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‘Thankful’ Bronny James comes off bench in USC debut

'Thankful' Bronny James comes off bench in USC debut

LOS ANGELES — USC freshman Bronny James hit a transition 3-pointer, delivered a sensational chase-down block — that looked very familiar — and had a steal and a free throw late in regulation during his long-awaited collegiate debut after suffering cardiac arrest less than five months ago.

Long Beach State, however, spoiled James’ return to the court with an 84-79 upset over USC in overtime at the Galen Center on Sunday.

James finished with 4 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals and 1 block off the bench while playing on a minutes restriction (16 minutes).

“I just want to say I’m thankful for everything,” James, who did not take questions, said in his first comments to the media since suffering cardiac arrest at a USC practice on July 24. “Mayo Clinic, everything they helped me with, my parents, siblings for supporting me through this hard time in my life.

“I just want to give appreciation to everyone that’s helped me through this. Also, my coach, my teammates, all my other coaches. They’ve been with me since the start and I just want to say I’m thankful for them.”

James, 19, might not have gotten the win he was looking for, but being back on the court was everything for LeBron James and the James family. They, along with Los Angeles Lakers vice president of basketball operations and general manager Rob Pelinka, were among a sellout crowd of 9,806 on hand to watch the eldest son of the Lakers superstar.

LeBron James said his son’s collegiate debut made him both emotional and proud in an Instagram post Sunday night.

Bronny James was hospitalized for three days after the cardiac arrest. He underwent a procedure to treat a congenital heart defect. Cleared by doctors to return to basketball on Nov. 30, he went through two consecutive full-contact practices for the first time this season on Thursday and Friday before playing Sunday.

“Everybody’s been through a lot emotionally,” USC coach Andy Enfield said. “Bronny the most. He’s handled it very well. And anytime you go through an emotional situation, it’s nice to have teammates and staff that care. And I thought his teammates did a great job with Bronny and he’s back now and we’re all excited for him.”

James’ debut for USC came with a lot of anticipation and hype. Two hours before the afternoon tip, a long line of students formed outside the arena and curved down an adjacent street.

The school announced the game was sold out on Friday. When LeBron James arrived minutes before tip, a buzz circulated around the arena as the Lakers star walked to his courtside seat.

When Bronny James checked into the game off the bench with 12:58 left in the first half, the crowd gave him a warm ovation. James nearly forced a steal moments later with defensive pressure and LeBron James nodded his approval during an ensuing stoppage in play.

An audible buzz could be heard whenever the younger James touched the basketball. When he launched his first shot and missed a 3-pointer, the Galen Center sounded as if it were ready to erupt had the shot gone down.

With 4:47 to go in the first half, James channeled his father, soaring in from behind for a sensational chase-down block on Long Beach guard Jadon Jones at the rim.

The USC crowd exploded following the highlight play.

Largely playing in stints of two to three minutes, James drilled his first basket in the second half on a pull-up 3-pointer in transition with 13:10 left in regulation.

Long Beach State (7-4) erased a 45-30 halftime deficit. With the Trojans (5-4) up by one, James stole the ball and drew a foul. He made one of two free throws with 21 seconds left, but USC couldn’t hold as Long Beach State forced overtime. The Trojans missed 16 of 36 free throws.

James started the overtime period but came out with 2:18 to go. While the Trojans likely won’t have to deal with the magnified attention that came with James’ debut in their next game, they will try to halt a two-game losing streak on the road at Auburn on Dec. 17.

Fifth-year senior guard Boogie Ellis thought James deftly handled the spotlight in his debut.

“He’s built for it,” said Ellis, who scored 14 points. “I feel like he embraces that. He put in the work and he’s a great player. We’re going to get him back and he’s going to continue to get into the rotation, but he’s built for it. He handles it very well.”

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