despite winning 23 games in the regular season, and reaching the championship of the Pac-12 Tournament, a rocky start and the overall struggles of the conference relegated USC to the NIT. A talented squad in 2018-19 finished below .500, 16-17, after a bevy of injuries.

A fresh, athletic—and hopefully healthy—USC team figures to challenge in a wide-open Pac-12 in 2019-20, however. And Enfield has more than a kiddie corps on which to rely.

The new blood also includes swingman Daniel Utomi, a graduate transfer from Akron and double-figure scorer in each of the previous two campaigns. Utomi’s skill set should pair nicely with that of one of the Trojans’ cornerstone returners, Jonah Matthews.

Utomi is an effective 3-point shooter, last season knocking better than 37 percent on 232 attempts. Combined with Matthews, who shot north of 39 percent in 2018-19, opposing defenses will have to honor the long ball.

And if there’s any clear benefit to tipping off the season in Europe, it’s the early introduction that tandem will have to the FIBA 3-point lines, which the NCAA voted to adopt this season.

Enfield’s career-long emphasis on spreading the floor offensively could come to fruition with this USC bunch. The roster features a potential combination of players adept at all phases, with Mobley a dangerous slasher, and returning center Nick Rakocevic back to bang on the inside with Okongwu.

Okongwu’s USC debut in Europe continues a busy summer for the promising prospect. He reunited with former Chino Hills teammate LaMelo Ball at Los Angeles’ famed Drew League in June. 

Although not arriving at USC with the same fanfare as the highly rated recruiting class, a possible key to the season -- and someone to keep an eye on during the European tour -- is graduate transfer Quinton Adlesh.

Adlesh comes from Columbia, taking over a spot guard spot where Jordan McLaughlin still casts a long shadow. McLaughlin graduated in 2018, having set a bevy of records for his passing.

With as much talent as Enfield promises to throw on the floor, an effective distributor managing touches could prove critical for the Trojans.

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