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Bronny James ready to carve out his own basketball legacy at USC

Bronny James LeBron James USC Bronny James LeBron James - The Canadian Press

The idea of being the “second coming” of an all-time great is an unfair burden to place on any young basketball player.

Raptors fans know it well. Two decades ago, Vince Carter was supposed to follow in the footsteps of fellow North Carolina Tar Heels star Michael Jordan. The talent was there, and the athleticism was undeniable, but in the end, Carter came well short of Jordan’s six championships, five MVPs, and his collection of other accolades.

But things get complicated in the case of Bronny James. He is, after all, the second coming of LeBron James. Literally.

James made his college debut for USC last weekend – an 84-79 overtime loss to Long Beach State – less than five months removed from a cardiac arrest incident that made basketball seem insignificant. He collapsed during a Trojans’ off-season workout on July 24, later revealed to be the result of a congenital heart defect.

Fortunately for James, no one is asking him to live up to his father’s legacy. But that doesn’t mean he’s not going to try.

Late in the first half of his debut – less than four minutes of playing time into his college career – James raced back in transition for a chase-down block on Long Beach State’s Jadon Jones. It was a familiar sight, something basketball fans have seen LeBron do numerous times in the NBA, most notably against Golden State’s Andre Iguodala in Game 7 of the 2016 Finals.

James was on a minutes restriction in his first college game, playing 17 total and contributing four points, three rebounds and two assists. 

“I thought Bronny played well,” head coach Andy Enfield said afterward.

“I think everyone’s been through a lot emotionally, Bronny the most, and he’s handled it very well,” he added. “It’s nice to have teammates and a staff that care…He’s back now, and we’re all excited for him.”

The Trojans have work to do if they’re intent on making the NCAA Tournament for a fourth straight year. USC was ranked 21st in the AP Top 25 to begin the season, but after climbing as high as 16, have slipped out of the current rankings –  a result of losses to UC Irvine, Oklahoma, Gonzaga and Sunday’s against Long Beach State.

The uneven start notwithstanding, there’s excitement surrounding USC, a school that’s known far more for football than it is basketball.

Between James and fellow guard Isaiah Collier, the Trojans have two of the most intriguing players in this year’s freshman class. Collier, a five-star prospect who was ranked the top recruit in the nation by ESPN, is averaging 17.0 points and 4.2 assists per game, and is receiving early consideration as the potential top pick in next year’s NBA Draft.

James, a four-star prospect who was ranked the 19th best recruit by ESPN, is considered an elite defensive player, and was quick to put that on display against Long Beach State, with two steals in addition to his block on Jones. Originally projected to be a first-round pick in 2024 upon committing to USC this past May, James is likely to see his role increase once his minutes restriction is lifted.

For a 19-year-old less than five months removed from suffering cardiac arrest, it’s only fair to put the conversation of playing in the NBA next season on hold. 

Besides, there’s still plenty at stake between now and June, beginning with Saturday’s matchup against Auburn and fellow freshman standout Aden Holloway, who was born in Charlotte but holds dual Canadian-American citizenship, a result of his mother being born in Calgary.

It’s an opportunity for the Trojans to start stringing some wins together, which they’ll need to do if they hope to be dancing in March.

And for James, a chance to take the next step in his recovery and begin carving out his own legacy.