At a time of year when hope runs rampant in college basketball, every team unbeaten and longing for a storybook season, there’s perhaps no more inspiring tale than the comeback bid of Vincent Iwuchukwu.
The USC freshman forward is riding a bike and comes to every practice at the Galen Center, small but significant steps given what he recently endured.
“He’s energetic with his teammates, he supports and encourages his teammates,” Trojans coach Andy Enfield said Tuesday, “and it’s just awesome to see him every day in practice with that energy and so he’s doing extremely well right now.”
Part of a freshman class ranked No. 7 nationally by 247 Sports, Iwuchukwu collapsed during an informal team workout in July. The five-star prospect told CBS Sports he had suffered sudden cardiac arrest and was hospitalized for a few days.
Enfield, speaking at the Southern California Coaches Tip-off Luncheon inside the Los Angeles Athletic Club, said Iwuchukwu continues to be evaluated with hopes of being cleared to rejoin the team. A 7-foot-1 standout who completed his high school career at Southern California Academy in Castaic, Iwuchukwu has no choice but to remain patient.
“The process has to play itself out,” Enfield said, “but he’s doing as well as he could right now, so I think everybody should just root him on and be very hopeful because he’s doing great.”
USC’s freshman class also includes forwards Iaroslave Niagu and Kijani Wright in addition to guards Tre White and Oziyah Sellers, giving the team a young core surrounding veterans Drew Peterson and Boogie Ellis. If all goes well, Iwuchukwu will add another valuable piece.
“Vince has a long career ahead of him and his personality, his infectious energy and his infectious personality are great for our program,” Enfield said. “He’s bounced back very quickly, so we’re excited to have him back.”
UCLA players heard a constant refrain from coach Mick Cronin in summer workouts and early practices: They didn’t go back to the Final Four last season because of their failures boxing out.
“To hear him harp on that day after day after day with our guys,” said assistant coach Rod Palmer, who represented the Bruins at the luncheon, “you can just imagine how tough our scrimmages and our practices have been.”
Like the Trojans, the Bruins will rely heavily on newcomers. Freshmen Amari Bailey, Adem Bona, Dylan Andrews and Abramo Canka are all expected to play significant roles alongside returners Tyger Campbell, Jaime Jaquez Jr. and David Singleton. Redshirt freshmen Will McClendon and Mac Etienne hope to be fully cleared to return from knee injuries by the season opener against Sacramento State on Nov. 7.
“There’s a lot of teaching going on, there’s a lot of scolding, there’s a lot of stopping practice, there’s a lot of nurturing, there’s a lot of one-on-one film sessions with these guys,” Palmer said, “because we have to get them to the point where we can put them in a college game.”
Palmer said the ability of Bailey and Bona to scan the court and find teammates as facilitators has been a pleasant surprise. Jaquez has worked extensively on his shooting after undergoing a procedure last spring to resolve his bothersome ankle issues.
“You wouldn’t know he had an ankle problem,” Palmer said. “He’s never out of a rep in practice, he’s practicing every day, he’s going as hard as Jaime Jaquez goes.”
Former UCLA coach Steve Lavin made his return to the luncheon after five seasons at St. John’s and seven years as a broadcaster. Lavin, 58, took the San Diego job last spring, later adding Bruins hero Tyus Edney to his staff.
Lavin noted how different the game was in just the handful of years he had been away as a television analyst.
“All the things that were violations that led to coaches being fired,” Lavin said, “now they’re no longer violations — cash, cars and NIL deals.”
The move of UCLA and USC to the Big Ten Conference in 2024 sparked some lighthearted ribbing as well as a more somber address.
“No respect to what’s going on in conference realignment, but for me personally, when I think of cCoach [John] Wooden, I sure wish he was around now,” Cal State Northridge coach Trent Johnson, who also spent four seasons at Stanford, said of the announced departures of the Bruins and Trojans. “Because being a Pac-8, Pac-10, Pac-12 baby like Coach Wooden, Coach [Lorenzo] Romar, Steve Lavin, that was a tough day and I often wonder what would have happened if the legendary coach was here. So when I think of Coach Wooden, I think of responsibility to the profession.”
The 2021 Legends of Coaching Award was presented to former Cal State Dominguez Hills and Cal State Los Angeles coach Dave Yanai after the COVID-19 pandemic previously prevented him from receiving it in person. South Carolina women’s coach Dawn Staley was named the 2023 recipient of the award. … Long Beach State coach Dan Monson on players telling him he favors youngest son Maddox, who will be a walk-on guard: “I said, ‘Yeah, for two reasons. One, I prefer him more than the rest of you guys. And two, I’m trying to sleep with his mother.’ ”