LOS ANGELES — USC basketball will be better this season. Of course, when you were as bad as the Trojans were last season, everything is up.
Trojans coach Andy Enfield, no longer basking in the glow of a Sweet 16 appearance with Florida Gulf Coast, promises Year 2 will not be a repeat of last season’s 11-21 campaign that fell apart during Pacific-12 Conference play, when the Trojans were 2-16.
“We have more athleticism, better shooting (this year),” Enfield said. “We have an elite freshman point guard (Jordan McLaughlin) we recruited. We’ll be able to do more things this year.
“But it is an adjustment year to year. Hopefully we’ll make the right ones.”
Expectations are low, which probably helps the Trojans. USC was only picked 10th in the Pac-12 preseason media poll. But expectations are high for McLaughlin, a freshman from Etiwanda High of Rancho Cucamonga.
“People follow him because they like him,” Enfield said. “We’re expecting big things from him. I think he came to USC for that opportunity, to be relied upon as a freshman. He’ll have that opportunity.”
McLaughlin scored a team-high 18 points in USC’s exhibition victory against Cal State Los Angeles last weekend. Another new backcourt addition is UNLV-transfer Katin Reinhardt, a 3-point specialist who must control his shoot-first tendency.
Last year he was admonished by Enfield for not passing enough during practice.
“He’s working on his shot selection,” Enfield said.
Reinhardt averaged 10.1 points at UNLV and made 65 shots from 3-point range. That will help the Trojans, who were the Pac-12’s worst 3-point shooting team last season (29 percent) despite Enfield’s background as a shot coach to NBA players.
Other new players expected to contribute immediately are freshmen forward Malik Martin along with guards Elijah Stewart (Westchester) and Malik Marquetti (Long Beach Millikan). Enfield started three freshmen (McLaughlin, Martin, Stewart) against Cal State L.A.
But for all the talk of new players, 6-11 sophomore Nikola Jovanovic is probably the players the Trojans’ fortunes will rest upon the most. He improved throughout last season and was the leading scorer on a Pac-12 all-star team that went on a tour of China in the summer.
“I was able to show my post moves (in China),” Jovanovic said. “Going forward in the season, I knew I was going to be the tallest guy at USC so I was trying to be better in my post moves and also to be a more consistent shooter. I think I proved it well.”
Whether or not USC makes a splash in the Pac-12, the Trojans should fare well in their nonconference games. Enfield ensured a successful nonconference experience with a home schedule that consists of Portland State, Tennessee Tech, Cal State Fullerton, Loyola Marymount, Utah State, Army and Vermont.
Will that prepare USC for the Pac-12?
“We understand how difficult it is,” Enfield said. “That’s what we’re here for. That’s what it’s all about, competing at the highest level. We need to take that as a challenge and elevate our program to where some of the other teams in the league are.”