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Trojans have their highest expectations in years, along with an FBI investigation

Zach Helfand, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Basketball

USC has the depth to weather roster disruption. USC lost one scholarship player from last season. Forwards Chimezie Metu and Bennie Boatwright spurned the NBA draft to return. Both thought an extra year would help their NBA stock, and they knew their return could lift USC to rarefied heights.

"I thought that we had a chance to be really good this year and a chance to do something special," Metu said.

The pair makes a formidable frontcourt. Metu provides rim protection and athleticism. Boatwright brings a mismatch-creating combination of size and skill.

USC's backcourt may be even more loaded. There is Stewart, a spring-footed three-point shooter. There are Jonah Mathews and De'Anthony Melton, who enjoyed breakout freshmen seasons, particularly on defense. USC will add two freshmen, Charles O'Bannon Jr. and Jordan Usher, who, in past USC seasons, might have played major minutes early.

And USC adds point guard Derryck Thornton, who started as a freshman for Duke two seasons ago before transferring.

It will be up to McLaughlin to keep everyone involved. Under Enfield, USC has usually enjoyed balanced scoring. This season, USC may have too many weapons to satisfy everyone. For instance, the role of Shaqquan Aaron, a streaky wing who saw his playing time decline last season, will be a question early.

McLaughlin said he and Thornton will share point guard duties much as he and Julian Jacobs did two seasons ago. McLaughlin said he knew of one way to quell dissension over usage.

"Just make sure we're winning," he said. "If we're winning, it doesn't matter about stats."

Stewart added that shooters could have the luxury, and the obligation, to be selective.

"If you shoot, you better make it," he said. "We're playing percentages this year."

The Trojans find themselves in an unfamiliar position. They are expected to compete for a Pac-12 championship, battling Arizona and UCLA. In past seasons, USC did not have to contend with expectations. Players used slights from pollsters and pundits as fuel.

Last winter, Stewart described USC as "the Harry Potter of the Pac-12," crammed and forgotten under a metaphorical staircase, just like the fictional wizard.

Recently, he said the description still fit. Arizona, he said, was like the series' villain, Voldemort, because "people fear Voldemort, people always respect Arizona." USC, he said, still follows the hero's arc.

"Harry Potter got more respect as the (series) went on," he said. "It's a Harry Potter story. You started off, the hat didn't know where to place you, just threw you up in a random house. And now you're the king of the wizards."

(c)2017 Los Angeles Times

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