With the start of their seasons approaching less than a month away, the USC men’s and women’s basketball teams held their first media sessions Friday.
For the women’s team, a 17-14 finish with an 8-5 finish to Pac-12 play last season is reason for optimism. The team will bring everyone except graduating senior forward Kayla Overbeck back from last season’s roster. Head coach Mark Trakh’s group is extremely young, with one graduate, no seniors, just one junior, seven sophomores and four freshmen.
Junior captain and guard Desiree Caldwell has played a key role as a leader so far, Trakh said.
“Desi does a great job keeping our kids motivated [and] staying positive with them all the time,” Trakh said. “She actually is performing very, very well in practice, shooting the ball very well.”
Trakh also highlighted the play of sophomore Alissa Pili, last season’s leading scorer. The 6-foot forward was voted Freshman of the Year in the Pac-12 last year and selected as the third-best in her class in the country by ESPN.
After averaging 16.3 points her first year, Trakh said Pili has the potential to go down as one of the best players to ever play at USC.
“For anybody that’s seen her, they understand she’s a tough matchup,” Trakh said. “She can shoot the threes, she can score inside, she can face the basket and go at the basket.”
Sophomore guard Endyia Rogers was another player Trakh mentioned as a candidate for a breakout year. Trakh spoke of Rogers in a similar tone as Pili, saying she too can be remembered as “one of the great guards to have played at USC.”
The Trojans finished last season by winning four of their last five games and feel the confidence they built can carry into this year.
“Last year we learned a lot,” Caldwell said. “The vibe of this season right now this year is that we’re just very hungry.”
The main goals for the Trojans this year are to finish top six in the Pac-12, keep building for the future and make the NCAA Tournament, Trakh said.
On the other hand, the men’s team is coming off a 22-9 season that saw it finish fourth in the Pac-12.
The Trojans lost six players from last year’s squad but welcome highly touted and top-ranked freshman forward Evan Mobley to the roster. In addition, Evan’s brother Isaiah, a sophomore forward, will be an important returning piece to the team.
Head coach Andy Enfield had high praise for the freshman Mobley.
“Every day it seems like he does something different, whether it’s offensively or defensively, that no one else can do on our team or anybody we played against last year,” Enfield said. “So it’s fun to watch some of those spectacular plays, but he’s a developing player.”
The Trojans’ practically brand new roster brings new expectations and qualities to the team’s play.
“We’re excited about our talent level and our roster,” Enfield said. “They have great chemistry and we have a lot of athleticism and size and length, but we just have to go out and prove it.”
Both Mobleys contribute to that length and size of a Trojan team that Enfield described as the biggest ever at USC. Enfield hopes it can make the Trojans versatile on the defensive end of the floor.
“I think we’ll be very good defensively like we were last year because of our size and length and our toughness,” Enfield said. “But we just have to find a nice consistency offensively and defensively with a group that has never played together.”
That is a key challenge for the men’s team this year. Unlike the women’s team, which has some continuity, Enfield’s group is bringing many new faces into the equation this year: Only seven players return from last year’s roster.
Enfield said the Trojans boast lots of tough players, such as guards sophomore Ethan Anderson and redshirt senior Isaiah White.
White and redshirt seniors Chevez Goodwin and Tahj Eaddy have impressed in training camp so far, Enfield said. A 6-foot-9 forward transfer from Wofford, Goodwin adds size to the Trojans. Eaddy, on the other hand, is a 6-foot-2 guard who transferred from Santa Clara University and brings extra ball handling.
With the roster as relatively new as it is, Enfield emphasized that everybody on the team is going to have to play minutes.
The men’s season tips off Nov. 25 against an undecided opponent.