Old Trojans to watch out for as the NBA season begins



Former USC goaltender DeMar DeRozan has a new home this season for the Chicago Bulls. He was traded to the San Antonio Spurs, where he averaged nearly 22 points per game over three seasons. (Daily Trojan File Photo)

As the NBA‘s 75th anniversary season is about to begin, there are a few former USC stars to watch out for.

Guard DeMar DeRozan, Chicago Bulls:

DeMar DeRozan played his one and only season at USC in
2008-2009. As a freshman, he appeared in all 35 Trojans games and averaged 13.9 points, 5.7 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game. DeRozan went on to win the 2009 Pac-10 tournament MVP, is part of the Pac-10 All-Freshman squad and retired his jersey in 2020.

After a season with the Trojans, DeRozan declared himself for the 2009 NBA Draft and was selected with the 9th overall pick by the Toronto Raptors. As a Raptor, DeRozan was four times NBA All-Star and was selected to two All-NBA teams.

After nine seasons with Toronto in which DeRozan helped lead the team to the playoffs on five occasions, he was traded to the San Antonio Spurs. Spurs made the playoffs in DeRozan’s first three seasons with the team. In his three seasons with the Spurs, DeRozan averaged 21.6 points, 5.2 rebounds and 6.3 assists per game.

Last offseason, the Chicago Bulls acquired the All-Star goalie from San Antonio in a signing-and-trade deal. DeRozan will be joined by former center and USC teammate Nikola Vucevic. He joins a backcourt with two former UCLA players Lonzo Ball and Zach Lavine, in a quartet of crosstown rivals. The Bulls will look to make a playoff push into the Eastern Conference with high hopes of making his first playoff appearance since 2017.

Nikola Vucevic Center, Chicago Bulls:

Before Vucevic became one of the most consistent centers in the NBA, he played three seasons for the Trojans from 2008-2011. The seven-footer averaged 11.1 points and 8 rebounds per game during his season. stay at USC. Vucevic was an All-Pac-10 second-team selection in 2010 and an All-Pac-10 first-team selection in 2011.

After his third season with USC, Vucevic was drafted in the 2011 NBA Draft with the Philadelphia 76ers’ 16th overall pick. After a season in Philadelphia, Vucevic was traded to the Orlando Magic. Vucevic played eight full seasons with the Magic before being traded mid-last season to the Chicago Bulls. In Orlando, Vucevic made two NBA All-Star appearances.
Career side, the center averages 16.9 points, 10.4 rebounds per game and 2.7 assists per game.

Vucevic appeared in 26 games with the Bulls last year and averaged 21.5 points, 11.5 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game, making his second appearance in an All-Star game.

Power forward / center Evan Mobley, Cleveland Cavaliers:

The Trojans made their first Elite Eight appearance since 2001 at last year’s NCAA tournament, and center Evan Mobley helped the team succeed along the way. Standing at 7 feet and 215 pounds, Mobley had an exceptional year in his one and only season at USC. He has played 33 games and averaged 16.4 points, 8.7 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 2.8 blocks per game.

Mobley was Pac-12 Player of the Year, made first-team
The All-Pac-12, Pac-12 All Defensive and All-Freshman teams received Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year honors and were the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year. He is the second player in college basketball history to also win conference player of the year, rookie of the year and defensive player of the year since Anthony Davis in 2012.

Following his superb first season with the Trojans, Mobley declared himself for the 2021 NBA Draft and was selected by the Cleveland Cavaliers with the 3rd overall pick behind prospects Cade Cunningham and Jalen Green.

Mobley joins a Cavaliers frontcourt filled with veterans like Kevin Love, Lauri Markkanen and Jarrett Allen. He will need to earn his minutes as a rookie and make an immediate impact on a rebuilding Cavs squad.

Guard Kevin Porter Jr., Houston Rockets:

In Kevin Porter Jr.’s only season with USC, he played 21 games and averaged 9.5 points, 4 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game. After his first year with the Trojans, he was drafted with the 30th overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft by the Milwaukee Bucks before being traded to the Cavaliers on draft night. During his short stint in Cleveland, he played 50 games and averaged 10 points, 3.4 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game.

Porter Jr. was traded to the Houston Rockets the following season and briefly played with Houston G-League affiliate the Rio Grande Valley Vipers.

Porter Jr. showed his potential as a 2021 All-NBA G-League First Team. Porter Jr. appeared in 26 games for the Rockets last season, averaging 16.6 points, 3.8 rebounds and 6.3 assists per game.

The former Trojan’s flagship game, however, was against the Bucks as he finished with a stat line of 50 points, 5 rebounds and 11 assists as well as 9 three points. At 20, Porter Jr. became the youngest player to record a game with at least 50 points and 10 assists.

However, the Rockets drafted guard Jalen Green with their second overall pick in the 2021 Draft. Green, another goaltender, and Porter Jr. will need to strike a balance between him and Green on the field.

Power forward Onyeka Okongwu, Atlanta Hawks:

In one season at USC, Okongwu averaged 16.2 points, 8.6 rebounds, 1.1 assists and 2.7 blocks per game. He was also appointed to
The First Team All-Pac-12 and Team Pac-12 All-Freshman.

Drafted 6th overall by the Atlanta Hawks in 2020, Okongwu played 50 games last season and averaged 4.6 points and 3.3 rebounds per game. He played a key role in the Hawks’ playoffs last season. Okongwu will be out until December as he recovers from shoulder surgery during the offseason.

Forward / center Taj Gibson, New York Knicks:

Taj Gibson played three solid seasons for the Trojans from
2006-2009. He’s averaging nearly a double-double with 12.4 points and 8.5 rebounds as well as 2.4 blocks on defense. Gibson’s consistent production earned him an All-Pac-10 third-team selection in 2008, an All-Pac-10 second-team selection in 2009, and the Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year award during of the same season.

After his third season with USC, Gibson declared himself for the 2009 NBA Draft and was selected with the Bulls’ 26th pick overall. Gibson was a selection for the NBA All-Rookie First Team in 2010 and played seven full seasons with the Bulls before being traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder in February 2017. After appearing in just 23 games for the Thunder, Gibson entered free agency and signed with the Minnesota Timberwolves in the 2017 offseason. After two seasons at Minnesota that included a playoff appearance, Gibson signed with the New York Knicks and is now entering his third season with the team.

Gibson has 12 years of NBA experience and has played 71 playoff games, most recently with the Knicks who made their first playoff appearance since 2013 last season. Gibson will be looking to contribute to a Knicks team that has had a busy offseason with the acquisitions of all-star guard Kemba Walker and veteran guard Evan Fournier.