August 31, 2014 by Max Meyer
By Max Meyer
Galen Central has been doing profiles on incoming USC basketball players. Here’s an earlier profile of Malik Price-Martin, another member of USC’s 2014 recruiting class.
After the departure of Byron Wesley, USC’s most talented basketball player and leader, the program was in a state of shock. After all, he was their leading scorer last season and was the face of USC basketball. Wesley decided to transfer out for his senior year, and it formed a gaping hole on the team. No one knew at the time who could play a hybrid guard/forward role and consistently be a scoring threat.
In mid-May, coincidentally the same day that Wesley announced he would attend Gonzaga, USC received good news of their own. Four-star prospect Elijah Stewart committed to the Trojans over schools such as Boston College, Cincinnati and Oklahoma State. After decommitting from Loyola Marymount after their coach was fired in the offseason, Stewart was keen on a certain set of traits when selecting his school the second time around.
“I was looking for a place where when I graduate and get my diploma, that it actually means something and is not a piece of paper,” said Stewart. “Overall it was a good opportunity between the education, coaching staff and the chance to turn around a program.”
Stewart’s explosiveness on both sides of the ball and ability to attack the rim often stood out when he played for Westchester High School in Los Angeles. Before picking USC, he watched a plethora of tape of Coach Andy Enfield’s Florida Gulf Coast teams. He liked the fact that they ran a comparable uptempo style and offensive scheme to his high school team.
The 2013-14 LA City Section Player of the Year then became the latest piece in an Enfield recruiting class with very high expectations, joining fellow prospects Jordan McLaughlin, Malik Marquetti and Malik Price-Martin.
“We’re the class that’s supposed to turn things around here,” explained Stewart. “I really don’t really feel the pressure right now since the season hasn’t started. But it’s going to be tough.”
Joining a team that finished last in their conference the previous year will be a challenge, and Stewart admitted that it will be tough for him to accept an underdog role. He stressed a few times though that Coach Enfield and assistant coach Tony Bland sold him on the opportunity to be a part of a team that will turn the program around and become a perennial Pac-12 power. In fact, playing in the prestigious conference alone has Stewart excited.
“I’m really excited for the intensity and the crowds in the Pac-12 when we go on the road, and even for our home games,” said Stewart. “I really didn’t watch too much college basketball growing up, but now I’m looking forward to the atmosphere.”
The 6’5″ freshman knows that he will be compared to Byron Wesley during his time as a Trojan, and not just because they are the same height. Wesley’s departure, however, didn’t seem to impact his decision to come to USC.
“I didn’t know the guy, I still really don’t know him. I wasn’t really factoring his role on the team either. I wouldn’t say that him transferring persuaded me either way,” explained Stewart. “I’ve just been grinding every day in the gym trying to get better because I know a lot will be expected from me though.”