Three things we learned from Bronny James' first USC start

ByMyron Medcalf ESPN logo
Sunday, January 14, 2024

A series of injuries to the USC lineup recently created an opening for Bronny James to make his first collegiate start at Colorado on Saturday night. Starters Joshua Morgan, Boogie Ellis and Isaiah Collier were sidelined, so Trojans coach Andy Enfield added the son of NBA starLeBron Jamesto his starting five.

However, the absence of Morgan (averaging 2.3 blocks per game), veteran Ellis and projected first-round NBA draft pick Collier took its toll, and the Trojans went into the CU Events Center -- which sits at an elevation of 5,430 feet as the fifth-highest venue in college basketball -- and squandered a 13-point halftime lead to lose 68-58. It was also a cold night for James, who finished 0-for-7 with just two rebounds and one assist.

With the defeat, the Trojans are now 8-9 (2-4 Pac-12) with a NET ranking in the 90s. They will need a major turnaround to earn a spot in the NIT. The NCAA tournament is not yet a valid conversation for Enfield's program.

And yet James, who played 25 minutes Saturday night, continues to demonstrate his growth, as well as some of the challenges he is navigating. It also is important to note that the contest in Boulder was only his ninth game as a Division I player. Still, USC will need more from the freshman -- and the entire roster, really -- to change its current trajectory.

Here, we break down what we learned about Bronny James the starter and USC without its star players.

James makes key play just minutes into matchup

With 17:31 to play in the first half, James drew an offensive foul onKJ Simpson, Colorado's leading scorer. It was also Simpson's second foul of the game, sending him to the bench until around the 14-minute mark. Thanks to those two early fouls, Simpson played the rest of the first half more cautiously than he typically does and was 2-for-6 from the field going into the break.

James successfully defended Simpson on multiple possessions and continued to prove himself as a player willing to make hustle plays, which might not earn a mention on "SportsCenter" but still impact the game.

Needs to work on his assertiveness

James loves to defer, and he had good reason to do that at the start of the game. His teammates, including Oziyah Sellers, helped USC go on an early run to end the first half up 37-24. But two of James' early shots were blocked in what was an 0-for-5 start for the freshman. He is still trying to find his offensive role for this team.

Saturday's contest was a chance for James to showcase his full skill set that had made him a top-20 high school recruit, but he didn't play with the aggression that would have allowed him to do that. It's clear he is still searching for the balance between getting his teammates involved, which he does well, and increasing his scoring output.

Despite struggles, he showed promise with consistent energy

James missed his first seven shots, and his team couldn't shake its scoring drought in the second half, either, starting 3-for-15 from the field after the break. However, James never seemed to lose confidence. This matters, especially for a freshman. He continued to attack in the second half, and his defensive intensity never waned even as Colorado ran away with the scoring and eventually won by double digits.

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