USC men’s basketball ended its 2017-18 season on a disastrous note.
Between the team’s NCAA Tournament snub, the departure of sophomore guard De’Anthony Melton and its embarrassing second-round exit in the NIT, it appeared as though USC hoops fans had little to celebrate and even less to look forward to.
But on Monday, the program finally received good news — the team’s Twitter account announced junior forward Bennie Boatwright will return for his senior year and forgo the NBA Draft. His decision appears to be motivated, in part, by a devastating knee injury he suffered in February.
“A key factor in Bennie Boatwright’s decision to return to USC was that he is still rehabbing from his season-ending knee injury,” tweeted Joey Kaufman, a reporter for the Orange County Register. “It would be difficult for him to work out for NBA teams.”
Now, next year’s prospective roster looks much less barren than before. With senior guards Jordan McLaughlin and Elijah Stewart running out of eligibility, junior forward Chimezie Metu presumably entering the draft and Melton leaving the program, USC would’ve had to rely on transfers in order to be competitive in 2018-19. But Boatwright’s return (if he’s healthy) guarantees the Trojans at least one reliable scorer come next winter.
While it’s undeniably positive news for USC fans, Boatwright’s return came as quite a surprise. Boatwright was embroiled in the never-ending Tony Bland scandal in February, when Yahoo! Sports reported that he and Metu received improper benefits. Boatwright denied the claims and was never ruled ineligible by the University. Still, conventional wisdom indicated that he’d depart sooner rather than later in order to avoid the NCAA’s reckoning, should that day ever come.
But instead, Boatwright is back. Beyond affording him a chance to rehab his knee, a return to campus should benefit Boatwright in other ways too. He’s always been proficient as a volume scorer (13.0 points per game during his career), but struggled mightily with efficiency. In 2017-18, Boatwright has shot .415 percent from the field — the lowest among USC starters, while his .346 3-point clip marked a career low.
Next season will be an interesting one for Boatwright. As the team’s primary scorer, he needs to improve his shot selection, while also taking more shots. Junior guard Jonah Mathews (9.3 points per game this season) and sophomore forward Jordan Usher (4.8 points per game) should help ease the load, but make no mistake: This is Boatwright’s team now. In the limelight, his strengths and weaknesses will be exposed to NBA scouts like never before.
During his career, he’s had difficulty gaining separation in one-on-one situations and thus has developed a habit of hoisting up contested jumpers and floaters. His reckless style of play has created many highlight plays and memorable moments, but it’s also hampered his consistency. Boatwright’s quickness probably isn’t going to improve, especially with multiple knee and hip injuries under his belt. But he can still work on improving as a passer during his senior season, which would add a much-needed dimension to his shot-heavy game.
Boatwright’s frame (6’10”, 225 pounds) and shooting potential make him a solid NBA prospect at the stretch-four position. But his knee injury, coupled with concerns about his passing and defensive ability, would have surely kept him out of the lottery this season. A return to campus will allow him to hone in on those deficiencies and potentially improve his stock for the 2019 NBA Draft.
Boatwright’s return appears to be be a win-win situation. USC basketball gets one of its top scorers back on an otherwise decimated roster, while Boatwright gets another chance to prove himself to NBA scouts.
Head coach Andy Enfield still has plenty of holes to fill, and the threat of NCAA sanctions still looms in the distance like an army of White Walkers. But for a program enveloped by scandal and misfortune since September, Boatwright’s return offers an ounce of much-needed good news.
Here are a couple of things I enjoyed in sports this week:
Quinn Cook signs two-year deal with Warriors
Coming out of college, Golden State Warriors guard Quinn Cook was never expected to have a successful NBA career. He went un-drafted out of Duke in 2015, played in the G-League and bounced around the league on a series of 10-day contracts. Now, after suiting up for five different teams in three years, Cook finally has a home. On Tuesday, reigning NBA champion Golden State inked Cook to a two-year deal, ensuring he will be a key part of the team’s playoff run.
Cook has been instrumental in keeping the Warriors afloat in the absence of Stephen Curry, who’s been out with an MCL tear. Over the past 13 games, he’s averaging 17.8 points and 5.2 assists per contest.
Cook’s overachieving play was not only rewarded with a new contract, but also the chance to play for an NBA title. You can bet the Atlanta Hawks and Dallas Mavericks regret cutting him now.
Roma upsets Barcelona
In the first leg of the Champions League quarter-final, Barcelona thrashed Italian-side Roma 4-1. It was an expected result — the Spanish league leaders are likely the most talented and complete team in the world.
The second leg, however, featured anything but the expected. Roma scored an early goal in the sixth minute and never let up, ultimately shocking the world with a 3-0 win that tied the aggregate score at 4-4. Roma won the tiebreaker on away goals, completing one of the most unlikely upsets in Champions League history.
Barcelona stars Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Luis Suarez will surely have the last laugh in the end, as they’ll have many more opportunities to win championships (they’re on course to win La Liga this year). But right now, it’s Roma’s moment and their win is a reminder that anything can happen in sports.
Trevor Denton is a sophomore majoring in journalism. He is also the sports editor of the Daily Trojan. His column, “T-Time,” runs Wednesdays.