USC vs Long Beach State
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Less than five months after going into cardiac arrest during a preseason workout in late July, USC star freshman Bronny James returned to the court Sunday vs. Long Beach State. In 16 minutes of action due to restrictions by the medical staff on how much he could play, James finished with four points, three rebounds, two assists and a block in an 84-79 overtime loss.

With Pac-12 conference play starting at the end of the month, the Trojans will have to get back on track quickly to meet preseason expectations. Once James has his minutes restrictions lifted by the USC medical staff, he will be able to showcase the impact he can make on a larger scale. The former No. 28 overall prospect in the 2023 cycle by 247Sports headlined USC's No. 3 overall class next to five-star guard Isaiah Collier and last Sunday marked the first time they played together in an official game.

There is reason for optimism that it's not too late to turn it around and it starts with James taking on a bigger role. James will continue to get acclimated to the college game with more reps. Furthermore, USC has the perfect mix of veterans and young talent that can be the perfect recipe for a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. 

Here are three things we learned during Bronny's collegiate debut

Bronny can make an impact without scoring

Within seconds of checking into the game, James made a key defensive play and nearly forced a turnover. Long Beach State was attempting to throw the ball in the post and James used his length to deny the entry. LBSU was able to score on the possession after a reset, but it came with some resistance.

On USC's next defensive possession, James grabbed a defensive rebound and attempted the first shot of his college career — a straight away 3-pointer from the top of the key. He only attempted three shots and all of them were from beyond the arc. James did eventually make his first shot in the second half.

Bronny isn't going to have to score a ton on this USC team to make his impact felt. The Trojans already have one of the top scoring backcourts in the country in Boogie Ellis and Collier, hence why there should be minimal pressure on James to contribute at a high level on the offensive end of the floor. When James played at Sierra Canyon High School in nearby Chatsworth, California, he played that exact same role by playing defense, rebounding and facilitating. That's exactly what USC needs right now. 

"We recruited Bronny James because he's a very good basketball player," USC coach Andy Enfield said after the loss to LBSU. "We expect him to keep developing."

When the time comes, James should play more minutes

Down the stretch, James made an important play on defense. James forced a turnover, stole the ball and milked some of the time off the clock before going to the free-throw line. James went 1 of 2 from the charity stripe, but it speaks volumes that James was on the floor during crunch time in his first college action. 

Enfield mentioned that James didn't go over the minute restriction set by the USC medical staff. It was expected that James could play anywhere between 10-20 minutes off the bench and 16 minutes was deemed the perfect sweet spot. James was subbed out at the 2:18 mark in the overtime period and played six consecutive minutes on the floor dating back to the end of regulation. James played in three different three-minute spurts during the first 30 minutes of action before getting his longest run on the floor when it mattered most.

"We will continue to monitor that, that's not my decision," Enfield said. "He played his restriction tonight, his minutes restriction, and I thought he played well in those minutes."

Bronny's NBA Draft stock will continue to rise

If James keeps making plays like this on the defensive end of the floor, his draft stock is going to soar.

Before James suffered a health scare over the summer that put his playing career potentially in doubt, he was viewed as a late-lottery/early first-round NBA Draft selection in various mock drafts by CBS Sports. In Kyle Boone's latest NBA mock draft last month, James was not tabbed as a first-round selection.

One potential factor to look at when examining Bronny's draft stock is the state of the 2024 NBA Draft class. This upcoming draft is viewed as one of the weaker classes at the top in nearly a decade, which could lead to chaos. Will a team take a swing at an upside prospect in the mid/late lottery (like in years past) or will they draft for potential fit? Basketball has become a positionless game and 3-and-D players like Bronny are coveted.

The other obvious factor in his draft stock moving forward is his last name. While Bronny is trying to carve out his own name in the basketball world, it's hard to ignore who his father is. LeBron James has expressed numerous times over the years about his desire to play with his son in the NBA. The elder James signed a two-year contract extension with the Los Angeles Lakers last summer that runs through the 2024-25 campaign.

It's possible a team could be enticed to select the younger James if they knew his father would make his way to that respective team. If James continues to grow during these final few months of the season, there's no reason why he can't put himself back into first round consideration.