Boogie Ellis, Drew Peterson to fuel USC in absence of giants

Over the past three seasons, with a string of 7-foot stars pedaling through USC, there was no mistaking how Andy Enfield planned his Trojans’ play. With future NBA big men like Evan Mobley and Onyeka Okongwu patrolling the Paint, USC towered over almost every team, dominating deep down and scaring off anyone who dared test them from within the arc.

But as Enfield opens his 10th season as USC coach against his former team Florida Gulf Coast on Monday, he will have no choice but to adjust that approach. After years of channeling attacks through an oversized forecourt, USC is thinking smaller this season and plans to rely more on four-guard lineups to spread ground, add pace and, most importantly, shoot from deep.

That approach isn’t exactly radical for college basketball. But it’s a significant stylistic shift for USC, which was among the slowest and least three-point dependent teams in college basketball a season ago…and the season before that…and the season before that.

“It’s very different this year,” Enfield said. “You have to play to your strengths and adjust your personnel. We have to do that early in the season because we have a few guys, but also the strengths of our team are a bit different now.”

Among those missing from the start are two 7-foot rookies, each of whom should contribute this season. Five-star contender Vince Iwuchukwu remains sidelined after a frightening incident over the summer in which he suffered sudden cardiac arrest and was hospitalized for a few days. Russian importer and 7-footer forward Iaroslav Niagu has saved most of preseason with an injury.

Niagu should return soon, Enfield said. But there’s no timeline yet for Iwuchukwu, USC’s top-scoring seventh-grade recruiter, for 2023. Iwuchukwu, touted as the next in line of star Trojans, will no doubt be treated with extreme caution — and with layers of medical clearance .

However, Enfield said USC is “very hopeful” that the five-star player will play this season.

Vince Iwuchukwu, right, drives to the basket during Pangos All-American Camp in June 2021.

Vince Iwuchukwu, right, drives to the basket during Pangos All-American Camp in June 2021. Iwuchukwu is expected to miss some time after suffering cardiac arrest and spending three days in hospital last summer.

(Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

“That progress that he’s having in getting well and exercising and monitoring is happening right now,” Enfield said, “and it’s going really well.”

Without one of his young 7-footers, USC will have to rely on its only returning big man, 6-11 forward Josh Morgan, as well as 6-9 freshman Kijani Wright, who Enfield says was USC’s most improved preseason player was.

But the responsibility for the offensive begins in the backcourt.

“Our new offense is definitely aimed at the guards,” said USC guard Boogie Ellis. “It allows us to go up and down, get in the transition, get in the gaps, get to the edge, drive the ball and hit the ground. And we’re shooting a lot more threesomes now. It’s going to be fun basketball.”

Ellis will be instrumental in how well USC’s offense can play. The 6-3 senior was inconsistent in his first season at USC, streaky off the perimeter and uneven in his ability to initiate offense as a point guard. So Ellis spent the summer working on his decision making and focusing on how to put teammates in the best positions.

He will again have help in that department from Drew Peterson, a fellow preseason All-Pac-12 who returned to USC with “unfinished business” after his stellar performance last March, coming just short of the Trojans first time out. Round NCAA Tournament Loss.

“We need them both to play like first-team all-conference players if we’re going to be good this year,” Enfield said of Ellis and Peterson.

The most critical variable, however, might be what Enfield can extract from two four-star newcomers, both of whom are expected to play important roles early on.

Oziyah Sellers immediately emerged as perhaps USC’s top marksman this preseason and recently even led the Trojans to the top of goals. Tre White, at 6-7, has led USC in recovery for the past few weeks, Enfield said.

“They both bring something different to our team,” Enfield said. “Tre is a big guard put it on the ground, he bounces back and he can shoot it. He is a very good passer-by when moving. And Oziyah is such a good shot, as you will see.”

They’ll both need them to play big minutes if USC hopes to find success with its new small-ball approach. USC’s guards are very strong on board for what it’s worth.

“It’s really a lot of fun,” said Ellis. “I have a feeling it’s going to be a great year.” Boogie Ellis, Drew Peterson to fuel USC in absence of giants

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