USC freshman guard Bronny James has yet to play in a college game after suffering cardiac arrest in July and later undergoing surgery. His return to the court has been slow and cautious, but he looks great in warmups, he started 5-on-5 contact this week and could play his first minutes of college basketball Sunday against Long Beach State at the Galen Center.The Trojans listed James as available ahead of the game.
USC coach Andy Enfield said Thursday they "assume" James will debut Sunday, according to the OC Register's Luca Evans. ESPN's Ohm Youngmisuk reported James went through a full-contact practice Thursday with another scheduled for Friday.
The Trojans entered the season as the No. 21 team in the country, according to the preseason Associated Press poll, and fell outside the top 25 in Week 4 after suffering their second loss of the season. They are now 5-3 and ninth in the Pac-12 standings.
USC had the No. 3 recruiting class coming in this season, led by the No. 1 high school player and potential No. 1 pick in the 2024 NBA Draft, Isaiah Collier. Also joining Collier and James were four-star forwards Arrinten Page and Brandon Gardner. Collier was instrumental in recruiting James to USC and the pair looked great in the backcourt during the McDonald's All-American Game and Nike Hoop Summit last March.
“It's been great playing with him,” Collier told Yahoo Sports after practice at Nike Hoop Summit. “Just these last couple of weeks and getting to know each other as players. He's a great shooter. I'm a great passer, and we can really play well together.”
Also joining Collier and James in the backcourt this season is fifth-year senior guard Boogie Ellis. The 6-foot-2 guard played alongside LeBron James last summer in the Drew League and will now be teaming up with his son in the backcourt this season. Ellis was named to the All-Pac-12 first team last season and is currently averaging 22.4 points and 3.3 assists per game.
Ellis and Collier aren't showing immediate chemistry in the backcourt yet for USC and there have been offensive struggles with both players who are ball-dominant guards and streaky 3-point shooters. In USC's most recent loss to No. 7 Gonzaga, the Trojans shot just 27.3% from behind the arc, with Ellis going 4-for-9 from deep.
James is a terrific 3-point shooter and once he finds his legs and adjusts to the pace of the game after being off the court for so long, this is an area offensively he can impact USC immediately. During his senior year at Sierra Canyon High School, James was one of the best guards in the country at reading the defense in the pick-and-roll option and if his man slipped and there was no hedge, James shot the 3 confidently every time and was consistent. During the McDonald's All-American Game, James hit 5-of-8 3-pointers for 15 points with 4 assists.
Defensively, USC has struggled on the boards in recent games and don't have the length around the perimeter to guard and contest shots from players who are 6-6 and 6-7. James is one of the best defending guards in the freshman class and has excellent timing in the way he can chase down blocks in transition or drop down low and come over for weakside help on defense. His high motor helps set the pace in turning defense into offense and he's always looking to push the ball.
Many might speculate how James will fit into the backcourt alongside Ellis and Collier and if Enfield will even play all three guards at the same time during games and certain situations. Kentucky had the same problem coming in this season with ball-dominant guards Rob Dillingham and D.J. Wagner and combo guard Reed Sheppard. The Wildcats have figured out a way for it to work and Sheppard has been the glue guy early on with the way he defends and consistent 3-point shooting. James could be the same versatile offensive player for USC in the backcourt while also adding a much-needed spark defensively with how well he can defend multiple positions on the court.
The fact James is returning to the court this season is nothing short of a miracle after what he went through just four months ago. LeBron James has already said he'll be there to watch his son play in his first game, no matter if the Los Angeles Lakers are playing or if he's on the road. The Lakers play the New Orleans Pelicans in the NBA in-season tournament on Thursday night in Las Vegas. The tournament concludes Saturday and the Lakers' next game isn't until Tuesday against the Mavericks in Dallas, making it possible for LeBron and the whole family to be at USC's game Sunday to support Bronny's possible return to the court.