Men’s basketball has new faces all around

First-year USC Head Coach Eric Musselman has fully retooled the Trojan roster.

Rising senior forward Harrison Hornery is one of just two returning players from the 2023-24 team. He will look to be a leader for Musselman. (Ethan Thai / Daily Trojan)

USC men’s basketball endured a turbulent past couple of months. From moving on from longtime Head Coach Andy Enfield to replacing him with a coach with a breadth of NCAA Tournament experience in new Head Coach Eric Musselman, the Trojans look vastly different.

Only two players remain from the 2023-24 team — rising senior forward Harrison Hornery and graduate guard JD Plough — as Musselman navigated the transfer portal and remaining recruits to bring in an entirely new team. He has a tough act to follow, as Enfield consistently brought in highly touted players to don the cardinal and gold. Across Enfield’s 10-year tenure, he brought in 12 of USC’s 15 highest-ranked recruits ever. 

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Although Musselman was late to the 2024 recruiting cycle at USC, he still nabbed two top-60, four-star recruits. Isaiah Elohim, the higher-ranked of the two, is a small forward out of Sierra Canyon School. Weighing in at 190 pounds, he’s a strong forward who’s effective at getting to and scoring at the rim. Musselman’s other high school talent, Jalen Shelley, is much more slender than Elohim but comfortable moving with the ball in his hands. 

But unlike last season when a lot of the pressure was on the freshmen to make an impact, the bulk of the players Musselman has brought in are experienced transfers. The Trojans will have a whopping 11 transfer players coming in next season. While USC only has the 17th-best transfer class — behind five other Big Ten teams — Musselman found quite a few diamonds in the rough.

The true gem out of the bunch will most likely be rising junior guard Desmond Claude, who transferred over from Xavier University. Claude is the reigning Big East Most Improved Player after increasing his scoring from 4.7 to 16.6 points per game. He was ranked as the 30th-best player in the transfer portal and looks to be one of Musselman’s key pieces. Claude is a high-volume scorer — with 31 games in double-digit points in the past season — and is battle-tested against tough competition, having played in the Big East.

Claude will be joined by another top-ranked transfer: rising senior forward Saint Thomas, who came over from the University of Northern Colorado. While he hasn’t faced the type of competition Claude has, Thomas was a star for the Bears a season ago. He averaged 19.7 points per game on 47% shooting while hauling in a shade under 10 rebounds per game and was named to the Big Sky All-Conference First Team.

Graduate forward Josh Cohen was already committed to transfer to Arkansas but decided to follow Musselman to USC. He’s a highly efficient big man, shooting above 54% from the field in every season that he played. He was a member of the All-Atlantic 10 First Team as part of the University of Massachusetts Amherst, with an average of 15.9 points per game.

Thomas and Cohen represent a clear trend in Musselman’s transfers: efficient leading scorers at mid-major programs. Graduate guards Chibuzo Agbo, with 13.7 points per game at Boise State University; Clark Slajchert, with 18 points per game at the University of Pennsylvania; and Bryce Pope, with 18.3 points per game at UC San Diego, along with graduate forward Rashaun Agee, with 13.3 points per game at Bowling Green State University, all were first or second on their teams in scoring last season.

But potentially the biggest curveball of the bunch will be redshirt freshman guard Wesley Yates who transferred from Washington. Yates was a top-50 recruit coming out of high school with offers from the likes of Baylor, Alabama and Arkansas. He eventually chose Washington but suffered a foot injury before the season started.

Unlike the other transfers, he has no college experience under his belt, but Yates was a highly rated recruit coming out of high school for a reason. He’s a dynamic guard who can muscle his way into the paint at will with his extra strength. He has the capability to be a difference-maker for Musselman’s team next year.

After adding 11 transfers and bringing in two high school recruits, it seems the dust has settled a bit with all the changes surrounding USC men’s basketball. With practices starting up, we can start to see how all these players will mesh together. Musselman got the players he wanted and has finalized his staff. Now, it’s time to see if he can replicate his past successes at Galen Center.

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