How Bronny James does — and doesn’t — change the central goals for USC basketball next season

Bronny James, by coming to USC to play college basketball for at least one season, has changed the larger overall reality connected to USC basketball. More media attention, more ticket sales, more national visibility, more interest from casual sports fans, and other ingredients are all part of this new landscape.

Yet, purely in terms of the goals this program set for itself in the coming 2023-2024 season, how much does Bronny’s arrival truly change things?

Bronny probably increases expectations to a certain extent, but as we dive into the details, what might be more accurate is that rather than elevating expectations, Bronny is elevating the stakes (and the pressure) for USC this season. We’ll explain this and related details below:


Bronny James in action during a July game.
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Bronny James will naturally create a lot of Final Four talk at USC, and to be clear, this is a goal the Trojans should shoot for, if only because they have rarely had a roster this good and have not made the Final Four since 1954. By all means, put this forth as a goal, but there’s more to be said about this.


Feb 7, 2023; Los Angeles, California, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (6) celebrates with his son Bronny James after breaking the all-time scoring record in the third quarter against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Arena. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The Final Four would be amazing, but in terms of what USC really, really needs to achieve with this roster, the Sweet 16 is the central goal. That’s the floor. That’s the place USC must reach to feel it made good use of its talent and resources in the 2023-2024 season. Getting to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament, playing an elite opponent with the Final Four being within reach, would represent the elevated status USC needs to gain from having Bronny James, Boogie Ellis, Isaiah Collier, and Vince Iwuchukwu on the same roster.


Mar 27, 2023; Houston, TX, USA; McDonald’s All American West guard Bronny James (6) stands on the court during the Powerade Jam Fest at Delmar Athletic Complex. Mandatory Credit: Maria Lysaker-USA TODAY Sport

This is separate from NCAA Tournament results. USC needs to achieve a high NCAA Tournament seed and do something rarely done by this program.

Since the NCAA Tournament was first seeded in 1979, USC has been higher than a No. 4 seed only once, in 1992. USC really needs to be a No. 3 seed or higher so that it can cover new ground and say it has achieved at a higher level than nearly every other Trojan team over the past 44 years of college basketball. If USC gets a 3 seed and loses in the Round of 32, it would be disappointing, but getting that high seed would give the Trojans a taste of life in college basketball’s upper tier. The Trojans have to be part of that conversation during — and as a result of — this upcoming season.


Mar 27, 2023; Houston, TX, USA; McDonald’s All American West guard Bronny James (6) dunks the ball during the Powerade Jam Fest at Delmar Athletic Complex. Mandatory Credit: Maria Lysaker-USA TODAY Sport

You will get a lot of debate about basketball experts on this next question: Is Bronny James a one-and-done-level talent? Some will say yes, others no. Some will say LeBron James will insist on Bronny being one and done, while others will say he will let the process play out. Regardless of that, let’s be clear: If Bronny ends this season as a top-10-level pick, such that he does go to the draft and becomes a lottery selection, that’s great for USC.

Sure, USC wouldn’t get a second season out of Bronny, but stop for a minute: Bronny succeeding at USC and evolving as a player in one year would give lots of other one-and-done-level players every incentive in the world to come to USC in future years. Prospects and their parents would trust Andy Enfield. Evan Mobley was great for USC, even though he stayed only one year. Isaiah Collier is almost certain to be one and done. He is likely to help the Trojans in a big way. If USC puts Bronny and Collier in the top 10 of the 2024 draft, that’s a great thing to happen as a result of the coming season.

The goal is not for Bronny to play two years at USC. The goal is for Bronny to develop as fully as he can as a player at USC. If it means only one year, and he truly is a lottery-pick-level player in March of 2024, that means Bronny made a great decision by coming to USC.


Mar 28, 2023; Houston, TX, USA; Ronald McDonald reacts as West guard Bronny James (6) enters the court prior to the McDonald’s All American Boy’s high school basketball game at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Final Four would be amazing — no explanation needed — but to me, this is the most immediate goal for USC hoops. The Trojans haven’t won the Pac-12 (Pac-10) since 1985. If they can win the conference, that would end a 39-year drought. Then the Men of Troy could go to March Madness with less pressure, knowing they already achieved something historic and substantial. They could change the balance of power in recruiting against UCLA and Arizona, too. If Bronny James helps USC do one thing and one thing only in the coming season, winning a Pac-12 title would be my foremost goal — not the only one, not the biggest one, but the most attainable one.


Dec 7, 2022; Los Angeles, California, USA; Southern California Trojans head coach Andy Enfield reacts against the Cal State Fullerton Titans in the first half at Galen Center. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Isaiah Collier, the top-ranked 2023 recruit in the United States, had already raised USC’s ceiling to a greater height. Bronny raises that ceiling a little more, but Collier is the main reason USC can dream really big.

In the end, Bronny shouldn’t increase the goals for this team, but what he does — as an honest reading of real-world realities on the ground — is that he raises the stakes connected to the achievement of those goals. He will put more pressure on Andy Enfield and his teammates to make good use of this season.

That’s a good thing, but it’s definitely part of the larger equation for USC hoops.

Story originally appeared on Trojans Wire