USC heads into another season with low expectations, but the good news is that there is only one place to go after finishing last in the Pac-12 and winning just two league games last season. Second-year head coach Andy Enfield has an equally inexperienced roster after a pair of key transfers left the program during the offseason, but now in the fold are some new faces that may better fit his open-court style of play. Plenty of focus will go toward UNLV transfer Katin Reinhardt, a redshirt sophomore who sat out last season, as the Trojans will surely rely on his shooting touch to provide a bulk of the scoring load. The big name to keep an eye on, however, is freshman Jordan McLaughlin. Sophomore Julian Jacobs is the closest thing to a veteran to help bring the 6’1” point guard along slowly, but his time is now. Like Reinhardt, who attended local powerhouse Mater Dei High School, McLaughlin is a product from nearby Etiwanda. But unlike prospects across town at UCLA, there is no added hometown pressure and rich tradition to live up to. McLaughlin is what Enfield hopes will be the start to his foundation.
The overarching theme in the Pac-12 this season is the number of programs that must replace significant contributors. Half of the league could take a step back, in some fashion. But aside from Roschon Prince, who transferred to Long Beach State, there wasn’t much to redeem for USC – and how much would you want to return anyway from a group that found itself in the bottom three of several statistical categories? There is no choice but to start fresh, and McLaughlin is the biggest prize of Enfield’s recruiting class. A four-star product who was a top-50 player on both the Rivals and Scout recruiting services, he can use his quickness to get to the rim and score in bunches despite his smaller stature. Passing is not an issue, either, and McLaughlin will have a handful of capable mid-to-long-range shooters at his disposal on the wings. There will be some growing pains and a necessary adjustment to the physicality of the collegiate level, but he is poised to take the reins early and lead the Trojans from the outset.
This is likely to be another long season ahead in a longer journey to respectability for USC, but there is some intrigue here. There is no choice but to let McLaughlin loose, and the more he learns early, the better. In the big picture outlook, this is Enfield’s long-term investment that needs to provide some sense of identity for a team that has none. McLaughlin represents the immediate future for the Trojans and few first-year players around the Pac-12 will be relied upon more heavily.