With the end of football season just around the corner, the Trojan faithful will now be turning their attention to the USC men’s basketball team.
Athletic Director Pat Haden made a huge splash in April in hiring head coach Andy Enfield to replace the fired Kevin O’Neill and, hopefully, change the direction of the flailing basketball program.
The move received mixed reviews, with some looking at the hire as a glorified publicity stunt for a program that has struggled to fill the Galen Center seats and others believing Enfield’s high-octane offense will translate well to the Pac-12.
One thing is absolutely for certain, though — this USC basketball season will be one to watch.
Senior center Omar Oraby shined at times last season, mostly coming off the bench in O’Neill’s slowed-down system, but seemed to struggle in critical moments. Still, his 7-foot-2 frame cannot be ignored in the bruising Pac-12, so fans should expect his minutes to increase, and for the Rice transfer to play a dominant role on this year’s squad.
The Cairo, Egypt native averaged a respectable 6.3 points and 3.9 rebounds in just over 14 minutes per game. His real presence, however, was felt on the defensive end, where he averaged 1.5 blocks per contest.
Though Oraby should enter the season as the Trojans’ starting center, questions remain about how he will fare in Enfield’s new offensive system.
“I’ve been working in the offseason very hard on my conditioning and my quickness,” Oraby said. “My main focus was to get my conditioning better and to start and stay in the game as long as I can.”
Oraby seems to be settled in as the team’s most dangerous low-post presence, but it is not clear who Enfield and his staff will select to join him in the frontcourt as the starter at power forward.
Sophomore forward Strahinja Gavrilovic seems to be the early favorite, as the Serbia native made some impressive strides this summer.
Last season, Gavrilovic appeared in just six games, but has shown that he has a very potent inside-out game. His three-point range is especially intriguing, as it could make him a great tandem play with Oraby, who does most of his work deep in the post on the low block.
“I like Coach Enfield’s system, especially because I’m prepared to run,” Gavrilovic said. “I like how he plays me in the four-spot. He wants me to spread the floor [and] to shoot threes. I have more opportunities here in this system.”
In addition to Gavrilovic, a pair of freshman forwards in Roschon Prince and Nikola Jovanovic will also be given an opportunity early in the season to compete for minutes and potentially grab a starting spot.
Prince comes to USC after an extremely heralded prep career that saw him earn the Gatorade High School Player of the Year award for the state of California as a senior. During his time at perennial powerhouse Long Beach Polytechnic High School, Prince established himself as an extremely aggressive player on both ends of the floor, and is expected to make an impact on the program for years to come.
Whereas Prince excels at the dirty work inside the paint, Jovanovic prefers to utilize his quickness and technique to cause mismatches for opposing teams. At 6-foot-10, he will be taller than most of the power forwards who try to guard him, and he is already known as one of the better shooters on the team.
“I like to score and rebound. Somehow I am always in the right place at the right time,” Jovanovic said. “I will shoot the three-point shot whenever I have a chance.”
For now, Enfield might be coy about who he wants in his starting lineup, but one thing is for certain — he’s promising fun and excitement, and he wants the fans to come out and show support, regardless of who starts at forward or any other position.
“I think our whole team is exciting,” Enfield said. “It’s going to be a lot of fun, so the student and fan experience should be awesome.”
The Trojans’ season opener is on Friday against Utah State in Logan, Utah. The team opens at home Nov. 12 against Cal State Northridge at the Galen Center.
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