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Andy Katz | Correspondent | May 29, 2018

USC looking forward to another season with Bennie Boatwright, Auburn's Bruce Pearl talks future

2018 One Shining Moment

Bennie Boatwright is expected to be 100 percent healthy by the end of the summer and be the featured player on USC next season, USC coach Andy Enfield said on the latest podcast March Madness 365.

Enfield said the 6-10 point forward is rehabbing well after missing the last nine games of the season with a patella injury. The exceptionally talented and versatile Boatright has been plagued by injuries the past two seasons with knee, labrum and foot injuries.

Boatwright has been a double-figure scorer in each of his first three seasons and showed his potential when he scored 33 points, with six 3-pointers and seven boards in a Diamond Head Classic title win over New Mexico State in Honolulu in December. Enfield said on the podcast that Boatwright had surgery to “tighten that knee.’’

Boatwright, who could have been an early-entry NBA draft candidate had he not been hurt, will be expected to be USC’s do-everything player. Enfield said the Trojans will look to Boatwright to be a playmaking big for them, which could be a mismatch issue for opponents.

The Trojans lost their lead guard Jordan McLaughlin and are looking at Boatwright to be a distributor as well as a scorer, even at his size.

“The ball will be in his hands a lot,’’ said Enfield. "The staff is looking for him to average four to five assists a game next season. He has the ability to put the ball on the floor and be a great passer.’’

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The Trojans will still rotate in a slew of guards like Duke transfer Derryck Thornton, Jonah Matthews, Jordan Usher, Chuck O’Bannon and one-time Louisville transfer Shaqquan Aaron, in addition to Elijah Weaver and Kevin Porter.

But Boatwright will be the focal point for a USC team still smarting over its omission from the NCAA tournament. The Trojans finished second in the Pac-12 but didn’t ultimately have the resume, according to the selection committee, for an at-large berth. USC lost to Western Kentucky in the second round of the NIT.

Enfield is still looking to schedule up next season with games against Nevada, Vanderbilt (both home), TCU at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, Oklahoma in Tulsa, at Santa Clara and playing in the Hall of Fame Classic in Kansas City with Nebraska, Texas Tech and Missouri State.

Auburn coach Bruce Pearl also joined the podcast and called his co-SEC championship with Tennessee last season, “the most satisfying championship I’ve ever won and I’ve been blessed to win a few.’’

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The podcast was recorded Bryce Brown and Austin Wiley announced Tuesday they would return to school and withdraw from the NBA draft. Mustapha Heron is withdrawing from the draft but looking to transfer. Jared Harper has until Wednesday to decide on his plans. Pearl said injured froward Anfernee McLemore could be back by July 1 after coming back from an awful injury when he tore ligaments, dislocated his ankle and fractured his tibia against South Carolina Feb. 17. Auburn will also get Danjel Purifoy back at some point next season after being suspended this past season with Wiley. Purifoy will sit out 30 percent of the season, which Pearl said could be eight or nine games.

The majority of the players returning means Pearl said he could have “a top four or five SEC team and preseason top 25 team next season.”

“The key to our team next season will be not just one or two guys, but having 10 guys who can play,’’ said Pearl. “We won’t have a drop off on who will play.’’

The Tigers’ schedule is nearly complete with games at NC State, UAB in Birmingham, hosting Dayton, Murray State and South Alabama and being involved in a loaded Maui Invitational with Duke, Gonzaga, Arizona, Iowa State, San Diego State, Xavier and Illinois.

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