The USC men’s basketball team has been undermanned at best through its first two contests this season, but reinforcements are on their way.
The Trojans will play host to Coppin State this Friday with the added help of redshirt senior forward Marcus Johnson and redshirt junior forward Alex Stepheson.
The return of Stepheson and Johnson is all the more important considering redshirt junior forward Kasey Cunningham’s torn ACL, which will force him to miss the entire regular season.
Johnson and Stepheson both missed the season-opening win over UC Riverside and the subsequent loss to Loyola Marymount. USC (1-1) was forced to rely on only seven players in the two games, blowing a 12-point lead in the second half and falling 67-59 against LMU.
But beginning this weekend, first-year coach Kevin O’Neill will have added weapons at his disposal in Johnson and Stepheson.
Johnson, a 6-foot-6, 210-pound forward, sat out the first two games per an NCAA punishment because of an exhibition game he played in with Connecticut in 2007. The Westchester High product transferred to USC after two seasons with UConn and played 16 games last season with the Trojans.
Stepheson practiced with USC all of last year but didn’t play because of NCAA transfer rules. The 6-foot-9, 235-pounder transferred from North Carolina after his sophomore season to be closer to his family, which was dealing with several health concerns.
Coppin State, coached by the legendary Ron “Fang” Mitchell, boasts a roster led by guards Lenny Young and Kareem Brown. Young is averaging a team-leading 14.7 points per game this season while Brown leads the team in minutes played with more than 29 per game.
Mitchell recorded his 600th win as a head coach at the college level with the Eagles’ victory over West Virginia Tech earlier this month. Coppin State (3-1) is traditionally a Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference power.