Basketball

Former USC hoopers cap off 2021 in style

Three days, three highlights for three ex-Trojans in the NBA.

Chicago Bulls guard DeMar DeRozan reaches out for a high-five from teammate and fellow guard Coby White, who's flexing both his arms at DeRozan. Several Bulls teammates are in the background, celebrating DeRozan's game-winner.

The USC men’s basketball team is off to a 12-0 start to its 2021-22 season, achieving its highest national ranking (No. 7) since 1975. But due to COVID-19 issues, the Trojans haven’t played since Dec. 18, and they won’t again until Jan. 6 — at the very earliest. As a result, these days, things are slow.

Luckily, a few former Trojans are filling the void in the NBA.

The final three days of 2021 have seen three spectacular highlights from three ex-USC hoopers ushering in the new year in style on the big stage. In case you missed them, here’s a quick rundown.

Dec. 29: Chimezie Metu wins it at the buzzer for Sacramento

Fifth-year guard De’Aaron Fox is the Kings’ leading scorer this season, so it was no surprise that he took the inbounds pass at the halfcourt logo on Wednesday, as his team trailed the visiting Dallas Mavericks by two points with 3.8 seconds to go in Sacramento.

But Fox also ranks second on the team in assists, and it was that part of his game that came into play in the final seconds. As Fox drove into the paint, Mavs defender Dwight Powell collapsed for the double-team, leaving Chimezie Metu wide open in the corner for a potential game-winning triple.

Fox found him. And Metu made Dallas pay.

Sacramento may not have even found itself in a position to win if not for Metu’s earlier contributions: The 2015-18 Trojan drilled two of four 3-point attempts before the game-winner and pulled down a game-high eight rebounds off the bench, setting the stage for the cold-blooded dagger.

Dec. 30: Evan Mobley does his best Dr. J impression

Any time you earn a high-five from the opposing team, you know you must have done something special.

That’s what 2020-21 Pac-12 Freshman, Defensive Player and Player of the Year and current Cleveland Cavalier Evan Mobley did against the Washington Wizards on Thursday. After grabbing a loose ball off a block, Mobley drove along the baseline with his off hand and elevated for the layup, pulled the ball back, partially redirected his body in midair, then scooped his arm underneath the basket and finished on the other side for a reverse up-and-under that should make just about every other 7-footer in the history of the NBA extremely envious.

Even Kyle Kuzma had to offer some praise.

It’s just one example of the incredible debut season for the No. 3 overall pick: Mobley is averaging 14.4 points and 8.1 rebounds per game to help bring Cleveland to the Eastern Conference’s fifth seed.

Dec. 31: DeMar DeRozan beats the buzzer with ridiculous game-winning 3-point floater

With 1.8 seconds to go against the Indiana Pacers on Friday and his Chicago Bulls down one, DeMar DeRozan was dribbling on the halfcourt logo and going nowhere.

The Bulls seemed screwed. But either DeRozan had a plan, or he can simply improvise with the best of them.

The 2008-09 Trojan gave Pacers defender Torrey Craig a simple through-the-legs cross to his right hand, planted with his left foot and elevated off a single leg several feet beyond the 3-point line, throwing up a desperation heave that left his hand about half a second before the buzzer sounded.

Somehow, he sank it. It gave Chicago a 108-106 victory, silenced the home crowd at Gainbridge Fieldhouse and sent the Bulls fans in attendance — as well as his teammates, who mobbed him around halfcourt — into a frenzy.

The miracle shot thrust Chicago into a tie with the Brooklyn Nets for the No. 1 seed in the East at 23-10, and that’s largely thanks to DeRozan. He’s averaging 26.8 points per game in his first season in the Windy City, good for fifth in the NBA.

If you’re a USC fan looking for a valid excuse to bandwagon to the East’s top seed, go with Chicago’s USC ties: Alongside DeRozan, Nikola Vučević is averaging 15.7 points and 11.6 rebounds as the second Trojan in the Bulls’ starting lineup; the pair combined for 59 points Monday in a win over Atlanta. You’d have to look past Zach LaVine and Lonzo Ball’s UCLA history, sure — but DeRozan’s New Year’s Eve shot alone should offer plenty of reason to do just that.

In any case, it was yet another chapter in what’s been a hectic three days to end a wildly successful 2021 for the Trojan men’s basketball program and its alumni.

Your move, 2022.