LOS ANGELES--When Elijah Stewart and Jordan McLaughlin committed to USC four years ago, the Trojans were closer to the bottom 10 in college basketball than the top 10. The team had won 11 games the season before they arrived. The program was in a dark place.
So a few days before the pair began their senior seasons -- with USC now ranked No. 10 in the preseason Associated Press poll for the first time since 1974, with a team many expect to compete for the Pac-12 Conference title and with legitimate Final Four dreams -- a reporter asked Stewart: Could he possibly have envisioned all of this?
Stewart leaned in, grabbed the reporter's recorder and put it next to his mouth.
"Duhhh!" he said. "That's why we came here, man. Everyone made fun of us. 'Aw, you had all these other schools. Why did you go there?' People were making fun of me saying, 'Loser, going to USC. You're going to lose there too.'
"Now, I'm not gonna throw names out there, but we had some people trying to transfer here that were saying I was crazy for coming here."
Stewart, McLaughlin and the teammates that followed them to USC find themselves on the cusp of fulfilling an unlikely vision that began four years ago. USC finally has experience. USC finally has more talent than it can jam onto the floor. Its biggest basketball-related question this season is a nice one: Is there enough playing time and scoring to keep everyone happy?
The specter of an FBI investigation tempers the start of an otherwise giddy season. A federal grand jury indicted assistant coach Tony Bland on corruption and bribery charges Tuesday and alleged that he facilitated cash payments to relatives of one current USC player and one recruit.
Coach Andy Enfield did not say if every player would be available or eligible to play when USC opens the season against Cal State Fullerton on Friday
"We have everyone practicing right now," he said earlier this week.
Asked what that meant for the game, he said, "I can't comment on anything regarding what you're talking about."