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USC standout Onyeka Okongwu declares for the NBA draft

Ryan Kartje, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Basketball

LOS ANGELES -- After a single, shortened season that saw him solidify his place as one of college basketball's most talented freshmen, USC forward Onyeka Okongwu is on his way to the NBA.

The Chino Hills (Calif.) High product declared his intentions Wednesday, following a season in which he led USC in points (16.2), rebounds (8.6) and blocks (2.7). The 6-foot-9, 245-pound Okongwu is expected to be a lottery pick in the upcoming draft, which would make him the first Trojan drafted that high since DeMar DeRozan was selected ninth in 2009.

"All good things must come to an end," Okongwu wrote in a statement on Twitter. "I want to take the next step when the opportunity presents itself."

That next step had long been anticipated by his coaches and USC teammates, even before the NCAA tournament was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. USC coach Andy Enfield had been anything but coy in recent weeks about Okongwu's impending declaration.

On Wednesday, shortly after Okongwu announced his decision, Enfield recalled a game during USC's trip through Europe last summer when the Trojans' young big man completely took over.

"He was making jump hooks, dunking on them, rebounding, running the floor, blocking shots," Enfield said. "I told my staff, we might have to take him out, before he declares for the NBA right now. Everybody kind of chuckled. But our coaches were thinking the same thing, 'Let's enjoy Onyeka this year, and hopefully he helps us win a lot of games, because we're not going to have him very long.' "

 

Senior forward Nick Rakocevic was thinking the same.

"I just knew then, this kid is going to be a lottery pick without question," Rakocevic said. "It was obvious."

Okongwu enters an uncertain draft process at an especially uncertain time for the NBA, which has suspended operations. Some mock drafts list him as a potential top-10 pick, and with the scouting process likely truncated, Okongwu's consistent production at USC could send him further up draft boards.

It didn't take long for Okongwu to prove himself at the college level. Okongwu scored 20 points and recorded double figures in points and rebounds in each of his first two games. He added nine more double-doubles.

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