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USC Men's Basketball Preview: Young And Hungry

Mary Grace Montemayor |
November 6, 2014 | 5:16 p.m. PST

Sports Reporter

Last practice before season opener. (MG Montemayor/Neon Tommy)
Last practice before season opener. (MG Montemayor/Neon Tommy)
It's that time in November when it's finally sweater weather in California. Well, not quite. But it is Trojan basketball season, and the time to jump on the bandwagon is now.

A team with zero seniors coming off an 11-21 season, and sitting in the bottom of Pac-12 standings over the past three seasons, doesn't sound like a team to watch. But this young, eager, and talented squad is ready to start a new era under Andy Enfield's second year as head coach.

Using their youth to their advantage will be the ticket to their journey up the ranks against Pac-12 contenders. With six new players in rotation, including four true freshmen, in a fast-paced offensive system, Coach Enfield worked to trim the learning curve as much as possible.

Because of the energy they bring, tiring out the opponent is going to be key in contending with veteran teams like Arizona and Colorado. 

The Trojans' top two freshman recruits, Jordan McLaughlin and Elijah Stewart, are called upon to deliver right away and will likely start. It doesn't seem to bother Stewart, who is ready to do his part. "You just got to do what you do. You don't really think about the responsibility you're about to be carrying," he said. 

Besides the incoming freshmen, redshirt sophomore transfers Darion Clark and Katin Reinhardt are ready to be back on the court after a season sitting out. 

"[It's the] first time I get to put a jersey on and play in front of fans in over a year," said Reinhardt. The combo-guard shed 18 pounds since then. "It helped my game because I'm able to move around a lot more. I'm in way better shape to be running off screens."

Meanwhile, the 6-foot-7 "undersized" forward and co-captain, Clark, has a lot to prove. He has improved his shooting and will be another force on the offensive front. 

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Sophomore forward Nikola Jovanovic also used the off-season for some growth. Representing the Pac-12 All-Stars in China, he is returning for his second season with the Trojans with 25-pounds of muscle. He played in all 32 games last season and should continue to dominate in the paint and behind the arc.

Also playing in every game last season, and one to watch, is sophomore guard Julian "Juju" Jacobs. The other team co-captain is a threat on offense and is a tough rebounder as well. Ranking second among Pac-12 freshman last season in assists, he also has the ability to get the ball in the right hands. 

Although this team is still learning to work together, a sense of unity already exists. "I think we fit very well because everyone's unselfish. Everyone is just all ears and open to listening and just learning. I think this group of guys is going to take us a long way. We're very coachable and just want to get better everyday," said Reinhardt.

As for their chemistry, Stewart credits their off-the-court bonding sessions. "You can probably find us in a room chillin', just eating, talking about our day, how practice went, playing FIFA...normal stuff."

Underdogs always seem to have something to prove and combined with their youth; it will make this team fascinating to watch. They did pull off a 77-69 upset over Cal last year. 

They face thier first opponent of the season, Cal State Los Angeles, in an exhibition game this Saturday at 1 pm at the Galen Center.

Reach Sports Reporter MG Montemayor here. Twitter: @mgmontem



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