- Next up in our freshman intro series is a pair of USC big men: Isaiah Mobley and Onyeka Okongwu, both five-stars in the class of 2019.
In the one-and-done era, college basketball fans have grown accustomed to having to get to know a slew of new, highly-touted names and faces each season, many of whom will spend just one year on campus before moving on to the NBA. In 2019, six of the top 10 NBA draft picks were one-and-done, and eight of the 14 lottery picks overall. Not all elite freshmen will pan out, but history dictates that many of them will help headline the sport for the next year—and, for some, maybe even beyond. Just look at last year’s group of rookies we profiled: Tre Jones, Ashton Hagans, Jalen Smith and Devon Dotson lead a whopping 12 former 2018 five-stars back for a sophomore season.
With all of that in mind, SI.com will be introducing you to the top incoming freshmen in college basketball for 2019–20 and breaking down the impact those players could have. The rankings are according to RSCI Hoops, a composite that averages from 25 different expert top-100 lists. Next up is the No. 19 and No. 24 overall recruits, USC's Isaiah Mobley and Onyeka Okongwu. You can view all of the profiles to date here.
What They Mean for USC’s Recruiting Class
The Trojans are welcoming eight newcomers this season, six of whom are freshmen. A pair of top-25 five-star recruits headlines the class coming to Los Angeles: California natives Isaiah Mobley (No. 19) and Onyeka Okongwu (No. 24). Mobley, a 6’9” power forward and Okongwu, a 6’8” center, bring plenty of potential to USC’s frontcourt. They’re joined by four-star small forward Max Agbonkpolo (No. 56) along with three-star point guards Kyle Sturdivant (No. 141) and Ethan Anderson (No. 324) and shooting guard Drake London (No. 183). Those six round out the recruiting class, while Akron transfer Daniel Utomi, a 6’6” small forward, and point guard Quinton Adlesh, a Columbia grad transfer, will also join the squad this season and are immediately eligible for coach Andy Enfield. While there are plenty of new faces on this squad, the five-star headliners bring the most obvious immediate potential to the Trojans for 2019-20.
How They Fit
Sophomore guard Elijah Weaver will likely win the starting floor general spot after mostly playing an integral role off the bench last season. He will bring a needed element of experience to the floor for the Trojans, who return just two starters (which Weaver was not for most of last season). In the backcourt alone, Kevin Porter Jr. left for the draft, Derryck Thornton transferred to Boston College, Jordan Usher transferred to Georgia Tech following his midseason suspension and Shaqquan Aaron is out of eligibility. Weaver is a respectable long-range shooter but isn’t necessarily the most natural point guard. He is, however, the most experienced option which is important given that veteran point guards Payton Pritchard and McKinley Wright will be running the floor for Pac-12 favorites Oregon and Colorado, respectively. A trio of new additions in Aldesh, Anderson and Sturdivant will compete for playing time at the point. Sturdivant could also slide into the two slot alongside senior Jonah Mathews, who will start again at shooting guard for USC after averaging 12.6 points per game last season. Utomi and former five-star Charles O’Bannon Jr. also figure to be rotated in at wing. Enfield has some flexibility in his backcourt which is a bonus, especially given how he likes to stretch the floor.
Last season’s No. 2 scorer (who doubles as USC’s best rebounder and shot-blocker) Nick Rakocevic, a 6’11” center, returns and will anchor the frontcourt in light of leading scorer Bennie Boatwright’s graduation. The team’s two new five-star big men should also immediately factor in as well. Okongwu will share time at the five with Rakocevic, backing up the veteran starter. The Trojans have a pair of capable incoming players to fill the four slot in Mobley and Agbonkpolo—who sits at 6’8” and should have a big impact off the bench.
Okongwu won three state titles and was a back-to-back California Mr. Basketball honoree before signing with the Trojans. The Chino Hills native was a double-double machine his senior season, averaging 27 points, 11 rebounds, 4.3 blocks and 4.0 assists. Okongwu has a very effective offensive skill set for his size and a soft touch. He can post up and score from midrange but adding a jumper will be key for his long-term potential. A physical player with quick feet to boot, he comes to USC as a more developed defender than scorer—serving as a bouncy rim protector and an asset on the boards, especially when it comes to blocking shots. He brings plenty of potential and a college-level physique, with long arms that give him the versatility to guard fours and fives. He should develop into a dependable asset so long as his offensive game improves.
Mobley’s fit is a bit easier to see without another true four on the Trojans roster for 2019 after J’Raan Brooks’s transfer. The McDonald’s All-American is recovering from a surgery he underwent in June to repair a stress fracture in his foot but should be cleared by September. At 6’9”, 220 pounds, Mobley brings both skill and size to the forward group. He’s a physical player who’s good at finding—or forcing—the open lane and getting to the basket but he’s not the most agile. Jump shots are his sweet spot and he’s great at playing off a quick bounce. Mobley can also help under the rim on rebounding. However, Mobley has some big shoes to fill. Throughout his USC career, Boatwright served as a strong stretch four thanks to his contributions from beyond the arc, and Mobley’s outside shot will be needed for a smooth transition. All in all, he brings plenty of potential to the power forward slot, but could use some refining and time to develop. Fun fact: The freshman’s father, Eric, is an assistant coach with the team and his younger brother, Evan, the No. 1 recruit in the class of 2020, committed to USC in early August. Although he may very well be a one-and-done college player, Evan has already talked about how dangerous the brother duo could be should Isaiah stay a second season and put the draft off another year.
Importance to USC's Success/Team Outlook
Okongwu and Mobley should have an immediate effect on a Trojans squad that finished below .500 last season. There’s a bit of uncertainty surrounding who will relieve Weaver at point and who will step up at wing besides Mathews, but Enfield certainly has options. USC sports a ton of new faces this season but the potential and the talent is there. It’s more a matter of the Trojans figuring out where everyone fits this season. There are more options in the frontcourt and potentially more sharpshooters than the team had in 2018-19. The incoming additions give the Trojans a real reason to be optimistic, but the Pac-12 will be tough this season. Expectations should be better than last season but not quite sky-high just yet.