Newcomers buoy USC's hopes for improved season
LOS ANGELES (AP) Southern California has no seniors, just three juniors and two eligible transfers in coach Andy Enfield's second season.
That's not necessarily a bad thing.
The Trojans are coming off a rough season, with an 11-21 record, including two Pac-12 victories. They lost nine of their final 10 regular-season games before getting bounced out of the league tournament in their opener.
That may be more easily forgotten with the arrival of six newcomers to a program that Enfield was brought in to make relevant at a school nationally known for its football team.
''We have a young and energetic team with great chemistry,'' Enfield said.
Among the new faces is highly touted guard Jordan McLaughlin, a local recruit pursued by other schools that Enfield was able to swipe. McLaughlin played at the same Rancho Cucamonga high school as former UCLA and NBA veteran Darren Collison.
''We have more athleticism, better shooting,'' Enfield said. ''We'll be able to do more things this year.''
Sophomore Nikola Jovanovic is the Trojans' lone returning starter. The Serb averaged 8.0 points and 4.4 rebounds while starting 24 of 32 games, playing an average of nearly 21 minutes.
The Trojans lost their top four scorers from last season that averaged a combined 46.6 points and 18.3 rebounds.
They are picked by the media to finish 10th in the Pac-12. They open the season on Nov. 15 at home against Portland State.
''We need to take that as a challenge and elevate our program to where some of the other teams in the league are,'' Enfield said.
Here are some things to know about USC this season:
WELL-TRAVELED JOVANOVIC: The 6-foot-10 forward was part of the Pac-12's traveling team that played in China last summer. Jovanovic also followed a program developed by USC's strength and conditioning coach that helped him add 25 pounds of muscle. ''I was trying to be better in the post moves and also to be a more consistent shooter,'' Jovanovic said. Enfield credits the sophomore for transforming his game by improving his perimeter moves and rebounding.
BACKCOURT: McLaughlin will get the chance to make an impact early on. ''We're expecting big things from him,'' Enfield said. ''I think he came to USC for that opportunity, to be relied upon as a freshman.'' Enfield said McLaughlin's likable attitude has made him a magnet for his teammates.
OTHER FRESHMEN: Besides McLaughlin, the other freshmen are forward Malik Price-Martin (among the top-rated players in Miami, Florida) and guards Malik Marquetti and Elijah Stewart.
TRANSFERS: Guard Katin Reinhardt and forward Darion Clark are both eligible after sitting out last season. Reinhardt transferred from UNLV, where he started 34 of 35 games as a freshman. He shed 18 pounds over the summer to get down to 200 and has been working on shot selection, defense and ballhandling. Clark transferred from Charlotte after one season. He averaged 6.2 points and 4.6 rebounds while starting 18 of 32 games there.
NEXT SEASON: Enfield's tenure remains a work in progress, and it may be another year before he can recruit even more local talent. These Trojans seem unlikely to earn any type of postseason bid, especially with a schedule that includes 11 opponents who played in the NCAA tournament last season. It's more about gaining experience to move up in the league next year.