Penny Hardaway should have four NBA titles by now. Bo Jackson could have been hands-down the greatest athlete who ever lived. And I could have made my high school baseball team had it not been for the fact that I was competing with the future No. 1 overall pick Mickey Moniak.
Every team and every player has potential to be the greatest, but only some achieve it. This year’s USC men’s basketball team has that same potential to win the national title.
By now blue bloods like UCLA and Arizona have probably lost their voices from laughter, and I’m okay with that. This USC team has been the most slept on team for years, and I am sick of people claiming this isn’t a basketball school. Yes, football is, and always will be, USC’s sport; but that doesn’t mean that sports like basketball don’t matter or won’t do well.
Aside from a complete snub by the NCAA tournament committee last year, this squad has turned itself into one of the top teams in the Pac-12. Thanks to expert recruiting and coaching from head coach Andy Enfield, this team has potential even without stars Elijah Stewart, Jordan McLaughlin, De’Anthony Melton and Chimezie Metu.
The lineup, much like my candy bag after Halloween, is loaded, and I’m expecting a king-size payday (not the confusing peanut amalgamation, but a national title).
Starting at forward is senior 3-point splasher senior Bennie Boatwright and junior 2-point slasher Nick Rakocevic. While Boatwright has always been an NBA quality player with his scoring abilities, Rakocevic has transitioned from a lanky, foul-heavy rebounder to a premiere post presence.
Rakocevic hit nearly two out of three of his shots last year and scored 48 points in his final three games, including an unreal 24-point, 19-rebound performance against UNC Asheville in the first round of the NIT tournament, thanks to recently-added interior box outs, hesitations and ball fakes that made me wonder if the Chicago native had gotten hold of Michael’s secret juice from “Space Jam.”
Aside from the two bigs, USC guards are ready to explode and have been waiting years for an opportunity to show everyone what made them so good in high school.
Second-year starter and junior Jonah Matthews, fifth-year role player Shaqquan Aaron, lightning bug sophomore Jordan Usher and former Duke starter redshirt junior Derryck Thornton all have the potential to make this team one of the best kept secrets in college basketball.
Last year, the collection shined in moments here or there. But given the presence of seniors McLaughlin and Stewart, they were often seen as secondary players, chipping in when they could.
After a full season of development behind two NBA-quality shooters, these kids are prepared to shine the way their talent should. Matthews is a shooting and defensive wizard with huge upside. Thornton is as sure handed as McLaughlin, with an even better take to the rack. Lanky and deadly when he gets hot, Aaron is the second coming of Kobe Bryant. And Usher, a linebacker converted to a tweener sharp-shooter, is as competitive as anyone and simply does not quit.
And those freshmen? Don’t even get me started. I could go on all day long telling you how guard Kevin Porter Jr. will be a lottery pick some day, how forward J’Raan Brooks will dunk all over UCLA and how guard Elijah Weaver will force more turnovers than Porto’s bakery, but it would serve no purpose because many people don’t believe in potential.
Nobody ever does.
People will see this year’s injury-plagued team as a squad that could be. I see them as a team that will be, because once this team gets healthy – and they will – they’re going to win some ball games.
After all, who’s stopping them? Robert Morris Tuesday? Stetson on Friday night?
Aside from games against Nevada and TCU, the Trojans could easily go undefeated in non-conference play, much like they did only a few seasons ago.
Although Election Day will overshadow Tuesday’s home opener, I will not stop campaigning for this team. I’ve already put signs on my lawn, buttons on my backpack and bumper stickers on my Prius. They’ve already earned my vote. What’s stopping you?
Keith Demolder is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism. His column, “Keith’s Keys,” runs every other Tuesday.